Thursday, July 28, 2011

F.3.A.R. Review

F.E.A.R. 3 Good evening all, J. Wellington Rommefeller here. This week, I elected to delve into the latest installation of the F.E.A.R. franchise, the peculiarly named F.3.A.R. I must say, I’ll never understand why everything from movies to books to video games feel the need to be clever about the placement of their iteration number in their titles. Can you name a title since Se7en that partook in this trend and was worth the money you paid to engage in it? Perhaps this game will be different, or at least I’d hoped. I’ve heard good things about the first game from a number of my compatriots, but has time taken a nasty toll on the survival horror FPS series? Let’s find out.

First of all, I must clarify that I have not played the first two games in this series—I’m not much of a survival horror enthusiast and was attempting to learn alchemy at the time. As it turns out, alchemy is a dead science; a fact I wish someone would have told me three months and over $5000 ago. But I digress; F.E.A.R. was simply one of the series I let slip through the cracks. I was wary of beginning a series with the third game, but reasoned that a good game series would forgive me my ignorance and help me along with short explanations of the previous entries. 

This assumption would prove to be the single worst assumption ever made by man. The following summary represents what I was able to gather about the story of the previous two games. A chap named “Point Man” was on a team called F.E.A.R. in the first game. He was a prototype psychic soldier whose mind powers endowed him with super human reflexes. In the second game, you learn of his twin brother Fettel, who is somehow a better psychic than Point Man. The two scrap a bit and Point Man ends up shooting his brother in the head and getting captured by soldiers of some sort. Oh and there’s a disturbing little girl named Alma who was apparently their mother even though she looks no older than five.  Beyond these main points, I was able to deduce little else from F.3.A.R alone.

 The third game opens with Fettel explaining that though he’s quite dead, his psychic link to Point Man was never broken. I assume he’s a ghost or specter of some sort, since he possesses people and cannot be seen by anyone but his twin. The story follows the two as they trace their way back to the headquarters of Armatech, the company responsible for their psychic powers. Along the way, Fettel helps his brother/murderer attempt to reunite with their mother and does his best dissuade Point Man from rescuing a mysterious person he seems to care about. Does this sound like the disjointed ramblings of a 12-year-old’s fanfiction? Yes it does. And do get accustomed to it, the entire game is this way—establishing ideas and rules for the universe before promptly breaking them, giving no transitions between scenes and introducing terribly written characters who cannot progress the plot without narration.

Between each level, a short three line sentence is presented as an explanation as to why Point Man never starts off where the last level finished. It feels almost as if the person writing this game elected to write the beginning and ending and a few scenes in between, but had no cohesive narrative for how to connect them. In the last minutes, the developers pressed the writer for some way to make the scene transitions make sense and he drunkenly scrawled lines on a cocktail napkin.  Instead of using the lines as a starting point, the developers simply superimposed said lines over a black and white still photo and called it a day. I played the game in its entirety and I still cannot fully explain to you what happened.

Enough about the story, what about the gameplay? As far as first person shooter games go, you can certainly get your fix in more polished games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. And on the front of survival horror, I think Resident Evil: Code Veronica was more terrifying and that came out years ago for the Dreamcast. F.3.A.R. is an amalgamation of an average FPS and an average survival horror forming a game that redefines mediocre. In fact, the only interesting part of the gameplay is that Fettel can possess soldiers, but even this power is questionable and unfulfilling. If I sneak up and possess a soldier, how is it that his comrades know he’s been possessed and immediately begin shooting at me? Perhaps I possess only those who would be shot by their friends regardless. Fettel’s interesting ability, however, is only a means of segueing into the average FPS experience, which slightly cheapens it. The gameplay is not bad, per say, but it certainly isn’t good either.

The one area in which F.3.A.R. excels is the creation of an unsettling scene. Indeed I did just claim that a 10+ year old game had more horror appeal, but in my opinion a game’s “scariness” hinges upon the buildup. In Resident Evil, for example, the music changes in a seemingly inconspicuous room and you immediately start walking slower, weapon drawn, and ready for something to happen. In F.3.A.R., on the other hand, you walk from one creepy room to the next and occasionally the camera will quickly shift to an unsettling, monster-filled environment before snapping back to reality; it’s as if no real tone for the game exists. I feel as if I’m presented with the climax before any buildup in each room, making me react in the same way as viewing a painting—“Oh, that’s nice.”  That’s not to say that each room is ruined by a lack of tension, but F.3.A.R could have done itself far more justice.

If you’re interested in an FPS or a survival horror game, you are far better off choosing something other than F.3.A.R. The inconsistent story, mediocre gameplay, and subpar horror make this a game that will likely only interest people who have played the first two and wish to complete the series. To those people, I wish you luck and advise you to rent, as this will not necessarily be a game you are proud to own.
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