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The resurgence of cooperative play makes me immensely satisfied; the number of people I know who like to play games, but don’t own consoles themselves, is still pretty high, and quite a few aren’t all that interested in playing one-on-one versus or even in larger battles. But lately, even cooperative play has begun to get a little stale. We’ve seen so many games include cooperative play as a sort of formality that some gamers have suggested that games are suffering from it.

F.E.A.R. 3 (which I shall forever refuse to write as F.3.A.R aside from this current self-contradiction) is a game built around the potential of gamers playing together, whether they are cooperating or, in some cases, failing to do so. I was present for a F.E.A.R. 3 presentation by WB Games, and based on what I saw, the game could offer one of the better cooperative gameplay experiences this year.

The cooperative game mode puts players in one of two roles: the main character Point Man, a member of a special forces team, or Paxton Fettel, who the player killed in the first game and now returns as a ghost. Unlike most cooperative games, the gameplay experience will be extremely different based on which character you play as.

In the demonstration, one presenter played as Point Man, while another went through the demo as Fettel. Immediately, it was apparent that playing as Fettel won’t be your typical run and gun affair. First off, he is a ghost, which seems to be working out fairly well for him, as he has gained some pretty impressive new abilities. In addition, he’s given the opportunity to work together with his brother to find revenge for the events of the first game.

Chief among his new abilities is possession, which was used somewhat sparingly in the gameplay session I watched. Essentially, Fettel can take control of seemingly any enemy in the game. I saw him possess a melee-based enemy, which gave him that character’s melee abilities. Similarly, taking control of an armed solider will give you a gun. It wasn’t immediately clear how often you could possess enemies, but it seems like possession will be a necessary part of playing through as Fettel.

A large part of this requirement is that Fettel’s own attacks don’t seem particularly powerful. He is able to throw some sort of red energy at enemies, but these attacks are fairly slow and don’t seem powerful at all. He does have some more powerful attacks, such as a radial shockwave that he sent out in a group of enemies, taking them all out. It’s likely that these more powerful attacks will require a longer recharge.

Emphasis was put on the fact that players can choose whether to work together or largely do their own things. There are some enemies in the game that only Fettel can see, so the player controlling Fettel can choose to stick with Point Man and inform him of such dangers, or to ignore him. However, it seems to me like there’s not much of a reason that the two wouldn’t want to work together at all times, so unless there’s some unannounced mechanic that will provide incentive to not cooperate, this doesn’t seem like a particularly compelling selling point for the game. Still, the cooperative play seems like it could give the game an added depth that not many coop shooters achieve.

The fundamental gameplay seems strong for both characters. A very solid cover mechanic was shown off, which should make for more satisfying shooting than the series’ two predecessors. The slow-motion ability makes a return, and it appears that both Point Man and Fettel must enter slow motion at the same time. Lastly, both characters can control mechs, which should make for some seriously frantic destruction.

F.E.A.R. 3 is all about the combination of three important elements: storytelling, visceral combat, and horror, and a main consideration for the game is how to keep all of these intact in a cooperative experience. The series has always had ambitious and somewhat bizarre storytelling, and this entry appears to be no different. There were many sudden shifts in the game, which threw the players into new environments without warning, such as a dark forest clearing with nothing but a playground carousel. A major theme of the game will be flashbacks to the brothers’ childhoods, which you can bet were pretty creepy.

For those wondering about the single-player experience, there will be no buddy AI. In this case, Fettel will still be present, but only so in the mind of Point Man. He will mostly provide commentary to the player, though there may be some unannounced surprises as well. But as much as they’re pushing the cooperative play, I have to believe that singleplayer will not be the definitive way to play the game. At least there are many options for coop: the game is confirmed to have split-screen play as well as online.

I enjoyed F.E.A.R. 2, so I’m plenty excited about this new installment. As long as the story comes together well and the cooperative play feels balanced (and they don’t make the singleplayer totally unenjoyable), F.E.A.R. 3 could continue the series’ strong progression and perhaps give holdouts a compelling reason to jump into the world of acronyms and inappropriate number placement.

  1. Lost reference? I’m so in.

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