Standing Trial: F.E.A.R. 3

F.E.A.R. 3 stands trial, accused of being one of the biggest disappointments in gaming. Is this valid, or does F.E.A.R. 3 deserve a second look?

Standing Trial is a series of features from the team at AllGamers. With each Standing Trial case, Chris, Henry, and Morgan will pick a gaming flop and dissect what went wrong. One of us will come to the game’s defense, while the other two will act as judge, jury, and – in some cases – executioner. Previous defenses have included Evolve but this Halloween week it's up to Morgan to defend supernatural shooter threequel F.E.A.R. 3.

The original F.E.A.R. from 2005 is a horror classic that dared to be different by presenting itself as a shooter where the supernatural antagonist, Alma, isn’t a direct opponent. Instead, she’s a presence in the backdrop, popping up at inconvenient moments while you attempt to take down Armacham soldiers and the elusive Paxton Fettel.

The balance between shooter and horror is executed perfectly in F.E.A.R., though it goes downhill the farther into the series you go, especially when you get to F.E.A.R. 3. One of the things I loved most about the F.E.A.R. series is that its characters all have fleshed out backstories.

Alma isn’t a creepy little girl for the sake of playing upon tropes found in Japanese horror like Ringu, her presentation makes sense once you dig into Armacham files and learn her tragic backstory. Meanwhile, the character you control in F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R. 3 (referred to as Point Man), has a backstory as well that connects to both Alma and Paxton Fettel.

In F.E.A.R., you learn the origins of Point Man and Paxton Fettel. In F.E.A.R. 2, you learn more about Alma who begins to present herself differently: older and naked. I’m still torn over the use of “sexy Alma” in F.E.A.R. 2 after seeing her as a child in the original game but, you know, we’re not here to drag F.E.A.R. 2.

It is what it is.

Using F.E.A.R. 2’s strange and disturbing ending as a jumping off point, we were given F.E.A.R. 3 in 2011. Almost a decade later, I cringe thinking about how optimistic I was about the game prior to release. I genuinely thought it would reconcile the differences between the first two games based on what was shown in the teaser trailers.

Paxton and Point Man joining forces to stop Mama Alma? I was fully on board. Sadly, things didn’t go quite as planned. The game didn’t just kill Alma, it killed the entire series. As bad as this sounds (and it sounds pretty damn bad), I still don’t think F.E.A.R. 3 is quite as awful as most people suggest… here’s why.

The Defense

From living up to the original F.E.A.R. to following some of the missteps in F.E.A.R. 2, F.E.A.R. 3 had a lot on its plate.
From living up to the original F.E.A.R. to following some of the missteps in F.E.A.R. 2, F.E.A.R. 3 had a lot on its plate.
© Day 1 Studios

Members of the jury, I stand in defense of F.E.A.R. 3, a game with a solid concept that failed to stick the landing. What it failed in gameplay, level design, and cohesion, it made up for in story. It’s unfair to drag F.E.A.R. 3 through the mud because it had a lot riding on its shoulders.

It was expected to return the series to its origins in F.E.A.R., all while mending the misdirection from F.E.A.R. 2. It also had to hold its own against other games coming out that year. Looking back, 2011 was a powerful year for gaming with releases like Batman: Arkham City, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Dark Souls, Gears of War 3, Dragon Age II, and Dead Space 2.

Compared to any of those games, it’s easy to peg F.E.A.R. 3 as straight trash, especially to those walking in with a sour taste from F.E.A.R. 2. I truly believe that F.E.A.R. 2 is the reason for F.E.A.R. 3’s failings. The developers couldn’t ignore where the story left off with the ending between Becket and Alma (and their unborn baby), so they incorporated these elements into F.E.A.R. 3.

To try and return to the original game, they also brought Paxton Fettel back. It was too much to tie together, all while attempting to offer the same style of gameplay from the original. How could you show young Alma again after F.E.A.R. 2? After knowing what happened to her (and her children), it makes sense that the real antagonist should be Harlan Wade.

Of course, the issue there is how can you make Harlan Wade scary in a supernatural sense, like Alma? F.E.A.R 3 tried, and while it might’ve failed in ways, I don't think you can fault the developers for their efforts.

Gameplay

When it comes to what went wrong with F.E.A.R. 3, the co-op, gameplay, and level design are clear weak points.
When it comes to what went wrong with F.E.A.R. 3, the co-op, gameplay, and level design are clear weak points.
© Day 1 Studios

I will agree with critics who pan F.E.A.R. 3’s gameplay. The shooting feels fine and the guns feel responsive, but their power makes tense moments feel watered down. You never feel like you’re in real danger, especially when playing co-op with Paxton Fettel. Fettel is dead this time around, so he doesn’t have to worry about taking combat damage like Point Man.

