Review: F.E.A.R. 3 Co-Op (PS3)

Title: F.E.A.R. 3
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Price: $59.99

The FEAR series (First Encounter Assault Recon) first made an entrance onto the survival-horror scene in 2006.  Ported over from the PC it brought with it some interesting ideas and presented itself as combining a mixture of first-person shooter with elements of in-your-face horror.  It received better than average reception from the gaming masses and spawned a sequel with 2009’s FEAR 2.  Now, picking up where Monolith Games left off, the developers at Day 1 Studios have released what could be the final chapter in this supernatural series.

First touted during 2010’s E3, Day 1 Studios promised some rather daring innovations to this latest installment – not the least of which was a highly publicized co-op campaign involving 2 major characters from the first 2 FEAR games – Point Man and Paxton Fettel.  Factoring in  Horror film legend John Carpenter and writer Steve Niles as consultants it seemed as if Warner Bros. Interactive was willing to take the risks necessary to deliver what FEAR fans have been waiting for.

We here at PSNation understand and can appreciate the concept of risk.  In many cases, where there is risk there is reward.  That is precisely why fellow writer Jason and myself have decided to take a risk with the review of FEAR 3 and present it in a fashion that none of us have seen before on any other gaming website.  Because we both love a good co-op campaign (there aren’t nearly enough) we’ve taken it upon ourselves to focus primarily on FEAR 3’s version and co-author a  review that reflects our experiences playing individually as Point Man and Paxton Fettel.

Jason: First person shooters and horror games have made randy bed-fellows Bill. From DOOM on down to Monolith’s uber-underrated Condemned series. This new FEAR 3 adds a co-op feature, which does make the game considerably more playable – at least for this horror gamer – then the previous two games in this series, but sort of takes the edge off of the spook factor. It’s hard to scream like a lost little kitten when you know you’ve got another dude listening in somewhere on the other end of that microphone. I do remember a few – admittedly muzzled – yelps coming from my end and your end as one of us would inevitably end up ahead of the other, and alone, and in the startling company of an Alma-induced nightmare. Did you think the co-op sort of compromises the soul of a true horror gaming experience?

Bill: I don’t think that adding a co-op feature to a survival horror game (with or without first-person-shooter elements) should compromise the scare factors associated with the game.  With that said, I believe that FEAR 3 was unable to accommodate both players with an equal amount.  They were reserved for tight corridor situations and primarily emerged when a corner was rounded or a ladder was ascended.  Rarely were both of us able to experience the shock and gore of FEAR 3 at the same time.  Instead, we found ourselves asking each other – “What did you see?“.

Jason: Which I liked. Which is what I really like about Valve’s Left 4 Dead games. Which, (yeah, I just started three different sentences with “which“) now that I think about it, is what FEAR 3 reminded me of the most – graphically and play-wise. I think it’s the intimacy of two players that kind of adds a little bit more to the tension. Though, even then, you’re going to get nowhere near the same creep-out buzz as you will slogging through something like Dead Space or Condemned: Criminal Origins. Alone. With the lights off. With Stairway to Heaven rotating backwards on your turntable in the next room.

Either way though, this is the first FEAR game I actually played to completion – I could chalk that up to Bill being such a gracious and thoughtful play partner and maybe not so much the game itself. As much as I wanted to bitch about everything I didn’t like about FEAR 3 Mr. Braun kept me centered and a bit more positive…. even though, tragically, as character choices went, he got COMPLETELY SCREWED by being forced to play as Paxton Fettel throughout our campaign run. Want to bitch a little bit about Fettel Bill? And maybe admit now that Point Man – grossly under-named, amply furry, and short on words though he may have been – is the clear choice for better Co-Op character?

Bill: Playing as Paxton Fettell wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  He certainly had a unique set of skills.  I just don’t think either of us ever got a chance to realize his full potential.  Although his powers were leveled-up at the end of each chapter based on his performance I consistently felt like one of two things – a pussy or a useless side-kick.

