- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A first-person survival horror franchise has returned, lacking frightful moments but definitely challenging a player to stay alive amid some gross carnage in F.E.A.R. 3 (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Day 1 Studios, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $59.99).

It looks like developers spent more time refining blood globules and what it looks like when a human body is hit with a shotgun blast than creeping out players devoted to the legacy of the First Encounter Assault Recon squad.

Let’s get right to the gory guts of the game, shall we?

A player can take control of the Point Man in an eight-chapter campaign. This disturbed soldier with a Call of Duty penchant for delivering death to all in his path is on a mission to stop his psychically powerful mother, Alma, from giving birth to a potential monster.

Yes, we’ve seen and played it all before as the warrior Point Man: smart cover moves in firefights, slowdown mode to kill “Matrix” style, exploding heads with sniper shots, and battles in locations such as war-torn slums and a haunted prison. Weapons, grenades and ammo are plentiful, and there’s a plethora of fairly smart, computer-controlled enemies as well.

They’re so smart, at one point I couldn’t believe it when an Armacham Security stooge actually opened a car door to hide behind as I pummeled him with bullets.

Finish a level and unlock control in that level of the infinitely more interesting brother of Point Man, the paranormal cannibal Paxton Fettel, who recently was killed by his brother. I know, it’s complicated.

This devilish dude loves to cackle at others’ miseries, especially when he takes possession of an enemy and uses him to wipe out his squad mates. It’s a pretty cool move enhanced by the time limit on the possession that can be extended if Paxton keeps killing and capturing the souls (walk over the dead and look for the ghostly ball of a presence hovering).

Paxton also packs a telekinetic punch to either lift and throw objects or foes, or blast them with energy, or a combination of both.

The solo campaign also can be played cooperatively (split screen local or online), as each player assumes the role of a brother and makes the game that much easier, and the killing way more creative.

As far as the visual storytelling, it looks like a bad Japanese horror film intruding upon a constant barrage of firefights against military thugs, cultists and paranormal creatures.

Where the latest F.E.A.R. shines is through the multiplayer component delightfully ramped up to chaotic scares.

Four modes exist, with up to a quartet of players ready to take on the most daunting experiences.

I’m most smitten with [Expletive] Run. The squad must keep moving and eliminating any obstacles in its path to avoid a rolling swath of spooky smoke chasing it. It’s game over if one of your team gets caught in it.

Other modes include Contractions (collect weapons and ammo and build barricades to hold off waves of Alma’s finest creatures, just like Call of Duty Nazi Zombies), Soul Survivor (an Alma-corrupted team member must convert others as Armacham soldiers attack) and Soul King (four ghosts compete to possess enemies and collect souls).

Although I never felt involved in the F.E.A.R. 3 story, the action was brutal and gritty throughout and peaked as I virtually stood side by side with fellow gamers in battle.