Plus, he has overpowered psychic abilities, and doesn’t have to think about pedestrian things like managing guns and ammo. To be fair, I like the idea of bringing Fettel back and attempting to reinvigorate the series with something new. Fettel’s style of play is fun, I’ll give it that. I just wish there had been more elements of strategy, even more push-and-pull between Fettel and Point Man.

The co-op felt barebones and if you’re going to add co-op, you really need to put the time in. Other areas where the lack of time can be seen include the levels. F.E.A.R. 3 has the poorest, cheapest examples of level design out of all three games in the series. Everything feels bland, boring, and stale.

Even the A.I. in F.E.A.R. 3 takes a step back from the groundbreaking A.I of the first game and unique enemy encounters in the second game. F.E.A.R. 3’s gameplay is bad, and I hate making excuses for it. However, I feel like with WB Games publishing F.E.A.R. 3, there was likely pressure put on the developers to get the game out in a timely manner. In this case, two years’ worth of crunch after the release of F.E.A.R. 2.

Had the developers been given another year or two to polish all aspects of the game (particularly gameplay, co-op, and level design), I have no doubt that it would have fared better. I don’t think it ever stood a chance at surpassing the original, but at the very least, it should have been given more time to fix what went wrong with F.E.A.R. 2.

You can’t mend all of the issues that F.E.A.R. 2 created in the span of two years. Big messes require more time to clean up.

Story

Harlan Wade is the real antagonist in the F.E.A.R. series.
Harlan Wade is the real antagonist in the F.E.A.R. series.
© Day 1 Studios

Ok, so if we’re defending F.E.A.R. 3, what did it do right? Why is it worth defending? I think F.E.A.R. 3 did a lot more for the story of the series than people give it credit for. I like how the developers revisit the connection between estranged brothers Point Man and Fettel, and show how their relationship fractured in the first place.

I like that we get further emphasis that Harlan Wade (Alma’s father) is the real enemy of the series. None of the events from the original F.E.A.R. all the way to F.E.A.R. 3 would have happened had Harlan not offered up his own daughter to Armacham. Seriously, how much of an evil asswipe can one fictional character be?

Not only did Armacham use Alma for her psychic abilities, they impregnated her at the age of 15 and forced her to give birth to Point Man, and then again with Paxton Fettel at the age of 16.

Harlan Wade never bat an eye at the gross mistreatment of his daughter Alma, and in F.E.A.R. 3, he continues the cycle of abuse with his grandchildren, Point Man and Fettel. More so with Fettel because he’s shown to have psychic powers like Alma, making him more valuable to Armacham than Point Man. 

As you play F.E.A.R. 3, you get to see the holding room with Point Man and Fettel change. In the beginning they play together like normal children. By the end, they’re completely torn apart. Fettel frantically draws all over the floors, the walls. Point Man looks lost and at times frightened by how his brother is changing. It makes sense on both ends.

Point Man doesn’t understand what’s going on with Fettel, he’s just a child. Fettel doesn’t understand why he’s being singled out for abuse. As the two make their way through levels together as adults in F.E.A.R. 3, they get the opportunity to talk with one another in a semi-normal manner. This, combined with the flashbacks we get, help you form a deeper connection to them.

Point Man isn’t just a nameless protagonist who can shoot and slow time, he’s an abused child who has the burden of knowing he killed his own brother (in the original F.E.A.R.). Fettel is similar to Alma where both have done bad things, but did those things because they were abused as children.

The final boss battle against the Creep version of Harlan Wade feels powerful in that Point Man and Fettel get to rise up and defeat this monstrous shadow that has caused them so much pain and trauma. It’s symbolic of the two characters being able to move forward and bury the past.

Yes, things get a little wonky when the two actually reach Alma. I hate that the “bad” ending with Paxton Fettel tears his redemption arc to pieces. By the end, you kind of like Paxton Fettel (despite how twisted he is), and if you get his ending things fall apart. I like to think of the Point Man ending as the true ending because it fits the narrative of growth and rebirth.

Fettel and Alma both disappear, and Point Man silently vows to care for and raise his newborn sibling. You get the feeling he’s being given the chance to raise this child how he, Fettel, and Alma should have been raised… with love. It’s a beautiful way to bring closure to the F.E.A.R. storyline and for this reason, I really enjoy F.E.A.R. 3.

