Right, under no circumstances will I use a ‘3’ instead of an ‘e’, and neither should you. Nor should Day 1, who have taken over the FEAR reins from Monolith for the very first time. I’m a massive fan of Monolith’s games, so I was worried when I found out they weren’t making the third instalment. What if Day 1 don’t understand what I like about FEAR? What if they don’t care what I like about FEAR? What if their use of numbers for letters ruins the franchise? Were my worries well founded?
FEAR 3’s story takes place after the second game and ties up events from the first one. You play Point Man – the brutal protagonist from the first game - but this time you’re teamed up with your psychic *SPOLIER ALERT* brother, Paxton Fettel, who you *SPOLIER ALERT* shot in the head at the end of FEAR 1. They’re on a mission to return to their *SPOLIER ALERT* mother, who’s a creepy little girl. The plot is utter lunacy really, and by the end of the game it fully descends into all out madness.
You spend your first descent into chaos in the shoes of the stupidly named Point Man; purveyor of fine guns and with a penchant for slow-mo gore creation. Once you complete a chapter (Interlude) you unlock the option to play through it again with Fettel. Playing as Point Man, it’s pleasing to find that Day 1 haven’t ignored what made FEAR great (in my oh-so-humble opinion): the combat. It’s weighty, brutal and tremendously exciting. The guns are frighteningly savage – you know full well that flesh will be flying moments after squeezing the trigger; and the melee hefty – flying kicks send bad guys spinning. It’s wholesomely satisfying in a way that no other FPS can manage. Modern Warfare? Pah! Ladies With Spud Guns more like. FEAR 3 will leave you shaking.
Excellently, this murderous viciousness doesn’t wane when you step into the ethereal togs of the not-at-all stupidly named Paxton Fettel. Fettel can use a range of attacks, including throwing what look like water bombs full of salsa at bad guys (OK, so this may not be in keeping with the harsh combat), lifting them into the air, or possessing them. It’s the possession that keeps the pace up – you leap into the body of the chosen enemy and can immediately start discharging their weapons. As you can possess enemies from afar, this can lead to mightily satisfying moments of high gore as you annihilate your victim’s mates who are stood in a surprised gaggle around you. It really is great fun.
So, bone shuddering combat? Yes! How about the scares then? Sadly, this is one area that Day 1 don’t seem to have grasped too well. FEAR 3 isn’t even remotely scary; in fact I can’t remember jumping once. FEAR 1 had some moments that made me jump out of my skin – I still wake up damp from that bit on the ladder – and FEAR 2 used light and sound to absolutely shred your nerves (go and play the school section with the lights off, headphones on, and nobody else in the house and you’ll see what I mean), but this one has nothing. I suppose there are some creepy sections, but nothing that will have you bawling for Mummy. It’s mainly the aforementioned use of light and sound: Monolith understood it, Day 1 don’t. But it doesn’t matter as, for me, it’s just not about that – the horror only provides the backdrop to the massacre, and it’s still an effective setting here.
The level design is also top drawer. I’ve heard people bleating about the completely linear, corridor based levels in the FEAR games. These people are fools and should be ignored. If you put FEAR’s combat in something like Stalker’s open environments, it wouldn’t work. You need up-close and personal situations, in tight environments that play to the game’s strengths: bodies being flung in slow motion into stacked shelves; the sound of spent shotgun shells rattling against the walls; vaulting cover to smack an Armacham goon in the chops with the butt of your assault rifle. Day 1’s level design embraces this, and does so with flair - there are some spectacular levels in here. And the meat storage room is hideous.
The levels also show off the new cover system. It works well even if it does take a while to get used to it. I never use cover systems in games, I normally just crouch or hide, but I did constantly in this. It felt natural.
Day 1 really seem to know what they’re doing – there’s an awful lot to like here. Including some glorious multiplayer modes. I haven’t played online much, but I’m going to play them an awful lot more. The highly appropriately named mode ‘Fucking Run’, where you have to leg it from a horrible wall of death, whilst running straight into hordes of enemies is panic-inducingly awesome. The ‘Contractions’ game mode is also a lot fun, if a bit familiar nowadays (defend a safe room from waves of bad guys).
There’s also co-op, but I haven’t played it as none of my mates have FEAR 3 and I’m too sissy to play co-op with random people. I’ll tell you now though: it’ll be brilliant! One person as Fettel, lifting the enemies into the air whilst Point Man obliterates them in slow motion? Mmmmm, satisfying.
So, aside from the lack of scares, did I find anything to put me off? Well, it seems to have a couple of concessions to the consoles: piss-poor checkpoints being the worst offender. It also has annoyingly distracting, and laughably pointless, achievements (although I’ll guiltily admit to harvesting these after the first couple of levels, as they help you increase your abilities). Oh, and regenerating health needs to die now. If it can die, obviously.
Don’t let any of those very minor faults put you off what is a triumphant return for arguably the most physical shooter out there. Let the blood spray, says I!