A couple of months after starting F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon in an effort to play something spooky around Halloween, my experience with the series is now complete. Although I’d always wanted to play that game, I didn’t think finally doing so would take me down the rabbit hole of playing every entry. But here we are. F.E.A.R. 3 brought the series to a close with the return of the Point Man, his evil brother Paxton Fettel, and their strained relationship with Alma Wade. The shifting trend of the series, to a more action-orientated horror affair reached its culmination with new gameplay mechanics, which made this the most enjoyable entry.
Unlike the previous entries which were developed by Monolith Productions, the studio that originated the series, F.E.A.R. 3 was developed by Day 1 Studios. This wasn’t their first experience with the series, however: they ported the first game and its expansions to consoles. It released on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 and was published by Warner Bros. in June 2011, two years after the last installment.
Set nine months after the end of the previous game, this one opens with the Point Man a hostage of Armacham, in the slums of Brazil. In a curious act, his brother and once mortal enemy, in an ethereal form, helps to free him. Fettel wants to bury the hatchet, and conjures flashbacks to their test subject childhood between missions. He reminds him of the mistreatment they faced at the hands of Harlan Wade, Alma’s father and the one who created them to be military psychic commanders. At the same time he’s trying to elicit kinship, he compels the Point Man to put family above all else. Alma, their mother and the tortured soul who rendered the horrors of the previous games, is due to give birth and he wants the two of them to see to it that she does. And then, you know, become as gods and get their revenge on humanity. While they share a traumatic past, this isn’t the way for the Point Man.
Together, they escape Brazil and return to the hellish Cascadian epicenter of it all. The Point Man, a silent protagonist, was intent on reaching Jin Sun-Kwon, his F.E.A.R. colleague and presumably, on killing Alma once and for all. After surviving hundreds of Armacham soldiers, mechs, and all sorts of mutated creatures, that is. He got his chance, but so too did Fettel. With this entry, after completing a mission as the Point Man, I unlocked the option to play as Fettel. There were gameplay ramifications as the former relied on firearms and the latter on his psychic abilities, but the narrative incentive was to see one of two endings. They both resulted as one might suspect a “good” and “bad” ending would. Both offered some closure, but left things open enough for a follow-up. Eight years later, that seems unlikely.
Alternatively, this game’s campaign could be played co-operatively, with each player controlling one of the brothers. Even better, it had online and offline co-op, the latter of which is always nice to see. This was a first for the series and one more example of the shift away from horror and towards action. In a co-op playthrough, the ending would be determined by who scored the most; yes, who scored the most. You see, another new facet of gameplay were challenges. These ranged from getting a certain number of kills with a particular weapon to more specific actions. They weren’t terribly unique, but they needn’t be; they were meant to be repeatable across most any mission and attainable by either brother. It was kind of like a toned down version of The Club, or Bulletstorm, and I honestly dug it!
These challenges engaged me just as much as achievements or trophies do, which is a lot! Granted, there were a few achievements tied to challenges… but I still enjoyed having something additional to focus on in the missions, and a reason to use different weapons or unconventional killing methods. Regarding the gunplay and general combat, this was easily the best in the series. With little customization, the controls and movement/aiming responsiveness were to my liking: fast-paced and a little loose. I effectively, and enjoyably, eliminated hundreds of enemies, from Armacham grunts and their mechs to cultists and mutated monsters. Weapon variety was a little pedestrian – there weren’t any futuristic weapons – but every now and then, I piloted a ground-based mech, which kind of made up for the shortage of guns.
Choosing to play as Fettel offered a slightly different experience. Instead of relying on a bevy of firearms and the Point Man’s trusty slow-motion ability, Fettel could use psychic powers to inhabit or outright attack foes. Possessing enemies only lasted for a short while, but could be extended by harvesting the souls of fallen comrades. This was fun to do but it always felt like I was racing against the clock to kill enemies and harvest their souls. Fettel wasn’t powerless in his base form – he could blast psychic energy at enemies and perform special melee attacks – but he couldn’t use firearms. I was hoping the missions would vary when playing through them as the other brother, but they were identical.
A couple of other series firsts were the inclusion of cover and rechargeable health. Getting into, out of, and peeking over cover was seamless and prompt, which is all I really want of cover. Well, besides actually providing safeguard from incoming bullets. And the recharging health! Finally, I could cower behind cover for a few seconds and return to battle refreshed and ready to reclaim the honor I lost after tucking my tail between my legs and running away! Together, these gameplay mechanics made this game feel like a “modern” first-person shooter, in comparison to the previous entries which relied on med kits and armor pickups. I rarely died as a result, but the challenge wasn’t so much surviving as it was completing challenges and setting a high score.
Previously I lamented the series’ shift towards action in favor of a scarier experience, but F.E.A.R. 3 went so far in that direction and Day 1 Studios executed it well, that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. I’d say the first game probably remains my favorite, as it skews closest to what I wanted from it, but this one was the most fun to play. I was happy to find the controls and responsiveness were markedly improved from the previous entry and the bevy of updates, like challenges, cover, and recharging health were welcome additions. Co-op was also a nice inclusion, and some of the multiplayer modes seem creative and fun, if you can find matches nowadays. I’m glad that there was some closure with this entry, and that I stuck with it and played through the entire series relatively quickly. On the whole, they were great games! Maybe next Halloween I’ll do the Condemned games.