If you title your franchise F.E.A.R., a few frights should be guaranteed. And if you make a third installment after two reasonably chilling predecessors, and hire legendary horror filmmaker John Carpenter to co-write the script no less, terror is a prerequisite. And if you set your first-person shooter in bloody, dimly lit prison corridors and pepper your action with lots of jolt-scares involving your signature baddie (young stringy-haired J-horror rip-off Alma), one’s pulse should race on a consistent basis. So what, pray tell, is the freaking deal with F.E.A.R. 3, a title that begins by setting a suitably ominous mood and then gets sidetracked into generic tactical firefight mayhem from which it never fully recovers? As far as baseline execution goes, Day 1 Studio’s sequel is good enough, featuring middle-of-the-road graphics, standard-issue controls (including the saga’s trademark “slow-motion” feature), diverting multiplayer, and plenty of lengthy shootouts. Yet who asked for that? The entire reason for the F.E.A.R. series’s existence is to meld traditional FPS battles with Resident Evil-style spookiness, so the fact that the game delivers familiar, if nonetheless flawed, combat is almost beside the point. Be scary or be gone.
To be fair, none of the earlier episodes (two full games, as well as two expansion packs) were ever downright traumatizing, but at least in most of those prior cases a serious attempt was made to make one want to play with the lights on. In this instance, however, it’s often hard not to mistake scenarios for those found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or its various ilk, especially during a second level in which you spend most of your time navigating militia-patrolled slums in broad daylight. Things do subsequently take an increased turn for the supernatural, in part because the story—penned by Carpenter and 30 Days of Night scribe Steve Niles—is fundamentally rooted in the psychic bond shared between your proxy Point Man and the malevolent spirit of the evil brother, Paxton Fettel, whom he killed in the first game, as well as both men’s relationship to mommy Alma, who’s now pregnant. Still, the plot is so complicated and superfluous as to be wholly ignorable, and even worse, it rarely provides anything like a suspenseful set piece to offset the proceedings’ general been-here, done-that mechanics and situations.
Just as its visuals are at least two-to-three years behind the times, F.E.A.R. 3’s enemy A.I. is woefully outdated and uneven, to the point that countless sequences can be defeated by simply baiting adversaries into walking in front of doorways or around corners so you can pick them off like sitting ducks. And more frustrating is that the action is often difficult enough to practically demand that you engage in this lame strategy, though at least in this shortcoming, there’s an excuse—namely, that F.E.A.R. 3 has been designed as more of a co-op than a single-player experience. Yet while there are definitely pluses to playing alongside a teammate (greater strategic maneuvers become available, and since this mode rewards the individual who finishes each stage first, there’s also an element of competition as well), it’s not enough to make up for the main campaign’s conventionality. Better is a reasonably rich point system in which you’re rewarded for all sorts of in-mission accomplishments (number of consecutive kills, head shots, time spent in cover, etc.) that eventually lead to new abilities. It’s the sole inventive element in this third go-round, which ultimately is scary only in its underwhelming mediocrity.