Imagine, if you will, finding yourself with a sudden and irresistible craving for salt and vinegar crisps. You buy a bag and waste no time opening it, but when you start eating you realise they’re actually cheese and onion. There’s nothing wrong with cheese and onion per se, but in this instance you wanted salt and vinegar. F.3.A.R is much like this. Your craving was for horror in the guise of a solid shooter. What you get is just a solid shooter. It does the job, but part of you can’t help feeling cheated.
F.3.A.R boasts design input from John Carpenter and writing from Steve Niles, which should guarantee a few good scares along the way. Unfortunately…
F.3.A.R picks up where F.E.A.R 2 left off, with Alma heavily pregnant with only hours to go before she births the harbinger of the apocalypse. You play the Point Man tasked with stopping her, aided by your undead telepathic brother Paxton Fettel. So far so good. The opening tutorial teaches the evolved cover system, using the trademarked slow-mo and introducing you to the impressive enemy AI. Half an hour into the campaign you’ll be running, gunning and taking cover like it was second nature. Therein lies the problem. F.3.A.R is first and foremost an action FPS. And a disappointingly short one at that.
There’s a lot to like about this iteration of the franchise. Graphically the game is polished, the new cover system is effective and fun to use, and the enemy AI continues to improve. It’s just the scares that are notably absent. Many of the tactics used to create the sinister atmosphere are lifted directly from the original F.E.A.R., and many more simply aren’t scary. Picture the scene: you’re in a dark corridor and the lights go out. You catch a fleeting glimpse of Alma as a child. Atmospheric? Without a doubt. Scary? Not a chance. And certainly not after you’ve seen it for the hundredth time. The story and set pieces are suitably bloodthirsty, but there’s never any real sense of unease or trepidation. Point Man is a genetically enhanced super soldier, and it shows. The enemies may be cunning, but they are never a real threat, and are easily dispatched.
The story is engaging enough to ensure you’ll see it through, and there’s nothing wrong with the voice acting and soundtrack. It’s just the lack of chills and spills that let it down. We know there’s scope for genuinely unsettling first person shooters out there (Amnesia: The Dark Decent and Condemned to name but two) but F.3.A.R is more akin to Call Of Duty. If an action-centric first person shooter is what you’re looking for, F.3.A.R fits the bill nicely. It’s tightly executed, well designed the action rarely lets up. But if you’re chasing that elusive scare factor I’m afraid you’re going to have to look elsewhere.