The most horrific thing about FEAR 3 is what a series purist might say about it. The closest it has to a bogeyman is the all-corrupting Call Of Duty, with its power to inflict dual weapon slots and recharging health on all in its wake. The only real terror it knows is its own – the hell of the console preowned shelf, upon which dwell the story-based shooters with wide fields of view, modest gun models and action that feels like its own reward. The games that aren’t, to use an industry buzzword, ‘sticky’.
Don’t be deceived, then, into thinking this is the third part of a trilogy. It’s the tenuous ‘threequel’, where a new and cheaper director talks the first movie’s cast into an easy pay cheque. Roles are resurrected, plot strands exhumed, fans betrayed.
This is so much the case in FEAR 3 that, despite the return of the first game’s sibling rivals, Point Man and Paxton Fettel, the entire experience has been turned on its head. Multiplayer is now the flagship feature, its ranks and perks cascading through a story that does little more than cough up maps. The title screen is now a lobby, the cutscenes there to explain how one place leads to another despite no obvious connection. A prison into a Modern Warfare-style favela? The ground opened up and you fell down a sluice. A bridge infested with demonic hounds? Air crash.
None of it makes much sense and no one expects you to care. Alma, once omniscient poltergeist and terrifying unknown, is just a waypoint now. If you played FEAR 2 then you know – shudder – how she got pregnant. In FEAR 3, her contractions are sending shockwaves of physics and skybox effects across the levels, triggering a recurring handful of scripted events: a spiralling helicopter here, a falling watchtower there, then another helicopter, a different tower. This isn’t to make you laugh at the absurdity of it all – though that is a side effect – it’s to create a sense of continuity where none has a right to exist.
Point Man and Fettel, likewise, aren’t there to light up the screen with memorable dialogue, or indeed any dialogue in the former’s case. They’re not there to be yin and yang, though Fettel does complain about his brother going off-mission… only to end up in the same places they were heading anyway. They’re there to enable co-op play that feeds off their separate powers, Point Man packing the bullet-time reflexes and kung-fu kicks, his brother throwing fireballs and possessing enemies, becoming each time a Point Man wannabe.
Sure, this is still a game of flickering flashlights, blood murals, grisly tableaux and jump scares, but, with few exceptions, we’ve seen it all before. Through previous FEARs (and Condemneds) we’ve had our fill of suburban places daubed in guts. We’ve opened doors to orchestral howls and had our POV hijacked by trips to the rusty playground, where young Alma looks increasingly ornamental. We’ve found ourselves in labs, learned of all the wicked things that were done there, and avenged them in boss battles that weren’t quite as bad as we thought they’d be. Except here, they are.
The shock of the new and fear of the unknown are not in this game’s repertoire. Not in singleplayer, anyway, which wears too obviously its outside inspirations: an airport from Left 4 Dead; the aforementioned favela; the non-stop announcements of bonuses and acquired ranks. And because the first-aid health system has gone, there’s that familiar pattern of charge in, take cover, displace to alcove and regenerate. The need to calculate bullet-time over distance, shut down flanking manoeuvres and second-guess the AI appears, fleetingly, at only the highest difficult level.
None of which will matter to FEAR’s new audience, the one that prefers human opposition. It’s welcome to it, of course, and there’s no denying that Day 1 has a conscience when it comes to mode selection and dynamics. And, yes, this is the bit where we mention ‘F**king Run’.