The needs of the sequel—to go bigger, broader, and louder—are at cross purposes with the needs of atmospheric horror, which benefits from the surgical application of shocks and plenty of suspense-building downtime. With its near-constant din of scripted spookiness, F.E.A.R. 3 is the least frightening entry in the F.E.A.R. franchise, but a few fun tweaks to the FPS model and some prudent thieving from superior titles result in a game that delivers the thrills even without the chills.
Day 1 Studios enlisted ringers Steve Niles (30 Days Of Night) and John Carpenter (Halloween) to script and direct, but the flat, unappealing characters and twist-filled but skimpy plot don’t give them much to work with. After executing his brother Paxton Fettel at the end of F.E.A.R., the imaginatively named Point Man fell into the hands of research giant Armacham, only to be busted out by his undead, grudge-bearing sibling. Their destination is the same; they both want to reach their mother Alma before she gives birth to… something. What they’ll do when they get there is another story.
The series has always had a knack for visuals and sound—never has a didgeridoo been so unsettling—and there are some great setpieces, like a modern, televisual take on the classic hall-of-mirrors showdown. Unfortunately, the gore is ramped up so quickly and cartoonishly that by the time players are wading through a maze of rancid meat, they might as well be tiptoeing through musty library stacks for all the impact it has. And even in all that strained menace, there’s nothing here as disturbing as Alma’s mirror-world materializing or the antigravity blood from previous games.
Bowing to peer pressure, F.E.A.R. 3 finally adopts health regeneration, and for the first time, players can snap to cover. That update comes at a price, though: The distinctive on-the-fly fortification building is absent. Instead, your six is covered by Fettel, who’s playable in single and co-op modes. His telekinetic and body-swapping powers add flavor to a campaign that’s a little bland in the middle, and that sometimes resorts to hoary old tropes like the immortal, interminable helicopter battle. (Protip: Use a rocket launcher.)
The campaign is decent though uninspired, with the relentless, strategizing A.I. the series is known for, and some excellent environments, like a Sam’s Club-style warehouse. But the heart-stopping multiplayer really shores up the game’s weaknesses. “Contraction” is Call Of Duty’s “Nazi Zombies” without the world-domination weltanschauung. Players reinforce defenses and scrounge for supplies between waves of attackers while avoiding the punishing gaze of Alma, who functions a bit like Left 4 Dead 2’s witches. That isn’t the only nod to L4D2: Its “Taaannnk!” mutation gets rejiggered in F.E.A.R. 3 as the exhausting “F*cking Run!” which forces players to quickly and efficiently mow through enemies, or be consumed by a sentient wall of doom. Like humor, horror dies a quick death upon heavy repetition. Fortunately, every element of F.E.A.R. 3 that feels refurbished and repackaged is matched by well-integrated novelty. And this time, you can play with the lights on.