It should be noted before we delve any deeper into a discussion about FEAR 3 that we absolutely refuse to refer to it by either of its supposedly proper names – F.E.A.R. 3 or F3AR. While F.E.A.R ostensibly stands for First Encounter Assault and Recon, it should be clear that this meaning is only a retroactive justification for the uppercase letters. Also, they look stupid and they're a pain to type.
So, FEAR 3 then.
FEAR 3 is the first game in the series that seems to know what it really wants to be. Where the first game hotfooted between styles, with individual levels clearly dedicated to either drawn-out tension or rat-tat gunplay, FEAR 3 has finally chosen a speciality. Developer Day One has looked at Monolith's scary shooting series, decided what it does best and then dedicated the third instalment solely to the refinement of that idea.
Click to enlarge
And what FEAR does best is bullet-ballet; graceful, slow-motion gun fights that see players shooting grenades out of the air and mixing melee attacks together with weapons that feel tremendously satisfying to use. The returning Penetrator, which fires steel bars through enemies with freight-train force, is enough of a reason to play FEAR 3.
The fact that FEAR 3 isn't scary might be seen as a negative aspect, but it's not. The result is that FEAR 3 lets the action shine more than before, especially with some of the new systems that have been ratcheted onto the sides of the violence.
Principal among these ideas is FEAR 3's new scoring system, which brings achievements explicitly into the game and gives FEAR 3 a decidedly arcade feel. Everything from the number of headshots you've scored with a particular weapon through to how much time you've spent in slow-motion mode is now tracked and rewarded with in-game perks, such as extra health or ammo capacity.
This overt gamification, with its messages that pop up in the middle of battles and post-mission reports on your progress, does initially feel a bit strange, admittedly. We quickly warmed to the concept, however, and found it made an excellent reason to cycle through FEAR 3's various weapons and styles of attack. The hand-to-hand combat that's been an overpowered and underused signature of the series suddenly became a relevant and enjoyable asset when considered alongside these achievements, for example.
The achievements system comes even more to the forefront in the co-operative mode too, which sees two players partnering up to tackle the campaign with entirely different skill sets. One player takes the role of Point Man, the silent protagonist of the original FEAR who uses slow-motion and conventional weaponry, while the other plays the spirit of his brother, Paxton Fettel. Incorporeal and psychically linked to Point Man, Fettel's abilities revolve around possessing enemies and stunning them in order to enable Point Man to attack.
Unfortunately, while you would hope that the difference between the two characters would allow for some complex strategies to emerge in co-op play, or for the levels to have been balanced in such a way that allows players to take turns in the spotlight, that's ultimately not the case. There's little option for players to use their brains, and the deeper team-based mechanics of co-op games such as Left 4 Dead are utterly absent; it's a corridor shooter with two shooters.
That's not to say that FEAR 3's co-op is bad, however. It's still fun, but it's fun in a basic, rompish kind of way that's sadly lacking in sophistication for a game that seems to bill itself primarily as a co-op shooter.