Don't be afraid of change
Allow me to start this review with a disclaimer: I am not a hardcore fangirl for either Monolith or the FEAR series in general. I played both FEAR 1 and 2 and found them to be quite good, but I don't hold them up on a pedestal like many people seem to do.
With that out of the way let's talk about FEAR 3 (I am NOT calling it F3AR, sorry :) ). Now, I had zero expectations going into this game. I had seen some of the trailers a while back and thought they looked interesting, especially the ones covering the various multiplayer modes. I wasn't quite sure what to expect but had a $20 credit off from Amazon so I decided to pick it up.
The game begins with a brief recap of the story so far but it's a little sparse; I'd recommend at least reading the story of 1 and 2 on their wiki pages if you haven't played them to completion so you don't feel too lost. You play as the Point Man, the first game's protagonist, who now has both a face and a voice. The story doesn't begin in Fairport (the city from 2) because you've been captured by the Armacham Corporation. After you break free with the help of your previously dead-but-resurrected-physical-ghost-thing brother, Paxton Fettel, you begin the tutorial level in what looks like Nova Prospekt from Half Life 2. You escape through the sewers (don't worry, it's a short section) and into the favelas from Modern Warfare 2, where Armacham thugs are going door to door selling cookies (if you consider summary execution a type of cookie, that is). I have to admit I was not particularly impressed with FEAR 3 at this point. It seemed like a generic modern FPS and lacked any of the atmosphere that made the first two games so interesting.
That all changed when I reached the third interval. It can really only be described as "WalMart, except taken over by zombie cultists". The ambiance and creep factor does a HUGE jump almost immediately, creating an on-edge mood well before you actually encounter anything dangerous. This is where Day 1 Studios succeeds: creating an extremely atmospheric, eerie, and downright unsettling experience. There are very few jump scares and very little in the game is straight-up terrifying, but the tone and environment are consistently eerie enough to keep you on edge constantly.
I'm not going to say much about the story for fear of spoilers but I'll address a few points I noticed. The game doesn't really explain much at the beginning so you'll have little idea what exactly is going on, doubly so if you didn't play both previous games in the series. It DOES get better about telling you what's happening and everything will become clear before the end. Yes, the first two intervals (levels) are boring: the first one is a tutorial and the second is an excuse to get you to the city of Fairport, where the real game begins.
Now, for the actual mechanics. The shooting is quite good, with the guns having a nice weight to them and decent recoil (and yes, for all you hardcore FEAR fans, the assault rifle is still amazing). The game incorporates a Killzone 3-style cover system with the ability to peak left and right around as well as over cover. The enemy AI is refreshingly competent; they'll flank you, use grenades to flush you out of cover, and blind fire from behind obstacles. The Point Man's main ability is slow-motion bullet time, giving you ample opportunity to line-up headshots or just blow everyone away. It's extremely satisfying to pop out of cover, activate slowmo, and drop 3 enemies with headshots in a few seconds. You can carry two weapons of your choice as well as two types of grenades. Paxton Fettel, however, plays completely differently and is much more interesting. He lacks his brother's slowmo and the ability to use weapons at all. Instead he had two primary psychic abilities: a blast that does good damage and has fairly long range but fires slowly and can "overheat" if fired too quickly, and a non-damaging levitation beam that, well, levitates enemies, leaving them defenseless and easy prey for headshots. He can also possess enemies, leaping into their bodies and acquiring all their equipment. In this mode he plays like the Point Man without bullet time but with the advantage that his host is totally expendable; you can suicide rush them into their former comrades with little danger to yourself. Maintaining control of an enemy slowly drains your spirit meter (the one that controls the Point Man's bullet time as well) so your hosts WILL die eventually, but you can extend your control by collecting spirit energy from enemies killed with headshots. Note that your host's death will completely drain your meter, requiring you to wait for it to recharge before you can possess a new target. You can actually play through the entire campaign as Fettel; completing an interval as the Point Man unlocks it for Fettel, allowing you to experience his psychic mayhem without needing to play co-op.
I would still recommend you DO play co-op as well as the other multiplayer modes, as they are all very well done and add longevity to the otherwise-brief campaign. Soul Survivor is an intense mode where three players have to hold-out against waves of enemies who are directed by the fourth player, who can possess enemies to make them much more dangerous. Dying in this mode respawns you as a specter as well, and the winner is the last player left uncorrupted. Soul King, on the other hands, has *every* player start as a specter with the goal of killing enemies and harvesting their souls for points. Killing the player with the most points gives you half of them, but having the most clearly marks you for everyone else to find. Whoever has the most when time runs out wins. Contractions is similar to Dawn of War's Last Stand or Gears of War's Horde, with enemies spawning from a fog cloud surrounding the players. The goal is to survive as long as possible, with each wave becoming progressively more difficult. The final mode is the aptly-named Fucking Run, where you have to do exactly that. A wall of pure death chases the players through the level so you have to keep moving constantly, even though there are enemies trying to stop you from doing just that. You can revive downed players killed by enemies but if anyone is killed by the advancing wall it's game over for everyone.
All-in-all, FEAR 3 is a great multipayer game with an atmospheric singleplayer campaign and excellent mechanics. The campaign itself is worth at least two playthroughs, one as Point Man and a second as Fettel. Its length can be extended through co-op, and the multiplayer alone is enough to provide your money's worth. I would recommend it to anyone who likes multiplayer FPS's or campaigns with very well-done atmospheres. Also, a special recommendation to anyone who (like I do) fondly remembers the older games Psi-Ops and Geist. Both Paxton Fettel's abilities and the soul multiplayer modes will remind you of these if your nostalgia doesn't first.