It is often the case that it's not until a number of clones have saturated the market that you truly appreciate what made the original great. With the original F.E.A.R. Monolith wanted to prove that a bleak and scary story could be combined with an action-packed shooter. They did so with conviction and precision, and since then few games have successfully managed to follow up on this. Can the third game in the series eclipse the original?
Once again you control "Point Man", and while he previously eliminated his telepathic brother Paxton Fettel, he needs to resurrect him in order to stop Alma. The importance of the Armacham corporation has been toned down this time around, and despite the fact that they were the ones responsible for experimenting on Alma in the first game, and saw to it that she gave birth to "Point Man" and Fettel. Instead, the story is focused on chasing Alma down and stopping her from giving birth to a child that will bring armageddon to us all.
Despite the fact that story has always been a central part of the series, it doesn't immediately come across that way when you start the third game. The new developer has opted to spice up the introductions to each level with a few simple lines of text explaining the story. However, if you have no previous experience with the series, you will have a hard time understanding what goes on and what your motives are during the many missions.
Perhaps as a means to accommodate new players, there is no holding back when it comes to action, and you are quickly thrown into your first encounter with enemy soldiers. Communication and co-operation amongst hostiles has always been a hallmark of the series, and this is something that is still true in F.E.A.R. 3.
The constant chatter of commands and status updates that goes on between enemies, may at times have you thinking that you've stumbled into some kind of military fantasy camp, but their well functioning co-operation results in a lot of interesting encounters. There will be flanking, sneak attacks, they will try and flush you out with grenades, and it feels like a nice change of pace from the shooting gallery experience of games such as Call of Duty - even if it was something we experience in the original game.
To add something to the formula developers Day 1 Studios have implemented a cover system, so that you hug the closest wall with the press of a button. While the system as such is something we mostly see in third person shooters, it works well in first person here, and it's only very seldom causing us any problems.
The developers also couldn't resist adding a system of upgrades, something that has been very popular in the Call of Duty series among other things. Every level tasks you with a list of challenges, such as downing ten enemies in close combat, or shooting 20 enemies from cover. Each challenge met gives you points that you can then use to unlocked abilities, more ammunition or extended bullet time.
It's a shame that the weapons, the rather limited supply of which you are given, are not well balanced. Seldom has it been so hard to down an enemy with a shotgun, difficult to put holes through a target with an assault rifle. With the exception of the pistol you start out with and one rifle you get later on, the crack of discharging bullets lacks weight and sounds off, something that means we quickly grow tired of them.
What's worse is that Day 1 Studios have managed to keep the game true to the source material and filled the game with mindless zombie enemies, complete with weird symbols on their faces. They are not just completely harmless, but they use some of the worse design I've seen in this kind of game for a long time. Something that is evident when you first face the zombie type that with the help of some rather weak animation work, attacks you by throwing his own limbs at you.
As the game progresses it becomes apparent that the developer either lacked the patience or the skills to make the game scary; the pacing is different from what made this series stand out. Monolith were able to resist the temptation of adding an action scene around every corner, and instead allow the player time to take in the atmosphere and build up the suspense as they finally unleashed most gruesome scenes. But there is nothing of that in F.E.A.R. 3. Instead we are met by enemies as original as the living dead with bombs taped to their stomachs, while weapons and ammunition are to be found in every corner.
With a lacklustre singleplayer campaign it is no surprise that the multiplayer is what entertains the most. You can play the campaign with a friend, one of you playing the role of Point Man, while the other is Paxton Fettel. You can actually play the game with Fettel on your own as well, once you've completed a level, letting you go back and play it with the telepathic brother.
If you're looking for something more competitive you will find it in Contractions, where, in an Assault-like manner you're defending a building from enemies. Soul Survivor is your Infection mode, while Soul King tasks you with large groups of enemies by giving you the ability of taking over their bodies. The most entertaining mode is the perfectly named F**king Run, where co-operation and reflexes are needed to escape a wall of death rolling endless towards you, while enemies and other obstacles constantly get in your way.
It's hard not to get the sense that the idea with the third game in the series was to make something radically different, a more modern take on the concept, which while well-meaning, ends up being the least exciting chapter to date.
It's annoying that Day 1 Studios haven't been able to reproduce the atmosphere and horror throughout the game. There are moments here and there; a labyrinth of blinking flat-screens, old storage rooms where pigs are hanging side-by-side with human corpses. At those times F.E.A.R. 3 seems like everything we hoped for. But the rest of the game is just full of predictable moments, utilising tricks such as an enemy standing right behind you, and the story never really takes off.
Technically the game also falls short of the competition in the genre, and this is something that feels even worse considering the fact that the original game was a frontrunner from a technical standpoint when it launched.
There is no doubt F.E.A.R. 3 could have been something much better, but in terms of quality it just doesn't deliver on the same level as previous chapters in the series or other games in the genre for that matter. You will be a bit disappointed regardless of whether you're more of a horror fan, an action fan or a combination of both.