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Editorial: Why F.E.A.R. 3 scares us (or doesn't)

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In an interview with Eurogamer, Day 1 Studios Art Director Heinz Schuller and lead systems designer Parker Hamilton offer some insights into the development of F.E.A.R. 3 (or F.3.A.R., which is technically its proper title). Unfortunately, we're afraid our fears about the lack of fear in F.E.A.R. 3 still aren't put to rest.

We're big fans of the F.E.A.R franchise, but we already had some concerns about F.E.A.R. 3 from E3 2010 and later at PAX 2010. At both shows F.E.A.R. 3 looked good in terms of visuals and the action-side of its gameplay. But the game just didn't look or feel scary.

The furniture is here, but needs arranging

The shooting mechanics are in place, but F.E.A.R. 3 almost seems like it is leaning heavily toward more of a Crysis-like shootfest and away from the tension and horror upon which the original series (developed by Monolith) was built. That's a comparison F.E.A.R. 3 doesn't need and shouldn't want.

In the interview, Schuller states, "When I look at F.E.A.R. 3, for me, part of that is scale of combat. F.E.A.R. 1 and 2 were done on very close quarters spaces. We're offering a broader topology, and we get into some pretty epic combat situations. We're hoping to see more people who like that kind of experience try F.E.A.R. because we think that's going to be a pretty fun experience for them."

Tension, horror, and FEAR are based on a feeling of isolation—and closed quarters help sell that. It’s you alone against the dark and the horrors it holds. As much as we love giant mechs in frenetic gunfights, hopefully F.E.A.R. 3 won’t skew too far toward large-scale-battles-and-destruction. It's a hoot and stuff blows up 'real gooood' -- but it's not scary.

Fortunately, Schuller does go on to say “We're not forgoing any of the scares or paranormal moments we've seen in F.E.A.R. before for co-op.” Unfortunately, little else is offered.

At PAX and E3, presenters also indicated that they "weren’t showing the scary stuff” so it would surprise players when the game releases. But our overall reaction to the presenations (and some hands on gameplay) was only mildly above tepid.

Growing F.E.A.R.

In the Eurogamer interview, Day 1 Studios lead systems designer Parker Hamilton states: "One of the things we wanted to do for F.E.A.R. 3 was to continue to extend the audience. The landscape of gaming is developing into more social aspects and people wanting to play together. We're hoping we can evolve the franchise, maintain all of the tenets we had in previous versions of F.E.A.R. and offer a new, fresh look that new players will enjoy as well. We are definitely interested in pulling in a new crowd for the franchise."

Thankfully, Hamilton didn’t go so far as to mention “Social Media”. That’s a phrase that probably shouldn’t be used in the same breath as F.E.A.R. 3. And extending the audience (i.e. selling more copies) certainly sounds like a good idea, but we're skeptical that Day 1 can maintain the best, defining aspects of the series while trying to broaden its appeal.

But ultimately, horror/action (and “Rated M”) FPS gamers are still the F.E.A.R audience. There’s not a whole lot you can do to expand that unless you dramatically alter one or more of the core elements of the game. [By all that is holy if you introduce minigames and pets, we'll mail Day 1 Studios a mummified spleen.]

The F.E.A.R. series was built on very violent, very bloody, visceral “gun fu” FPS gameplay punctuated by isolation, tension, and atmosphere—not to mention the occasional cat scare.

V is for Visceral

Day 1 does seem to get ‘visceral’ part. In the Eurogamer interview, Hamilton says “F.E.A.R. is all about visceral combat, that chaos, smoke flying, enemies flying, the ragdolls going everywhere, blood puffing out.”

One of the biggest and most frequently touted features of F.E.A.R. 3 is its “Divergent co-op” play, in which the Lead Bogey Man from the first two games (Paxton Fettel) is basically your sidekick. He plays very differently from Point Man, which makes for an interesting dynamic.

But we’re still skeptical. How much fear can a F.E.A.R. game instill when the Lead Bogey Man is watching your back (and, at least for split-screen co-op players, played by your friend sitting next to you?) And we really haven't heard much talk about how scary the game is, how the story will evolve, or anything else. We understand wanting to keep things under wraps (all the better to surprise and frighten us), but all this talk about gunplay and co-op has us worried that the rest of the game will be "lost in translation".

Hopefully Day 1 proves our skepticism to be unfounded. As we said earlier, we are big fans of the franchise and anxious to see it successfully revived.

F.E.A.R. 3 (or F.3.A.R) is scheduled to be released May 2011 (delayed from its original April 2011 release date).

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