In his defense I should elaborate.  Paxton Fettell is an apparition of sorts.  Because of this he is incapable of handling the arsenal of weapons that my partner – playing as the militarized Point Man – had the luxury of using throughout the game.  However, having the ability to “possess” enemies does allow him to actually pick up and use any number of weapons available to him – for a very limited amount of time.  At the end of that brief period of possession (I’m talking like 60-90 seconds) Fettell bursts out of his host body and reverts back to normal.  Then it’s a matter of waiting for your on-screen meter to regenerate to allow for the next possession.

In the meantime, you have the ability to shoot psychic blasts from your hands, provide a protective shield around Point Man and levitate various enemies for him to unload into.  Watching this co-operative effort unfold was initially quite satisfying but, in the long run, quickly became repetitive and boring.  In the end I felt more like my partner’s bitch rather than a force to be reckoned with.

I really did have fun playing as Paxton Fettell.  He just seemed to be out of place in a game that was distinctly more FPS than survival horror.

Jason: I didn’t go out of my way to make you my bitch by the way. Fettel just forced you down a path to a bitch-like state you were incapable of escaping from…

I think the Fettel character was what drew me in to giving this game some further consideration. I just felt like if the character were actually allowed to grow in power, ultimately becoming a god character by game’s end, (thinking of games like InFamous and Prototype) it would have been worth the limitations he was hobbled with during the opening chapters of the game. I did dig the fact that you could inhabit some of the bigger, mini-boss sized characters, and put the smack-down on other enemies of your size. Tragically though, in video games as it is here in the real world… the guy with the guns gets all the love.

I remember not being a considerate partner and wiping out entire rooms and hallways full of enemies before you could find a moment to possess a single, solitary soldier. I had to keep reminding myself to allow a few baddies some breathing room so that you could get in on the action. Some of my favorite moments in the game though, were when Fettel would force-lift a guy off the ground and I would light him up with a shotgun, or rocket launcher. The big, red, splat felt like a dual victory for us. It also reminded me of Infected – one of my favorite PSP cult titles.

What did you like about this game though Bill? I don’t want to beat up on it too badly. Even though I’d like to bitch about how tough portions of the campaign were, (yep kids, we had to bump down the difficulty level from our start-set of “commando” to “recruit” on a few frustrating occasions) but found the final bout with FEAR 3’s closing final boss to be like a jaunt through the French countryside…

Bill: Even the most mediocre of games have some elements of surprise and enthusiasm.  FEAR 3 was certainly no different.  For me that hook, that level that made me say – “OK, things are looking up” – would have to be when the infamous Mech Assault vehicles were introduced.  Really, can there ever be anything bad said about a solid Mech level?  I’m gonna say no.

I half expected this as the FEAR series has consistently had better-than-average Mech levels.  Initially, based on Fettel’s inability to interact with his surroundings, I was certain that this would be another level to stand by and watch Point Man get all the action.  Thankfully, after possessing the nearest warm body, I was able to enter said Mech, wreak havoc and tear shit up right alongside him.  Even better was the fact that while encased in this man-made monster of pure destruction my possession timer was graciously shut off.  I was able to experience this carnage through to the end.

FEAR 3 also had a number of well designed levels.  Where FEAR and FEAR 2’s biggest criticism was in the corridor shooter repetition, FEAR 3 had an admirable amount of variety.  Most noticeable was the train wreck level.  Traversing through, over and under numerous train cars – many of which were precariously balanced and hanging over the edge of a bridge – completely ramped up the overall tension.  Staying alive became that much more complicated.

Jason: Agreed. This game did at least try to put to the players in environments that didn’t so remind them of the cubicles and water-coolered corners of their work places. The train bridge level was notable. As were the enemies at this point in the campaign. We really got into a nest of monsters by this area. I couldn’t stand the invisible mutant that affected each of our vision until he appeared directly behind one us, bear-hugging our helpless bodies, and crushing us to one small tier above total brain death. Those moments in the game were always a bit frantic – especially because the effects of this creature wouldn’t allow either of us to run. Sort of nullifying our flight capabilities. And you’re right, the mech levels did rock. Those sweet little death machines spit all kinds of pain.

