One would think that it’s hard to be genuinely frightened in games. The threat of death or pain, for instance, is lost on you. In most games, you are provided with plenty of firepower or some means of dispatching enemies, and if you die, you can always restart from a checkpoint. As for horror elements, a vast majority of gamers would have grown up setting fire to soldiers from the Axis of Evil, or unloading buckshot into a demon’s face, or running a chainsaw through a grotesque humanoid alien. We’ve done it all. We’re all seasoned pros by now.
F.E.A.R was slightly different. The “girl with a grudge” element has been well and truly abused by now, but when I played through the first title, I still got some cheap scares out of it. The slow, measured pacing; the alternating between action and scare sequences; the random gore elements and the low key, understated dialogue (where everyone doesn’t sound like they’re in an informercial) were all combined rather well. Having the ability to slow down time was nothing compared to a girl who would paint the walls with body parts. As a casual fan of horror games and a bigger fan of shooters, F.E.A.R was certainly one of my faves.
F.E.A.R 3, on the other hand, is far more action-oriented. This is to its detriment only in terms of failing to cater to its more hardcore fans. The horror elements are limited to the classic F.E.A.R hallucinations of a pubescent Alma, and being pursued by an invisible creature that disappears as soon as it picks you up. The number of scares are considerably lower than in the previous games, simply because there is no sense of dread and nothing to leave to the imagination. By now, players know that Alma is real rather than some twisted hallucination, and she is changing the physical world. There’s no longer an instance where you think, “Shit, what did I just see?” Instead, these moments are replaced by, “What, so now I can’t sprint? Ghosts fucking suck.”
The lack of horror is somewhat compensated by some solid action elements. There are plenty of death squads available to smack down, whether you’re sticking knives in their back, unloading buckshot into their legs or popping their skulls like helium balloons with a sniper rifle. The active cover system is fairly functional, although I would’ve liked to have seen an R6: Vegas style implementation of cover sticking and mounting. The ability to choose between Fettel and Point Man also presents two very different styles of gameplay, which means you’re effectively getting 1.5 games for the price. The inclusion of co-op / score attack is also good – more co-op makes me happy.
Character levelling is done via completion of in-game achievements (micro-gaming strikes again), where you are awarded points based on how many kills you get with certain weapons, how much time you spend in slow-mo, how many dead bodies you psychically link with, and so on. With each XP level, you are awarded additional perks, such as extensions to your bullet time, additional abilities, additional inventory space etc.
These changes completely detract from one of the defining elements of F.E.A.R – the instilment of, well, fear. Selling out a series is hardly unheard of nowadays – in this case it happens to be pretty enjoyable, despite being unable to hold up against the critical successes of its eldest brother.