The scariest thing in F.E.A.R. 3 is the combat. There’s something horrific about a soldier who, desperate to escape, jumps over a crate only to be shredded into streams of blood and flesh in mid-air as my bullets rip through him. Moments earlier, he was confident — racing toward me with his own gun ready, shouting commands to his comrades with terse, military efficiency. But a few moments of facing me turned him into a panicked animal caught in a bloodbath. It was probably a mercy when he collapsed into a rag-doll heap, landing with a lifeless thud atop the crate.
He was smart to try running away. Most of my enemies in F.E.A.R. 3 are smart, actually, which sets the game apart from most of the shooters I’ve played in the past year. My opponents (at least the rational, human ones) take cover quickly. And once they’ve disappeared from view, they don’t reappear, popping up in the same spot like military whack-a-moles. They’re intelligent enough to reach over their cover with their guns alone, shooting them blindly. Or they’ll suddenly emerge from the far side of the box they’re crouched behind, making a mad dash for a more advantageous position.
Most modern shooters stage their battles in obvious shooting galleries. Whenever I enter a large open space ringed with boxes, I know my enemies will soon appear at the opposite end. It’s a layout that’s become a cliché, and it leads to unimaginative firefights. But in F.E.A.R. 3, the obstacles are sprawled out haphazardly, with changes in height providing crucial advantages and disadvantages. It’s the sort of layout that results in a shifting battle dynamic. A fight quickly revolves around the room and upends itself, and I find myself ducking behind cover next to the corpses of the enemies I was shooting at a moment earlier.
While I can’t say that F.E.A.R. 3 ever scared me, it is eerier than most other shooters. Since it has a working lighting engine that casts shadows — even mine, unlike the venerable Call of Duty — there are great moments of seeing my opponents (or what I think are my opponents) moving around corners. The tangled level designs also create some wonderful hall-of-mirrors effects. I can see things moving in the distance, but it’s uncertain where they’ve gone.
THE GOOD: In F.E.A.R. 3, I can play not only as a gun-toting killer, but also as his psychic brother who has the ability to possess some enemies. This lets me leap around into other bodies. I don’t need to find the stairway or unlock the proper door as long as I can see someone on the other side. It’s a strategic twist that has even more potential in co-op multi-player.
THE BAD: While the game allows me plenty of tactical options, it doesn’t always understand what I’m trying to do. If I run behind a stack of crates and crouch down, I’m not considered “in cover” until I press a button to put me in cover. That means that I can’t lean around corners or peek over edges, and bullets find me in my “uncovered” state.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The scares are scarce in F.E.A.R. 3, but the shooting is frightfully strong.