From its early days with the Blood series to its current-gen success with Condemned and F.E.A.R., Monolith has established itself as the master of first-person horror action. Now, eager to move on to new things, the developers have handed over the keys to their flagship FPS to the less established Day 1 Studios, most famous for handling the console port of the first F.E.A.R. and the MechAssault games on Xbox. It's always a bit unnerving to see a series handed over to a new studio, and doubly so when that studio's only history with the series (or genre for that matter) is a port.
But F.E.A.R. 3's problems may stem more from its position as the third game of its generation than any lack of experience on the developer's part. Although Day 1 has tried admirably to conform the series to contemporary conventions and add some fresh new gameplay elements, its well-worn bag of tricks don't pack the scares they once did, and its increasingly convoluted plot doesn't have the same intrigue it did when Alma was just an unexplained apparition.
Day 1 has done quite a lot to update the gameplay, in both interesting and boring ways. Like seemingly every other game out there, F.E.A.R. 3 is a cover shooter with regenerating health, which removes some of the survival horror-tinged suspense and scrounging from the series, in favor of a more action-oriented approach. Checkpoints are often spaced far apart, with long, heated, and occasionally frustrating battles in between. The increased reliance on cover on both the part of enemies and the player render the series trademark bullet-time gimmick considerably less useful, to boot.
Like its predecessors, F.E.A.R. 3 is intense, densely paced with action, with some fairly smart enemies to fight. Unlike its predecessors, however, it's seldom really scary, relying more on adrenaline than atmosphere. Both F.E.A.R. and Condemned succeeded largely on their ability to ease the player away from his grip on reality and sanity as he gradually descended further into a dark and disturbing word of the unexplained. The third game in the trilogy leaps right into its well-worn mythos in a way that is sure to confuse and disinterest newcomers to the series.
The original F.E.A.R. and its expansions were widely criticized for their very repetitive industrial environments, with a lot of similar-looking square hallways, corridors, and storerooms. Day 1 has done a commendable job of adding a lot of visual variety, with stages set in the suburbs, an airport, a store, and other ordinary places made strange. These environments do help lend a sense of size and scope to the campaign, but they aren't necessarily scary, at least not in the way Monolith's games were.
The superficial variety also does little to stave off the extreme repetition in the gameplay itself. There are only a handful of enemy types in the entire game, no puzzles, no real boss characters to break up the stages, or really much of anything to lend variety. This is ameliorated somewhat by the inclusion of a new character, Fettel, who is playable both as a second character in co-op and as a primary character on second plays-through. Unfortunately, since unlocking Fettel in missions requires beating them with Point Man first, this doesn't make slogging through the repetitive campaign the first time any easier. It's a missed opportunity, especially since Fettel's unique ability to possess enemies bodies à la Messiah is more interesting than the vanilla cover shooter of Point Man.
It seems as if a great deal of Day 1's creative energy was directed toward the multiplayer instead. I always found multiplayer to be something of an afterthought in the F.E.A.R. games, but the latest does away with the tired deathmatch games in favor of four unique modes that cover competitive, cooperative, team, and solo play. "F**king Run" tasks teams to outrun an encroaching deathly fog while fighting enemies and stopping to aid any fallen teammates. If any players are consumed by the darkness, the team loses. "Contractions" is a vaguely Left 4 Dead-inspired cooperative survival romp where ceaseless waves of enemies move in. "Soul King" plays up Fettel's possession mechanic, tasking ghostly players to compete to possess and kill the most AI enemies. "Soul Survivor," the game's closest approximation of team deathmatch, puts players on teams alongside AI combatants where one team is given Fettel's possession abilities.
It's clear that Day 1 has put a great deal of thought into F.E.A.R. 3, but with a market flooded with games that have the exact same cover shooter mechanics, the game has only its distinctive atmosphere to distinguish itself, and that seems diluted both by its legacy and certain lack of finesse. This is by no means a bad game, but for this tired reviewer, and likely for many of the more committed gamers out there, it can be a boring one at times. Dedicated series fans, or those who don't play ten shooters a year may be far more forgiving of its all-too-familiar gameplay.