Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Day 1 Studios/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense
violence, partial nudity, strong language)
By Billy O'Keefe
Is it possible to be both a mostly excellent game and a big letdown? It sure is, and "F.E.A.R. 3" — the arguably misnamed fruits of a game in development since before "F.E.A.R. 2" released — stands as enjoyable, aggravating proof.
First things first: the story. Because of "F3's" unusual development experience — look it up if you're curious about the reasons and means — it feels more like a continuation of the original "F.E.A.R." than its sequel. The game opens a big window into the tormented origins of the first game's chief protagonist and antagonist, but if you're hoping for a payoff on the second game's cliffhanger, you'll mostly be stifled until the very end.
Far more jarring than any of this, though, are the changes new developer Day 1 Studios has made to the core "F.E.A.R." gameplay, which is known as much for its pristine enemy intelligence and creepy atmosphere as its unique storyline.
That atmosphere returns, though this time, it's competing with a persistent scoring system that frequently (and prominently) awards you points for killing stylishly and using various weapons and techniques multiple times. The system, which feeds into a gamewide XP system that awards you perks with each new rank you attain, is a fun new wrinkle that, along with the ability to play completed levels as the first game's antagonist, encourages replaying the campaign different ways. But the continual flashing of scores and mini-achievements definitely clashes with the moody atmosphere "F3" wants to present, and it'd have been nice if players who wanted to could at least hide the notifications and just see a post-mission score roundup (which the game already displays).
The beloved artificial intelligence also returns. But in a troubling development, it also leaves, and not just once.
"F3's" early levels are mostly terrific, and the additional focus on cover — "Take Cover" button and all — doesn't transform enemy soldiers into robots who repeatedly pop in and out of cover. They still behave intelligently, calling out your position, changing theirs and double-teaming you when a level's layout allows for flanking.
But storyline developments also pit you against what, by any other name, are zombies. They stupidly rush at you, and "F3" immediately transforms into a twitch shooter that's all reflex and no intelligence. An even stupider enemy type appears later to put up an even less interesting fight. A third enemy type is more formidable, but only because it requires more firepower to destroy and not because it does anything more advanced than rush you.
During "F3's" back half, flat encounters like these outnumber the great shootouts that dominate the first half. The levels reflect it, too: Elaborate battlefields give way to stifling corridors, and some encounters may as well be from a light gun game. The highlights still outnumber the lowlights, but the margin is dispiritingly slim.
Fortunately, the rest of what makes "F.E.A.R." great — excellent firepower and great control — is back, and it applies to an inspired online multiplayer suite (four players) as well as the campaign (which supports two-player local/online co-op).
"F3" splits its multiplayer between competitive play and variations on the survival mode that's crept into every shooter of late. But the touches it applies to each mode _ an encroaching wall of death in one survival mode, the ability for players to possess and use A.I. soldiers as leverage in competitive play _ add a layer of teamwork and strategy that works in perfect tandem with the low player limit. Additionally, the XP perks you earn in the campaign carry over here (and vice versa).
(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.