F.E.A.R. 3 Preview

Mama’s gonna put all of her F.E.A.R.s into you.

All things being equal, there are certain strings of words you just don’t want to find yourself uttering when you reach the conclusion of a video game you’ve spent 10 or 12 hours playing… and “oh shit, this isn’t good” is certainly high up in their ranks.

[image1]But Things are rarely Equal when you take two radically-disparate dramatic schemes—in this case, Macho, First-Person Gunplay and Creeping, J-horror-Influenced Scares—and fuse them together in a single game experience. And “oh shit, this isn’t good” is more or less what many of us were thinking or spluttering at the unsettling-bordering-on-gobsmacking ending of F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. The shockingness of it wasn’t some predictable issue of blood or gore, or anything like that—end-game players had already seen plenty of both, by that point—but rather: Did they really just ‘go there‘? With me?

The results are in—and yep, they sure did. And pretty soon, you’ll be able to ‘go back there’. (With your brother and your mom. Cue the rarely-employed, Super-Paranormal Ewwww).

Warner Bros. Interactive’s forthcoming F.E.A.R. 3 (or ‘F.3.A.R.’, if you believe in that sort of thing) is the next chapter in the spooky-shooter Alma Wade/Project Origin saga. The game picks up 9 months after the conclusion of F.E.A.R. 2… and things aren’t looking good. For anybody.

The unspeakably-powerful/deranged Alma Wade, who apparently isn’t already unhinged and pissed-off enough, is now in labor—both physically and psychically—and the contractions of her birth-throes are manifesting in the material world. Don’t think about it too much, just roll with it. Shockwaves are rending the fragile, hand-wash-only fabric of what we laughingly call reality, and bad, paranormal entities—more of them, yay—are coming into our world from Outside.

So why not throw in a little bonus Family Game Night action while we’re at it? Amid the reality-shredding apocalyptic birth-pangs, enter Alma’s previously-birthed, growing boys: ‘The Point Man’, badass, super-soldier protagonist of the original F.E.A.R., now sans balaclava and sporting an I-don’t-care-no-more beard; and Paxton Fettel, an evidently-vengeful ghost of the brother that Point Man waxed earlier in the saga. So yeah, here’s a setup that can’t possibly deteriorate, right?

[image2]F.E.A.R. 3‘s new big hook is the addition of cooperative multiplayer between players taking the roles of Point Man and Paxton Fettel. As Alma Wade’s newest bun in the oven slouches toward Armacham to be born, both P-Man and P-Fett fight their way through to her. The former presumably wants to perform a late-term abortion with extreme prejudice; the latter wants to see the new bundle of joy come to term for God-alone-with-the-possible-exception-of-Alma knows what reason.

This leaves us with what is being called ‘asymmetric’ cooperative gameplay. Players are obliged to work as a team to fight enemies prepared to eliminate both Point Man and Fettel, but there are some serious differing motivations here, which may become interestingly, diametrically opposed as the game story unfolds. But how does such a sibling-rivalrous duo—of a determined, mentally-scarred, psychically-modified super-soldier and his even-farther-from-well-adjusted, decidedly-incorporeal, deceased brother—work together? And do they even want to?

Point Man has the same spectacular combat abilities which have served him so well up to this point. His totally-other reflexes and perception allow him to effectively send the world (and foes) around him into a slow, grinding, debilitative sort of Bullet Time, which he can then exploit with gunfire or melee attacks or both. He can also employ an ‘active cover’ system, whereby he can hide behind a given form of cover and dish out return fire—video game de rigeuer these days—and then quickly reposition himself on the other side of said cover, to instantly face and fight in the direction he just moved from, in order to deal with aggressively-flanking foes who, in the interim, may have had a chance to get on his blind side. The already-useful time-slowing trick can come in very handy in a disorienting time like this.

Meanwhile, Fettel is a red, glowing, freakin’ ghost. He may not exactly be vulnerable in the same corporeal sense as his brother—but, to be fair, the enemy ‘phase-casters’ who can effectively conjure up new Armacham combatants to the battlefield at will aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘garden variety’ either. Fettel can possess enemy combatants, making them do things amongst packs of their brethren-in-arms that would otherwise be severely frowned upon… such as climbing into one of the game’s upgraded powered-armor suits and going postal.

Further, incorporeal Fett-man can easily perceive things that mortal Pointy cannot: secret stores of weapons, hidden doorways, and even complete alternate paths through the current—or even to entirely new—environments. Query: Does the Fettel player, aware of these things that Point-san is oblivious to, even want to let him know about them? Fettel certainly seems to have the haunted-court advantage in such matters—but can he still attain his own secretive goals without spilling too many beans to his material world ‘partner’?

[image3]Developer Day 1 has maintained that they are committed to playing up the creepy/horror elements that have come to define the F.E.A.R. franchise. Not sure what to say on this touchy, important point just yet. We’ve thus far seen so much emphasis on the (admittedly-interesting) ‘asymmetric co-op’ mechanic, featuring the two brothers, that we haven’t seen terribly much of the real star of the F.E.A.R. Saga: Alma. Call it a form of high praise, as some of us have definitely taken the F.E.A.R. franchise’s unique mix of gun-shots and ghost-spooks very near and dear to our hearts.

This sensitive issue has frankly been in some worrying doubt around here, especially in light of the forthcoming game’s first two live-action combat-videos—compare these, then, to the much lower-key, much creepier live-action viral-video campaign behind the previous game. Towards the stated goal of preserving the game’s F.E.A.R. factor, Day 1 has taken measures; namely, those of enlisting the contributions of game script co-writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and in-game cinematic director, horror go-to guy John Carpenter (The Thing, The Fog).

I’m calling Day 1’s announced commitment, along with these aforementioned measures, about 60-75 percent ‘reassuring’ at this point… and leaving the rest to objective, clinical observation in the months to come. You know—just like the objective, clinical observation they put Alma under at Armacham. Before all hell broke loose.

F.E.A.R. 3 is slated to ship later this year. Don’t mess it up, guys; you know what happens.