F.3.A.R

It’s the witching hour in what looks like an Eastern European council estate. The moon rides high; the air is electric with expectation. Children’s playthings lay abandoned all around but there are no children because all the children are dead.

And there you are. Cutting a slim figure, skulking through the shadows. Somewhere in the thick darkness prowls your brother, too. You executed him not so long ago but that’s okay, he’s let bygones be bygones and is back now. He’s also a mentally unsound swine with black-voodoo witchcraft pouring from his fingertips and a receding hairline of equally appalling proportions.

From out of the darkness a voice rasps: feeeeeeeeeeeear, accentuating the “ear” like a klaxon alarm. The terror is palpable. You can taste it, even. It tastes like that night you crept downstairs to watch The Shining and turned it off after the tricycle scene. And then it all happens, all at once.

Time turns viscous, laboring to keep up. Brother Man leaps from the inky void and with a camp click of his fingers and a pirouette hoists some soldier guy up into the air like a puppet. Where did he come from? No time to think. You act on raw animal instinct. Primal impulse lifting and crashing your stupid man feet into the ground, up and down and up and down like thundering ancient clockwork. You storm toward the impotent marionette while he sobs and yearns for the days of taking orders in Pizza Hut. Then you leap; up and up, ascending to an obscene height of some six feet and in one fell, finalizing motion, you lash out with your boot toward the mystified trooper, striking him in his big, fat, blubbering face.

He’s dead. About 15 feet away, crumpled with his head up his ass and his legs coiled about a Swingball pole.

And that, with some liberties taken, is F.3.A.R.

Fear 3 isn’t much in the way of a horror game, then. It’s not even a game striving impatiently to be a horror game like Fear 2 was. Don’t be fooled by Carpenter’s name splashed pointlessly across the box. This is the year 2011; The Thing is, after all, a distant, bittersweet memory.

All that is irrelevant though, because Fear 3 benefits greatly from not having much at all to do with fear. You’re going to have to deal with that.

Now that’s out of the way let’s get down to the meaty core of things: Fear 3 is brilliant, unashamedly stupid and brilliantly brilliant. It’s the Matrix with a tint of Singularity, echoes of Bulletstorm, a sprinkling of Killzone and a splash of Condemned, all via a big bag of jellybeans and a copy of Laymen’s Horror (written by John Carpenter, probably). Let me explain.

You fill the boots of the personality vacuum Point Man. Point Man is in prison. The how and the why probably has something to do with the back-end of F.E.A.R 2 but it isn’t vital to know the intricacies. All that matters is that Point Man is in jail for all of about seven seconds before his magician of a brother, Fettel, busts him out and together they’re cavorting about the place racking up a body count with the kind of perverted glee reserved for those in straightjackets. People like Point Man and Fettel, then.

From there on some things happen that I can’t explain (and neither can Day 1 Studios). The team endeavour to tell the tale of the brothers’ less than envious rearing – through brief, level punctuating cut scenes – but your encounters with stories would have to begin and end with Topsy and Tim before you’d level any kind of praise toward Fear 3 as a storytelling vehicle.

Brushing that and the fear thing aside then, Fear 3 survives off the back of two things: stupendous shooting mechanics and an overarching murdering system ripped wholesale from Bulletstorm, sans the leash.

Combat is frenetic, borrowing Killzone’s gawky first-person cover system (bulletproof heads) and meatiness and merging that with the slow motion shootouts – the series’ perpetual calling card. Slow motion is antiquated but there’s no denying the irresistible sense of authority that arrives with it. On top of that it counters the strategic cover-based shooting part – after a bit of whac-a-mole tact it’s refreshing to equip a shotgun and delve into slow motion for a while, basking in the outrageous geysers of blood that erupt after every elongated shot. It’s puerile wish fulfillment but it’s still loitering in games for a reason.

Like Bulletstorm, killing isn’t an artless means to an end. It’s an engine for expression and half the fun is toying with the thumping weaponry and character abilities to ferret out the absurd methods of dispatching all the gormless dregs that stray into the player’s path. Methods like that slow motion leaping-kick. This is one of the many reasons why playing the campaign through with a partner is the better way to experience the game. Either way, there’s more than enough depth to the gunplay to keep it alive for the short 8-level campaign and the level design is of a high enough standard to act as a suitable laboratory for experimentation.

Despite claims to the contrary the game does, sporadically, tiptoe into horror territory and on those occasions does a semi-decent job of ramping up the trepidation. Most of the scares are hollow frights though, something heralding from the shadows or a loud noise bursting through the silence. There’s nothing markedly intimidating about the game.

It is perversely funny though, Day 1 more than happy to flaunt their delightfully debauched sense of humour. Fear 3 is grotesque but in precisely the same vein as Dead Space 2. Soldiers stretched out in a supermarket toilet, intestines having evacuated their roosts explosively, make for a cannibal’s all you can eat buffet but you can’t help but laugh at how excessive it all is.

Frustratingly, the fact that this is the trilogy’s denouement means that during the last hour or so a gross weight is placed on the shoulders of its flavourless story. With the rush to wrap up the Fear legacy we’re resigned to walking leisurely through Gears of War-esque scenes featuring characters chatting about nothing, we smash objects in attempt to rid the brothers of their past and duke it out with some poorly designed and hackneyed boss things. Oh it’s you again, Big Angry Supersoldier, can’t we just talk it through?

On the plus side there’s multiplayer, where things finally get hairy.

This is Suicide is a fairly flagrant Nazi Zombie clone. You defend a quasi-fortress from waves of enemies, battening down the hatches and repairing makeshift wooden barricades between rounds spent keeping trespassers at bay. The scoring system isn’t as deeply nestled as Black Ops’ zombie mode but This is Suicide has a few tricks of its own including having the players dart out between rounds to resupply and a fog of war that gradually forces you to seek refuge in the building’s upper stories (the best though is darling Alma herself, who sulks about the map. Catch her eye and she’ll teleport you out into the mist, meaning you’ll have to run the gauntlet back inside the sanctuary to the warm embrace of some strangers).

The ludicrously titled Fu**ing Run mode couldn’t cut straighter to the chase because you run and you run fast and if you don’t then that’s the end of that. It’s tailored to being terrifying and it is. The aim is to make it from checkpoint to checkpoint, battling soldiers as per the norm. You even play on campaign maps. The only minor difference in Fu**ing Run is that you’re being hounded by a towering cloud of instant death. Taking cover is never an advisable option and Fu**ing Run is all about making stupid decisions in a panic and surviving just long enough to make the next one.

If anybody dies the game ends so it’s not even like you can take flight while your comrades buckle under the burden of carrying one another in brotherhood, basically dying together like comrades should. You have to operate as a four-man squad.

As a mode it encapsulates the raw sense of fear better than any moment in the campaign because you are so positively the prey and you are so absolutely powerless: that right there is fear and it’s stunning that so few games have managed to capture that of late.

Fu**ing Run is toxic and breathless, something sexy in light of the incessant torrent of games touting team slayer and capture the flag again and again.

It’s also the finest part of an otherwise peculiar package. Steadfast series fans are going to find the story tough to swallow, there’s no sense of closure, very little drama fueling the romp. Even if the previous games in the franchise weren’t at the forefront of interactive fiction, Fear 3 is lousy in the story department. It’s almost void of fear, as well, which could be the kicker. Those are the caveats.

The payoff, though, is a campaign that is riveting and terse and absolutely driven by stellar mechanics, dusted off with a light sprinkling of horror. That the co-op and multiplayer elements are so accomplished (and so worth bothering with) just helps top off a game shot through with verve.

8/10

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