Reviews

F.E.A.R. 3

New F.E.A.R. developers Day 1 have sacrificed scares for scores, crafting an experience that never stops feeling like a game.


F.E.A.R. 3

Publisher: Warner Bros.
Format: PS3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
Price: $59.99
Players: 1-4
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: Day 1
Release Date: 2011-06-21
URL

An adult human watching a horror film knows better than to expect the first extended, creepy, quiet scene in the movie to end in a river of blood. When the film is still establishing its relationship with the viewer, it is normally doing its best to ensure that the viewer is off balance, that the question of where and when the true scares will happen remains an open one for the duration of that film. There's a buildup that needs to happen, a series of false starts lulling the audience into a false sense of security. When you're expecting to be scared and your expectations are fulfilled, it's just blood and gut, really. A true shock happens when the rhythm is broken and the apparent safety of a given scene is shattered.

This would seem to be the reason for the slow start of F.E.A.R. 3 (or F.3.A.R. if you want to play along with the cover art's interpretation), but one can't help but wonder if the developers of this horror experience let the buildup go on too long. It's too easy to start up the campaign, start playing, and quickly become jaded.

I can't imagine that anyone who starts playing F.E.A.R. 3 is expecting Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 666, but that's what we get for two stages anyway. The player, known here only as "Point Man", runs around a dilapidated building and picks off human soldiers. The player has some bullet-time power, but for the most part it's cover, aim, shoot, repeat. Some of the soldiers are ready for you, and some are not, but it's all soldiers all the time, being taken down with the standard regiment of pistols, semi-automatics, rifles, and heavy artillery. The next stage takes place in a city scene where you start on the ground but eventually end up on the rooftops, again picking off soldiers 20 at a time, again with the same set of weapons.

Granted, the game never lets you forget that you're playing a horror game given that your undead brother Fettel keeps showing up to randomly kill a couple of soldiers for you, and series mascot Alma shows up in the corner of your view just often enough to get you to double take every single damn time, but the absence of actual horrific elements is still pronounced.

After this point, the horror seems to kick it up a notch, but again, the buildup is so slow as to turn any dread the player might be feeling into utter indifference. There are only so many variations on the "squad of zombies, half of which have explosives strapped to them" patterns before they all start blurring together no matter the environment in which they occur. The music does its best to keep the player involved, kicking up to a fast-paced military-sounding backdrop for the most intense firefights and adding orchestra stabs for the jump cuts, but it never quite gels. The player came into the game expecting a horrific experience, and forgoing the horror almost completely while trying to compensate for it with a few jumpy sequences, most of which take the action out of the player's hands entirely, isn't the way to achieve that.

Still, this is where the game's very title may well be working against it. It is a F.E.A.R. game, and as such, we expect to be scared. Rather than concentrate on the sort of atmosphere and experience that would achieve true scares, however, it seems that Day 1 opted instead to make more of a game out of F.E.A.R..

This attention to the play experience is subtly applied to the single-player experience. Over the course of any given level, statistics like the number of enemies killed with a given weapon and the number of seconds spent in bullet-time are tracked by the game. Surpass a given number of any of these stats means accomplishing one of the game's many "challenges", goals that when fulfilled increase the player's experience level, which in turn increases the player's life, bullet-time store, and potential ammo stash. The player is scored based on the number and type of challenges achieved in a level. The game elements are not hidden or camouflaged here, which again does not help the atmosphere but does at least give the player a constant sense of accomplishment.

The surprise, however, is in the multiplayer play, an element of the game that's easy to miss if you're not, you know, reviewing the thing. Horror games are known far more for their single-player campaigns and stories than their multiplayer elements, which don't tend to be all that different than their counterparts in the Halo/Call of Duty/Battlefield/Resistance series, to the point where it's hard to blame anyone who plays this game without ever realizing the treasure hidden in the forms of the various multiplayer modes.

The two-player cooperative campaign is extremely well done, in that it gives the two players two distinct characters to play: one will play as the traditional single-player character of Point Man, and the other as Fettel, who uses magic brain attacks to torment and disarm opponents. The two characters complement each other very well, and the experience can't help but feel like a collaborative experience. The multiplayer exclusive modes are well done as well, effectively masking their more derivative characteristics by highlighting the innovations. "Contractions" is Horde/Zombie mode with bonus Stephen King-inspired fog, "Fucking Run" is Horde/Zombie mode with a bonus "wall of death" and a "nobody's allowed to die" clause, and "Spectre" and "Soul King" modes are essentially Infection-style modes, except that you're turning other enemies to your side to take down your opponents rather than turning your opponents themselves. All of the modes are limited to intimate little parties of four players, and all of them are a blast with a decent group of players.

Still, the question of whether F.E.A.R. 3 can garner any sort of following for those nifty modes remains, as it's difficult to entice a player to stick with a game for the multiplayer when the campaign, despite getting better as it goes, leaves a bad taste. F.E.A.R. 3's slow-burn is too slow; a few thrills at the beginning could have gone a long way.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image