It's 2011, and FEAR 3 is relying on the same scare tactics that the original game did back in 2005. Shadows of ominous-looking creatures flit about your peripheral vision, harrowing screams ring out from an unknown source, and every now and again Alma - the disturbing little girl at the heart of the game's narrative - will appear out of nowhere, just standing there, looking all weird and unearthly. Whilst this can on rare occasions be a little jumpy, it's never remotely scary.
There are several explanations for this: firstly, the game's protagonist, the absurdly-named Point Man, never seems all too concerned about the hell that's unfolding around him. Silent protagonists are fine - just ask Link or Gordon Freeman (not that they'd respond) - but in a horror game they remove a much needed element of humanity from the narrative. Co-op play offers no remedy for this either, as it's hard to be scared with a chum on the other end of a headset. More than this, though, it's simply that we've seen it all before; we've become desensitised to the horror. This is a sentiment that's been echoed in the VideoGamer community recently.
What is truly frightening, though, is the script writers' inability to weave a coherent story. It's hard to be scared by something so hard to comprehend, after all. Even the talents of John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) fail to save the narrative from the convoluted mess that FEAR 3 descends into.
Nine months after the events of FEAR 2, Paxton Fettel breaks his brother, Point Man, out of a high security prison. The pair embark on a quest to reunite with their pregnant mother, Alma, who is still wreaking paranormal havoc on the town of Fairport. While they're happy to collaborate towards this end goal, the pair have very different reasons for making the journey.
Over the course of the game we're told an increasingly complex tale of child abuse, sibling rivalry and family reunion. It's mostly a load of tosh, and requires a good memory of the previous games (and knowledge of the comics) to understand properly.
This doesn't stop FEAR 3 from being a good game, though. Despite never making much sense, the narrative permits a rather interesting hook. As the game revolves around two brothers, two players can bro-up and play through the campaign together. While Point Man is happy to rely on his guns and the occasional burst of slow-motion - a staple ingredient of the FEAR recipe - Fettel prefers his telekinetic powers, in particular the ability to possess enemy soldiers. This is likely the reason two 'friends' will squabble for half an hour before allowing themselves to play the game - Fettel is a lot more interesting to play as.
Once in command of a biological vessel, Fettel can operate firearms much like his brother, but his powers can only sustain the body for so long. After his possession meter is depleted he's booted back to ghost-town, with the expired body exploding into gory chunks. Collecting glowing orbs from the corpses of downed soldiers can extend the length of this voodoo, but Fettel is far from useless in his spectre state. As well as being able to hold enemies prisoner in the air and manipulate the environment, Fettel can also create a temporary shield for his brother - a buff, if you will.
Despite being a co-operative affair, FEAR 3 incites fierce rivalry with its scoring mechanic. As you progress through the game points are awarded according to the manner in which you dispatch of your enemies. Big rewards are on offer for meeting the requirements of specific challenges. This might be killing 50 enemies with a specific gun, nailing a certain number of headshots, or looting a set amount of ammo. This all ties into a rank system, with perks and bonuses for levelling up.
At the end of a stage the game will tot up all these points and choose a 'favourite son' based on the scores. So, while you're working together to reach the end of a level, you're also working against each other to beat your brother and earn Mummy's (or is it Daddy's?) approval.