The story helps make up for everything the game got wrong in F.E.A.R. 2, which is no easy task. In a nutshell, the original F.E.A.R. is perfect and I’m holding out for a remake, F.E.A.R. 2 screwed up the story but the gameplay was fun, and F.E.A.R. 3 had the worst gameplay but the story was handled perfectly.

Together, the series is one of my all-time favorites. It’s not without glaring flaws, but the story is one of the best pieces of video game “literature” out there. You can’t have a good story without a good ending, and F.E.A.R. 3 offered just that… well, at least with the Point Man ending. We’ll pretend the Fettel ending never happened.

Closing Statement

F.E.A.R. 3 offers closure to its troubled characters.
F.E.A.R. 3 offers closure to its troubled characters.
© Day 1 Studios

F.E.A.R. 3 had no chance to live up to the original F.E.A.R, especially after the disaster that was F.E.A.R. 2. How do you follow Alma forcing herself on Becket and becoming insta-preggo, all before the credits roll? How do you make a series “serious” again after a line about free pizza at an anime convention?

Too much was placed on the shoulders of F.E.A.R. 3 and the developers weren’t given nearly enough time to complete everything. With what little time they were given, they decided to take care of what they saw as truly important for a “final” game, the story.

I agree with this decision, and even though I’m sad things like co-op and level design were done so poorly, I appreciate the closure they brought to the main characters. These characters, who had endured so much trauma and abuse, deserve the “Point Man” ending F.E.A.R. 3 provided where they were all able to find some semblance of peace.

As a gamer, I agree that F.E.A.R. 3 isn’t the best game as far as games go. As a writer and someone who enjoys a good story, I disagree that F.E.A.R. 3 is a “disappointment” to fans of the series.

The story has always been phenomenal with the original twist ending that you are Alma’s child and Fettel is your brother, and the second game showing how Alma came to be the antagonist. The third and final game wraps all of these things up in a way that makes sense. It’s not the best, it’s not the worst, F.E.A.R. 3 is simply an alright game that also happens to offer a damn good story.

The defense rests its case.

The Verdict

Henry: The sins of our fathers, eh? How does a studio measure up to the critical acclaim of F.E.A.R. while avoiding the mess of narrative and design in the sequel? They don't, as it turns out. The team behind F.E.A.R. 3 deserves credit for even attempting to reconcile and give closure the bizarre plot of the second game, but should they really have even tried? F.E.A.R. 3 struggled to find an identity under the weight of that which came before it; unable to shrug off the tendrils of horror from the first, or the unwise story choices of the second to become the co-op action gorefest it so sorely wished to be. As a fan of mystery, I also wish games would be content to leave details unexplained. Indeed, I'm not sure I can ever truly forgive a studio for attempting a deep dive into the character of a silent protagonist who's literally named Point Man, no matter how well told.

With that said, I can entirely understand the defense's love of lengthy horror game plots. As a long-term Resident Evil fan, I still argue that the amusing character interactions were well worth the slog of playing Resi 6 through. And while it's certainly troubled, there is heart on display in F.E.A.R. 3's story (provided you get the right ending). It was far from a travesty, just another troubled sequel unable to measure up to its lineage. To that end I suggest an early release to the House of Guilty Pleasures pending one condition: Should F.E.A.R. ever return to the public eye, let it be in tribute to the greatness of the original, and not the confused offspring it left behind.

Chris: I think the defense nailed it during opening statements when pointing out the year F.E.A.R. 3 arrived. In 2011 with Batman: Arkham City, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Dark Souls, Gears of War 3, Dragon Age II, and Dead Space 2 the only original blockbuster was Dark Souls, which changed the face of action RPGs as we know them. In amongst that sequel fatigue that gripped the early 2010s, you have this threequel from a story that should have finished the decade before if not for some truly baffling writing at the end. My main gripe with F.E.A.R. 3 isn't that it was bad, it's that it was bad on top of bad. And who among us can honestly say we've never made things worse by trying to fix a mistake?

I'd be inclined to agree with Henry in a lenient sentence, but then I spotted that Halloween director, composer and all-round cinematic legend John Carpenter was mired in the mediocrity of F.E.A.R. 3 and now I'm just angry. Jail for one thousand years.

Morgan is a writer, indie game lover, and socially awkward coffee addict. Need something? Morgan can be reached at morgan.shaver@allgamers.com or if you like, you can say hello using GIFs on Twitter.

Load Comments

Power

Shop Now

Mics

Shop Now