Wednesday, July 13

In case you haven't played it: F.3.A.R Review (PS3)

Until just recently, I'd never finished a single installment of the F.E.A.R trilogy. I'd played each of them: bloody corridors, shotguns of some renown, and scary little girls, but the first two parts couldn't sustain my interest. Then came F.3.A.R or Fthreear as it's known in some cultures; it may not be the best looking shooter on the market, but it does enough things differently to be worth a try. Read on for my thoughts on the conclusion to a saga that I've never really been invested in. 

The Good
Hellfire - While it doesn't always look convincing, F.3.A.R is a gory rollercoaster ride that I won't soon forget. Full to the brim with hectic firefights, brutal weapons and action/horror movie-themed abilities, I never found myself bored or unsure of how to proceed. Highlights included mech battles on a crumbling bridge, a terrifying traversal of a zombie-occupied department store and a frenzied tour through an airport. A working cover system, ferocious melee attacks and a uncharacteristic final boss fight also feature in this strong effort. The game is not only fun to play, but exceptionally paced. Further to that, if you actually manage to find a match of "Contractions" and enjoy decent connection quality, be prepared for some frantic co-op play against increasingly-aggressive waves of better-equipped, AI-controlled foes. White-knuckle action at its ugliest.

Who doesn't love a touching, family reunion?

Woo Vs Carpenter - Depending on your choice of character, F.3.A.R affords players the ability to carry out carnage in ways not seen in any other FPS. Point Man has the series' staple ability of being able to slow time and line up perfect shots. Fettel can suspend enemies in mid air, blast them with his "Fettel Blast," and even possess most enemy combatants. Slowing down time makes for some jaw-dropping action, but Fettel is almost unstoppable as he can burn through entire squads of enemy soldiers without taking much damage (to his person at least). I can only imagine how much fun this would've been in co-op, but more on that later.

Meaty - F.3.A.R affords players a raft of content to play through. For soloists out there, you have the campaign to play through with two sufficiently-different characters. My first playthrough with Point Man took just shy of ten hours to complete; I've only played through a few levels with Fettel but his superior abilities allowed me to plough through these sections of the game much faster. You then have the option to play in local or online co-op as well. I imagine that would be quite the sight to behold with the action slowing down and bodies being thrown about as the two protagonists work in concert; but I guess I'll never know.  Then there are four different multiplayer modes that offer something for those with co-op and competitive sensibilities. You can even play them on your own if you're so inclined, although, for the record: "F%$cking Run" solo is not fun. 

"Reach" for the competition - My favourite thing about Halo: Reach - which was also my favourite game of 2010 - was the persistent sense of reward that you got whilst playing across single and multiplayer modes. A similar system is at play in F.3.A.R with a ranking system that works across all play modes and rewards anything from finding collectables to achieving specific feats using Point Man's Slo-Mo ability. During the campaign specifically, you are awarded scores across four areas for your actions and the player (and therefore the character) with highest score determines the outcome of the story. A great idea that I would love to see in pretty much any FPS released from this day forward.

The Bad
Triggers - This gripe is exclusive to the PS3 version. F.3.A.R only allows players to choose predetermined control schemes which each have L2 and R2 as iron sights and fire. My preference with shooters on this particular platform is to map these actions to L1 and R1 as the triggers on Dualshock 3 and Sixaxis controllers are too spongy for my liking. The game was not at all happy to accommodate me across four different configurations; not acceptable.  

Loathsome mother - F.3.A.R is not a visually-spectacular game by modern standards. There are some moments in pre-rendered cutscenes where the visuals reach par, but otherwise it is almost ugly to behold. Muddy wall and door textures mixed with some of the most uninspiring fire effects I've seen in the last few years failed to impress when compared to most recent big releases. There isn't a great deal of variety in terms of opposition either, and Armacham army operatives are coloured in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of light gun classic, Time Crisis (blue being for standard grunts, red is for the more dangerous variety who usually carry shotguns). Be it humans, mechs or demons: few are animated in a way that looks convincing but ultimately, the game does look good enough to get the job done.

 I'd recommend an LCD TV. Plasmas have a tendency to burn... patterns into my face.

Sound off - The weapons in F.3.A.R sound nothing shy of f3arsome, but the score is anything but. Rivalling the likes of your average installment of the Friday the 13th series in terms of ham, the original music in this game is almost jarring. Even worse is the repetitive chatter from Armacham forces in a heated firefight. On a postive note however, Danzig's powerhouse "Mother" plays over the credits at the end of the game. A strong aural reward for finishing the campaign.

The Ugly
Lopsided team - Point Man and Fettel can tear up the battlefield by themselves or as a team; just don't expect both to shine in the expository cutscenes. Fettel is more than happy to ham it up with his evil laugh and talk of family but all Point Man can do is flash the camera a grimace. The default single player protagonist does not utter a single word, even when it could really serve to flesh out the story and his one-dimensional character. There are some moments where insight into Point Man's thoughts and motives would add a lot to this tale. Instead, he follows Fettel without question because it serves them both to reach some form of resolution so he can pull the trigger; again.

 Care to add anything?

Hello? Is anyone there? - I'd love to elaborate more on F.3.A.R's multiplayer modes but I simply can not find a match on the PS3 version. All up, I've played just over a handful of rounds of "Contractions", found one match of "Soul King", while no-one seems to be showing any interest in the other modes. Some of the Contractions matches I've connected to have also suffered from horrendous instances of lag; enemies dealing damage long after being vanquished and teleportation are just some of the hilarious issues that I've encountered in my time online. As for online co-op, I couldn't find a single player to join the party. Considering the focus on co-operative gameplay, it's a shame that more PS3 players aren't willing to give this fresh approach to multiplayer a try.

M4rk3t1ng g0n3 m4d - Plenty have joked about it, but the stupidity in spelling the game's name with a number can't be ignored. No prizes for guessing what the next installment will look like: F.E.4.R. Perhaps the fifth game in the series will see all of our worst F.E.A.R.5 realized. Either way, F.3.A.R has set a new standard for misguided and intentional spelling mistakes being mistaken for savvy marketing.

The Verdict
F.3.A.R may look like a dog, but it's the most fun you can have with a corridor shooter. It may not be scary, it may not have anyone else playing it (on the PS3 at least), but that doesn't mean you won't be able to enjoy it by yourself. When someone else actually does sign up, you may find yourself having more fun than you bargained for. It's a rewarding package despite the lack of polish and community. At the very least, I'd recommend a trial of the PC and X360 versions in case the player population is more robust on those platforms.

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