FEAR 3 multiplayer preview: Corrupting influence

FEAR 3 will feature four multiplayer gametypes, each an isolated mode largely dissimilar to the others. We already got a look at the aptly named "F**king Run!" scenario during PAX East, and at a recent preview event I got my hands on the three other modes, as well as a second take of F**king Run.

What Day 1 Studios has done with the multiplayer component of FEAR 3 is employ an "everything but the kitchen sink" philosophy. The various modes offer widely varying experiences -- including deathmatch-type competition, co-operative play and scenarios that combine the two. This variety would seem to offer alternatives for players that get bored with any one mode, but with the exception of F**king Run, I didn't find any of the gametypes to be particularly unique or exciting. The alternatives, then, seem to be a bit limited.
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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Day 1 needn't owe Treyarch any compliments -- FEAR 3's "Contractions" mode says it all. Contractions is a near carbon copy of the Call of Duty developer's "Zombies" mode, in which a pregnant Alma's contractions (yes, really) produce progressively tougher waves of enemies.

A team of four players hunkers down in a safe house, fighting off the encroaching enemies spawned by Alma's contractions, which also produce a dark fog decreasing visibility as players progress. In between waves, players must run out and re-supply from ammo crates littered around the isolated environment, repair doors and barricades around the safe house, and generally tweak their strategy to survive as long as possible.

The most glaring issue with Contractions is that it feels like the longest shower of my life: kill dudes; run out and grab crates; stock up on ammo; kill dudes again. It's the definition of "rinse and repeat," and outside of the one instance where I spotted Alma wondering the battlefield and took a few shots at her, only to be blinded for a brief time (a novelty that wore off immediately), this mode had few surprises.

The "Soul Survivor" mode was more interesting, if executed a bit poorly. The team of players starts in a room where Alma chooses to "corrupt" one player at random. That player then turns into a Spectre, which possesses the bodies of AI-controlled Armacham soldiers in order to attack the human players. As a timer ticks down, it's the Spectre's job to incapacitate all players and corrupt them while they're down, bringing them over to Alma's side.

The problem was that the map I played on was quite small and skewed toward Team Alma's advantage. With dozens of Armacham soldiers constantly flooding in, attacking us from all sides, we were overwhelmed with nowhere to run -- the map was claustrophobic, adding to the tension of the timer and fight for survival. But it wasn't long before that tension turned into frustration.

Even firing upon them with a shotgun or an automatic rifle, enemies were bullet sponges and would absorb almost a full clip before going down. This meant that there were lots of instances of getting boxed in and little-to-no chance of surviving the brief rounds. While incapacitated, players can still fire their pistols, at least, and can revive themselves by simply killing the closest enemy. Of course, the majority of times I was able to get back up, there were so many enemies around I'd just get knocked right back down again.

For more competitive-minded players, the best option is "Soul King," where four different Spectres duke it out for souls. By killing each other and AI enemies, Spectres can collect souls (or points, basically). Each round (of four) sees a different enemy type enter the map, at which point each Spectre possesses an enemy and then tries to kill the others for their souls. When a possessed host is killed, it drops half the Spectre's collected souls. The Spectre with the most souls at the end of the round wins.

While highly competitive and easy to pick up, Soul King is not without its flaws. My biggest gripe with this mode is that there are rounds in which just melee enemies spawn or you've only got lumbering shield-wielding dudes to possess. At these times, the game becomes flat-out boring -- first-person melee can be a tricky thing to master and, in FEAR 3, the mechanics just aren't tight enough.

But when it works, Soul King is genuinely fun. Shooting up an Armacham soldier possessed by an enemy Spectre, only to watch the helpless ghost be forced out of the body and in frantic need of a new host, is empowering. Snatching up the souls it leaves behind is icing on the cake.

With FEAR 3's launch just six weeks away, the development window is quickly closing on Day 1 Studios. The ambitious attempt to offer a variety of multiplayer gametypes is in danger of turning out a mediocre and uninspired hodgepodge. Personally, I'd rather have one really well-balanced, thought out mode that engages me over a long period than several different modes that are fun a few times but quickly fizzle out.

To me, F**king Run is the standout mode -- it's what Day 1 should be focused on. It's an incredibly tense (and tough!) mode to play. Its well-timed, two-minute rounds provide a constant thrill with dynamic enemy placement and the ever-approaching cloud of death. I just hope Day 1 doesn't spread itself to thin trying to cater to too many tastes, thus cutting short F**king Run's potential.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.