F.E.A.R. 3's opening level is a terrible representation of the rest of the game. While many video games begin with a strong first level designed to immediately grab your attention, F.E.A.R. 3's rust-covered Armacham penitentiary is as generic and lifeless as prison levels get. It's as if the level designers intentionally start you off with such a bland introduction to their game so that when you experience what it really has to offer, it hits you with all the force of a freight train. In that regard, the game's first level is effective...I just hope that players aren't so turned off by their initial taste of F.E.A.R. 3 that they don't stick around for the rest of the game, which is an exceptionally designed first-person shooter with a satisfying blend of action and horror.
Following the conclusion of F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin -- in which psychic phantom Alma is impregnated -- F.E.A.R. 3 puts you in the combat boots of the Point Man, who's joined by his recently-resurrected sibling, Paxton Fettel. In the first game, Point Man shoots his brother in the face (check out the ugly bullet hole in the middle of his forehead), and now Fettel's alive once more and armed with paranormal powers, including the ability to possess the bodies of enemy soldiers.
When playing the campaign in co-op (either locally via split-screen or online), the second player controls Fettel, while the first player controls Point Man, who's your more traditional, albeit genetically-enhanced, soldier that fights with shotguns and assault rifles instead of paranormal abilities. You can play the game alone, but the campaign is infinitely more enjoyable with a friend. And if you don't have one, you can always team up with a stranger online.
Even though the story is handled by horror genre pros -- Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) on main storyline duties and John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) on the cinematics -- it falls a little flat. And while the horror-infused narrative is certainly no BioShock, the unwieldy dynamic between the two brothers is an interesting idea that works for the most part.
What F.E.A.R. 3 lacks in original storytelling it definitely makes up for with its campaign. As a video game writer, you're constantly exposed to such a high volume of games that you sometimes lose some of the joy of playing video games (I know, boo hoo, right?). With F.E.A.R. 3, however, I was completely immersed in its riveting, remarkably diverse campaign. For a horror game, F.E.A.R. 3 is anything but just a bunch of dimly lit corridors and sepia-coloured boiler rooms. The game's actually quite colourful, with each "Interval" featuring its own distinct colour palette and aesthetic. For instance, the bridge mission features a lot of warm colours, which is amplified in the sky's mesmerizing blood-red storm clouds. This contrasts sharply with the airport mission's dark blues and cool colours. I know this is a video game we're talking about and not an oil painting, but despite all the gore and chaos on screen, I couldn't help but take in how pretty it is at times.
In terms of mission variety, the campaign includes locales like poverty-stricken ghettos, a sprawling metropolis, suburbs, an airport -- there's even a massive Costco-sized store that you can wreak havoc in. The store level -- which features various departments like a haunted Best Buy-like electronics section with flickering TVs in total darkness, and a Lowes-like outdoor garden section with suicide bomber cultists amidst Delilah fern plants -- showcases the tremendous attention to detail that F.E.A.R. 3's environment artists put into the settings.
It might sound like an oddly specific thing to call out in a 1,000 word review, but the developer has done a great job making these places feel authentically weathered, lived in, vandalized -- and in some cases, outright trashed. One office break room, for instance, is a good example of the high level of detail in settings. Newspaper ads and assorted debris -- including a sink torn out of the wall -- litter the floor, "going green" and flex benefits notices are pinned to a nearby bulletin board, and a child's crayon drawings are stuck to a refrigerator. This area also has a morbid masterpiece on its wall that's comprised of spirals, a message written in a strange language, and eerie skeletal faces all painted in blood in other bodily juices.
Another thing I love about F.E.A.R. 3 is the damage system, which allows you to brutally dismember and mutilate enemies in some pretty nasty ways. If you like your games gory, you won't walk away from F.E.A.R. 3 dissatisfied. Heads can be obliterated into bleeding messes with sniper rounds. Individual limbs can be blown off to expose bone, which will cause other enemies to react to what you've done by saying things like "Somebody get a tourniquet; His leg is gone!" There's something so undeniably satisfying about unloading a shotgun on someone at point blank range and watching them explode into a cloud of glistening meat in slow-motion. I could go on about the delight I took in F.E.A.R. 3's excessive but realistic gore, but you get the point.
There are, however, a few lulls in the campaign, such as the second to the last Interval, which dramatically slows down the action to tell a significant part of the story. But it drags on too long. And F.E.A.R. 3's giant boss fight (you'll know it when you see it) feels out of place and uninspired in the otherwise stellar campaign. The campaign also feels slightly shorter than previous games in the F.E.A.R. series as I was able to complete it in a day and a half (even with replaying missions).
F.E.A.R. 3 also tries some interesting ideas with its multiplayer, though some of these are more successful than others. Instead of offering up old FPS standards like team deathmatch or capture the flag, the game features modes like "F**king Run," in which four players flee from a billowing cloud of black smoke dubbed the "wall of death." It's an intense ride that keeps you constantly moving and also goes against the concept in traditional multiplayer where you're confined to a specific hunk of land. There's also a mode that's essentially F.E.A.R. 3's version of Call of Duty's Zombies, where you and three other players defend a base from progressively deadlier waves of enemies. The twist here is that you have to go scavenge for supply crates in between waves and make it back to your base before it's too late. The two other modes, Soul Survivor and Soul King, involve possessing other A.I. characters, but they're a lot more fun in theory than in practice.