This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Fthreear.
I can still remember a time when replacing letters with numbers in written English was a practice associated only with douchebags and people pretending to be douchebags ironically (so basically yeah, just douchebags). I wish we could go back to those days. You know, publishers, when you replace a letter with a number for your clever douchebag sequel name, it only means that other douchebags like me will just insist on pronouncing it that way when they read it out loud. As in Sesevenen and, indeed, Fthreear. Still, I prefer both of those to whatever the hell Thief 4's logo is playing at. When the fuck has it ever been acceptable to replace an "E" with a "4"? If you let that kind of bullshit scoot by too many times, then our daughters will all be shagging communists by this time next year.
Anyway, F.E.A.R. 3 is the latest, perhaps the concluding, installment of the slightly perplexing series that attempts to be a scary tactical shooter, not realising that tactical shooters are only scary if you tape a picture of Dracula to your iron sights. The other objective on F.E.A.R. 3 's daunting to-do list is to tie up the plots of all the previous F.E.A.R. games. And the best of fucking luck to it, 'cause that's like trying to untangle the Christmas lights in a pitch-dark room. I've played every F.E.A.R. game, even the ones they declared non-canon just to fuck with everyone's flowcharts, and here's the extent of the sense I can extract from the plot:
A research company named Cognitive Dissonance PLC kidnapped or grew or built from Meccano an incredibly psychic girl named Alma in an attempt to engineer an army of psychic supersoldiers, forcing her to give birth to two brothers to act as the psychic commanders, not realising that her psychic power allows her to create a psychic distortion of psychic reality and psychic psychic bendy spoons. After Alma psychically destroys a city at the end of F.E.A.R. 1 and gets herself psychic preggers again at the end of F.E.A.R. 2 - Christ, must be a generous child welfare scheme in this reality, along with the complete absence of corporate regulation - and the two original sons must team up to confront their mother and, um, complain about their new stepdad. I dunno, I lost track of all this around the time the first game's intro sequence.
The brothers are Paxton Fettel, rewarded for being the most powerful one by being given an actual name, which someone presumably came up with stuffing a chicken; and the Point Man, a hairy mute named after his role in life like a medieval laborer. Gratifyingly, the two playable characters have quite different play styles; it's not like that tedious Army of Two mentality of stamping out two versions of the same burly man of a mental age more appropriate for watching Spongebob than saving the free world. Fettel was killed in F.E.A.R. 1 and is now a ghost, a ghost exhibiting alarming solidity, but at this point he should probably just roll with it. Guns and grenades pass right through his ghosty hands, so he has more of a support role, mainly temporarily possessing enemies, which he apparently never ceases to find hilarious. The Point Man, meanwhile, has the sense of humor of a bowl of Weetabix and goes around doing the standard first-person shooter thing in sullen silence. He still has his bullet-time ability, and I remember previous F.E.A.R. games resembling the Baywatch opening titles, the amount I used it. But in this case I often forget I had it. I guess it felt less necessary, what with Point Man's imaginary friend running around the enemy ranks demanding piggyback rides.
F.E.A.R. 3 is co-op focused. I know, because I played the single-player first, and it was shit. But then I played the co-op and it was alright, so there you go. The problem is that F.E.A.R. 3 is like an extremely judgmental Noah's Ark and has nothing but contempt for you if you can't produce a mating partner. The game forces you to play as boring old Point Man for the entire first run through and has virtually no tweaking of difficulty to account for there only being one of you. There's one particular encounter with a robot in the latter half of the game that took like fifty tries even in co-op because it fires rockets like popcorn and must drip-feed itself Special K every morning for all the health it has.
Having said that, the Brothers Grimm can tank a surprising amount of damage, so running and gunning is often the viable tactic, and anything that allows me to get out from cover and stretch me legs is a positive thing in this age of mandatory wall romance. The Point Man's sliding tackle is both hilarious and weirdly effective, with many enemies dying instantly to a double boot to the ankles - perhaps they all follow the Achilles exercise program. Once I figured this out, I was merrily gliding around on my back like a proactive whore.
It's a matter of debate in my mind as to whether a multiplayer game should attempt any kind of story focus at all when the players will be busy talking amongst themselves or simulating sex acts to impress each other. It seems particularly unfair for the concluding episode of a thus-far single-player trilogy to suddenly turn up its nose at anyone who turned up stag. Some games are good for socializing, but very few of them also try to immerse you in a linear story, because that's something people want when other people aren't around and they don't have to keep up an image of aloof disinterest to seem cool. Two people do not simultaneously read a book, unless one of them is under the age of five, and you wouldn't design a book to be read in such a manner. And by the way, if there is anything less scary than a tactical shooter, it's a co-op tactical shooter, so F.E.A.R.'s continued attempts to be a horror franchise fall flatter than ever. Ooh, the lights flickered and a chair moved across the room. Sorry, I didn't notice 'cause I was busy teasing my brother about his implied desire to fuck our mum.
Just to veer toward some vaguely summary-shaped sunset, the surprise of F.E.A.R. 3 is that it's actually quite a solid co-op game that does just enough to escape the pit of cover-based shooting gallery tedium, so I hope you haven't yet liberated that homeless man from your basement. Even the single-player I'd rate higher than many if it would stop pounding at my tushie for five minutes. It's just that it still doesn't make more sense than an Antarctic timeshare. A large section of the game is spent tracking down Becket, the protagonist of F.E.A.R. 2, the baby-daddy, for reasons that are never made adequately clear, except perhaps to appease the F.E.A.R. 2 Becket Fan Club that doesn't exist. All he does is talk crazy at you for a few minutes, after which any semblance of connectivity is abandoned crying at the door of the orphanage while the rest of the game goes off on a carnival cruise to the nonsense planet.
And what I find slightly iffy is that there are two endings based on which of the two brothers was the best. Leaving aside the issue that this was supposed to be co-op, I find it hard to believe that most people would be able to play through the whole campaign with the same partner, because after that robot sequence, I doubt they'd ever want to see each other again. Unless a broken bottle is involved.
- Godfather of the nightmare child: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Has anyone else noticed that the box art for FEARs 1, 2 and 3 depict a sequence of Alma slowly walking towards the camera
- Personally I'm quite looking forward to FE4R, 5EAR and FEA6