As did Alma’s uterus… Jesus, I can still hear those awful howls.

Bill: Sadly, where the gameplay was mediocre at best I also found the look and feel of the game to be outdated and more than a little rough around the edges.  Frame-rate issues aside, this game just did not convince me that it was released in 2011.  While the lighting effects enhanced the overall creepiness of the story everything else was very plain looking.  I do remember pointing out some interesting effects from random bullets – the pitted markings along a concrete wall were a nice touch of authenticity and realism.  Still, this was a far cry from an Uncharted 2 or a Killzone 3.  If I didn’t know the history of the FEAR franchise I might have a hard time distinguishing between FEAR 2 and FEAR 3.

Jason: It’s funny because even though I reviewed Homefront earlier this year, and gave that game a C-, it still looked a generation better than FEAR 3 graphically. With the aforementioned Killzone 3, and with FPS titles Crysis 2, Battlefield 3, Resistance 3, and yet another Call of Duty game coming in 2011 – this isn’t the year in video game development to present anything unattractive and bland to the public.

Bill: The audio was also reliably strong.  Throughout the campaign I was fortunate enough to have borrowed Joel’s (Joel-on-a-stick) Turtle Beach Ear Force DPX21 gaming headset.  That bad boy truly rocks and FEAR 3 put it through some serious tests.  The weapons sounded deep and penetrating while Alma’s screams during the most bizarre childbirth I’ve ever been witness to (and I have 3 children of my own, mind you) sent chills down my spine with each contraction.

Jason: Thank you Bill Braun for conjuring grisly images of my daughter’s birth. Images that I would happily pay thousands of dollars to have scrubbed from my memory drives. Alma’s labor was nothing compared to the real thing – THANK GOD.

Jason: Outside of “hooking up” online for our 6 or 7 hours of Co-Op FEAR factoring, neither of us had the strength or will to push on through the other online offerings for the game: F**king Run and Soul Survivor. Both of which sound like a night out with Michael Richards – spent in Harlem.

Bill: I’ve been a fan of the FEAR series from the beginning.  I really enjoyed FEAR 2 and, after seeing how that game ended (demonic raping, anyone?), couldn’t wait to see where the series went.  Although I wasn’t totally disappointed with FEAR 3 it’s safe to say that I was expecting more . . . on so many levels.  Experiencing the full campaign in co-op mode was a great treat and I don’t regret any of it.  However, now that I’ve had the opportunity to play through it once as Paxton Fettel it’s not altogether inconceivable that I’ll play through it again as Point Man.  I’m thinking that the level of fear (pun intended) will be considerably higher knowing that I no longer need to fake machismo with Jason on the other end.  I can squeal like a little girl and no one will know the difference.  If you’re looking for a game to tide you over until the release onslaught that is the final quarter of 2011 you could do much worse than FEAR 3.

Jason: Just call me Point Man… I’ll give FEAR 3 some extra points for doing the Co-Op thing when so many game makers seem to be avoiding this trend in gaming. Co-Op – in some variation – should be in every title that boasts online support. As bland as the game was the Co-Op element made it a beatable title when I don’t know if it would have been – at least on my end – if it had just been relegated to a solo effort by Day 1 Studios.

Still…. I’m a devoted horror gamer. FEAR’s kind of lost it’s flavor for me at this point in its lifespan. What may have been a premiere horror title six years ago now feels like one of those cheap trailer carnival fun houses parked in the rear of the county fair – so much so you can almost smell the old latex and the crayon smell of fog machines as you trundle through the campaign. This new game is the spawn of Monolith Productions studios here in Kirkland Washington. If they had to unload the FEAR franchise on other developers so they could focus their time and energy on making a new Condemned title then I’m glad I chipped in to support that effort in some tiny way. Either way, FEAR 3 is playable – with a buddy even more so. It’s just caught in between not being a very strong horror game and not being a very strong First Person Shooter. Which isn’t such a hot fissure to find yourself in this year.


Written by Bill Braun

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