We Do Like it when a game puts a willy up us, preferably multiple willies. Give or take the odd expansion, FEAR has consistently done just that with that creepy child Alma (now much older and with child) filling our heads with inferred visions of horror.
The second game didn't really bring anything new to the party, not even a mix tape, but it did keep the door open for greater things to come and we're hoping FEAR 3 will be the game to provide it. Unfortunately the official I33t title - F.E.A.R. -doesn't inspire much confidence, especially as Monolith have taken a backseat role as 'consultants' on this game. Hopefully, instead they're working on a sequel to Shogo: Mobile Armor Division or Blood. (Hey, it's the last issue, we can dream!)
By way of compensation that the series has been turned over to others, horror movie legend John Carpenter is on board. You may have seen his handiwork on some of the live-action trailers. Unfortunately most of the in-game footage revealed so far has been less impressive. However, it all fits together, and we're sure it won't be as bad as our cynicism tells us. We're also told that the third game will be the conclusion to the series.
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Let's Get It over with: it was shit back when it began with Driv3r. When This Nas announced we all shook our heads ruefully, Now, we're onto F.3.A.R. and the ! marketing brigade is barrelling so deep into the their fantasy of the txt-generation's psyche that we're almost at the stage where we can officially 4 label human existence as a culturally and emotionally barren wasteland.
Or we would, if F.3.A.R. wasn't actually shaping up to be an undeniably refreshing instalment in the franchise that specialises in chasing spectral six year-olds. And that is the last time you'll see calling this game F.3.A.R. It's bloody ridiculous, so we're going with the sensible and non-trendy FEAR 3.
And if Warner Bros complain, tough. There is, however, something else - that needs to be addressed before we descend into the slow-motion arterial spray and pyrotechnics of this, the third instalment in Monolith's franchise. Namely, that this isn't Monolith's franchise. Not anymore. It may have some of the same talent FEAR 2s design director is on board as a creative lead, but the coding is taking place at Day 1 Studios - porters of the original FEAR to consoles and the developers behind so-so console title Fracture.
If you're nervously pulling at your collar at this precise moment you could be forgiven, but in person and on-screen everything appears to be FEAR business as usual. As something of a Monolith fanboy I must admit to pulling a face when I heard the news, but if there's a dip in quality in this instalment then it's not one that's currently visible in the gameplay.
My fingers remain crossed, but it hasn't stopped me smiling. FEAR 3 takes place nine months after the enforced bump and grind experienced by FEAR 2s protagonist, and as such the terrifying psychic monster that is Alma Wade is on the cusp of giving birth to something horrid. Rift events and psychic blow-outs containing paranormal beasts are exploding out over the deserted town of Fairport in time with her contractions, while the nearby crater that was once the town of Auburn smoulders.
The seemingly limitless military forces of Armacham continue to hunker down and attempt to destroy evidence of their involvement in the explosion, and a FEAR team are scrabbling around in an attempt to finally destroy Alma. But it's a returning duo that are being forced back into the player-controlled limelight. This gruesome twosome are the co-op pairing of Alma's existing offspring: the original game's lead character Point Man, and the ghostly presence of his brother Paxton Fettel.
FEAR 3 is you see, essentially Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased): The Videogame. In single-player Fettel (killed by a bullet to the head in FEAR and reborn in the recent Project Origin DLC) comes along for the ride as an invisible friend, though not a very nice one. In co-op he's present as a full-on combat partner with a full array of spectral abilities designed to complement Point Man's customary bullet-time leanings and shooty demeanour. Divergent co-op is the name of the game: a co-op experience where you can either play all friendly-like, or alternatively t bait each other like complete bastards.
"Basically you're playing the game, and you're playing it co-operatively, but you're playing it with someone you don't trust," explains executive producer Dan Hay. "We all know what Fettel is, and have an understanding of how he might play in a co-operative experience and we wanted to evolve on that. So there'll be opportunities where you'll be able to work in concert through the game, but Fettel or Point Man may choose to go out and do their own thing, or not give certain pieces of information."
How competitive play within co-op is going to work, or indeed whether it will work, is unclear - but the ways in which each character works alongside the other is undeniably classy. Because Fettel is dead and Point Man (here seemingly played by Eric Cantona) still has blood pumping they can each see different things - there'll be visions, messages and scares that one character can see that the other will remain blissfully unaware of, unless informed otherwise.
We Are Family
Fettel can also see barriers that he can break through in the game world that Point Man will then happily waltz past in single-player, thus providing access (should he choose to do so) to weapon stashes or entirely different passages through the next bit of the level.
As for Fettel's powers - for the most part he dashes around the battlefield with an outstretched hand delivering psychic attacks, but he can also help Point Man by either stunning Alma's creations or raising them off the ground so his brother can fill them with bullets.
So these two little boys have their array of little toys (Day 1 refuse to speculate on wooden drums) and it's genuinely rather exhilarating to see them in action. The gameplay I bore witness to in a behind closed doors session at the recent GDC took place on a broken transport bridge, into which Point Man and Fettel crash-land a rocket pod, having escaped from a unnamed battle elsewhere in Fairport.
Originally flying alongside many other pods, looking somewhat like Star Trek: TNG shuttles, an explosion knocks the brothers' craft from the sky - and a cutscene unfolds in which the corporeal (and always silent) Point Man struggles with the G-force and the ethereal Fettel perches on the dashboard unaffected by the plunge - commenting on how it's just like old times, and berating his brother for fratricides of times past. In the distance, meanwhile, blood-red skies swirl around an oval of light above a set of skyscrapers - the dilation of which must surely represent the imminence of the birth of the previously mentioned 'something horrid'.
The bridge the brothers will soon be fighting through and over is of the double-decker variety - on the lower-evel corpse-strewn underground trains lie piled up, while top-side Armacham troops have secured a motorway where broken concrete and burnt-out cars are the primary scenery.
At first it's a slow-paced trek along empty train carriages, but soon suspiciously chewed corpses appear, and it's not long before FEAR3 first entry in Alma's mind menagerie make their appearance. Bursting through a buckled metro door with flames issuing from their primary orifices, these scuttling chaps are Scavengers: an ape-like variant on the dogs that Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis turn into in — Chostbusters. They're pock-marked with fiery scars and are some heftily nimble foes: hanging from door-frames, leaping spread-eagled at your screen and crawling on and around most of the surfaces around you.
When they appear and which doors they barrel from, you'll never be able to tell. FEAR 3 runs on a policy known as a Generative Scare System - meaning that the timing and placement of enemy appearances, and often the number of them, will change from play through to play through. Whether this will prove as organic a system as Left 4 Deads Director is unlikely - but it will mean that upon quickload or checkpoint rebirth former leaps from the darkness become randomised and can happily become scary once more. Day 1 won't comment on just how far the system will go, but it seems likely that it'll be expanded into environmental hazards, individual appearances to either player and to the various in-mission cameos made by an angry pregnant woman.
Then it's up to the top level of the double-decker bridge, thanks to a scripted event in which a Scavenger leaps on board a passing Armacham helicopter, meaning that it veers down into the exposed corridor you're moving through and has its blades whir and chomp through the air directly in front of you. Up top various human villains are awaiting your presence - and it's here that both Fettel and Point Man can show off their newfound abilities in hiding from bullets.
Essentially the Gears of War cover system has been funnelled into the first-person of FEAR, meaning that at a tap of a key you can slide into cover, and at another you can leap over it. If you're being rushed from behind, meanwhile, you can hold the backwards key while you're pirouetting over said street furniture and find yourself facing your foes after an entire 180 about-turn.
It's interesting, but it also seems faintly unnecessary when taking into account that it's a game we'll be playing on mouse and keyboard and are fairly used to taking cover without stabilisers. Hopefully the gameplay won't rely on using it.
FEAR 2's action was fairly frenetic, but in terms of sheer on-screen mayhem FEAR 3 has it trumped - above all in co-op where double the players may not scientifically create double the fun, but it certainly multiplies death, blood, explosions, sparks and FEAR visual tomfoolery by a factor of two.
Throw into the mix a new brand of Armacham baddie - one with phasing and portal technology who can not only warp around the place in a shiny laser beam, but also magic up new troops through the power of teleportation -and you've got quite the light show. Fettel, permanently shrouded in a slight red mist, can possess any of them (perhaps even the more powerful enemies as the game goes on) using the action key. When the meat sack he's inhabiting dies, it simply falls away -leaving Fettel standing there freshly exposed to bullets, but with something of a smirk on his face. It's all a bit like Rentaghost really, just with a man with an entry wound on his forehead instead of a jester, witch and pantomime horse.
To gain access to FEARSs more stompy arsenal, however, Fettel needs a host - since mech combat is making a substantial return to the game, and these bots don't come with ethereal ghost controls. "In previous FEAR games you're pretty much a god when you're in the mech," explains Frank Rooke, creative director. "You could blow up anything and there wasn't much fear of damage. We're injecting that into this game: you have to play defensively, you have to play strategically."
Whereas in FEAR 2 the mechs closed you off from the world, cocooning you in heavy armour and computer read-outs, those in FEAR 3 are designed for more elegant combat than the simple gut-drilling and constant rockets of times past. The mechs are slightly smaller for a start, slightly reminiscent of ED-209 in Robocop but probably better equipped when it comes to stairs, and come with a shield that you can activate when under heavier barrages of enemy fire.
Their moment of glory atop the broken bridge comes in a dual-pronged assault down the motorway - with one brother taking one branch of the motorway, and the other taking the parallel route against what would once have been oncoming traffic. Helicopters are taken out, men in power-suits taking aim with rockets are disposed of, and very little tarmac goes without being either scorched or bullet-ridden.
The fact that Day 1 were responsible for the early MechAssault games that heralded the Xbox's arrival into online gaming does not go unnoticed here. Then, at the moment of victory over Armacham a fresh onslaught causes the bridge to tumble. It's all rather spectacular, apart from Fettel coining out with the gag, "If this is part of your plan, I'd say this is going quite swimmingly!" as Point Man sinks down into the dark waters, which does make you wonder if hired cutscene supervisor John Carpenter (see Masters of FEAR) is a secret fan of My Family.
FEAR 3 then: silly name, different developer, interesting prospect. The concept of competitive co-op isn't one that gels with the way FEAR plays, but seeing as so many of the co-op mechanics and point scoring systems that Day 1 hope will bring in an edge of friendly rivalry are yet to be disclosed, we'll withhold judgement. The action, however, looks more than decent - a far cry from the days of the rubbish non-Monolith FEAR expansions like Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate that your brain habitually flickers towards when considering such a concept.
Above all though, the way that the game's run-time follows the build up to the birth of Alma's new and nightmarish offspring is a superb touch. As for exactly what beast is clawing its way out of that accursed womb, who can say? Someone should inform social services in any case.