F.E.A.R. 3

The F.E.A.R. series has long held a cult following since its initial release.  The third installment promised to provide some closure to the twisted story of Alma and her two sons, Point Man and Fettel.  But does this latest installment provide more of the heralded psychological horror or has it devolved into yet another generic FPS?

F.E.A.R. 3 picks up with Point Man being interrogated in an Armacham controlled prison.  The now deceased Paxton Fettel interrupts the intense session and soon the brothers forge an uneasy alliance and escape.  Along the way to the Project Origin facility, the brothers discover that Alma is pregnant following her rape of Sergeant Michael Becket.  She is going into labor and the paranormal activity has driven the local residents insane.  The brothers must fight their way past Armacham soldiers, paranormal monstrosities, and their own tortured memories to their mother.

After overcoming all of the challenges before them, the brothers must decide what to do with their mother and new sibling.  There are unique endings for each brother.  When playing co-op, whomever had the most points from the campaign will be the favorite son and their ending will play.  It’s an interesting dynamic that encourages a healthy amount of competition.

The endings, much like the story itself, are lackluster.  The entire experience rings hollow and there’s no depth apparent for any part of the short journey.  This is also true of the supposed horror theme.  The game itself isn’t terribly scary.  The environments are dark and brooding with plenty of gore.  But whenever there are automatic weapons and giant robots involved, the fear a game can generates goes down exponentially.

Thankfully, each brother plays vastly different from one another, so replaying the game as the other sibling is like an entirely new journey.  Point Man plays as one would expect any protagonist in a FPS to.  He can pick up and instantly use any weapon found like a veteran.  He also has the ability to slow down time which is infinitely useful in its own right. 
While his brother is severely stunted in his originality, Fettel is the real threat.  Fettel can fire paranormal orbs that deal moderate damage, hurl objects across a room, and even provide a shield for Point Man.  But his greatest ability is to lock enemies in a form of stasis, keeping them hovering a foot off the ground.  From there, he can make them explode into a cloud of gore or possess them entirely.  Each possessed enemy has their own health bar and can then behave like Point Man, sans the slow time ability.  And when the enemy is no long useful, Fettel can make them explode with his own paranormal abilities.  However, it’s far more destructive to save a grenade and run the poor solider into a group of his allies before dropping it.  This ability to hop from body to body with what is essentially an infinite supply of life makes Fettel an extremely adaptive and fierce combatant.  Where Point Man must be more reserved in his attacks, playing as Fettel is like controlling chaos itself.

And when it comes to controlling each of the brothers, they handle exceptionally well.  There are no instances of floaty aiming or buggy cover mechanics.  Be it Point Man or Fettel, pressing a button will elicit a precise response. 

The AI provides enough challenge to keep players from recklessly charging into each fight.  Squads will communicate with one another and try to flank the brothers.  Mini-boss characters require a more concentrated effort to defeat.  This is where Fettel’s ability to shield his brother comes to play with great effect.
From a visual standpoint, F.E.A.R. 3 is a decent looking game.  It runs along the middle of the road and is far from terrible looking, but won’t win any awards either.  Pre-rendered cinematics play between each of the eight missions and are rather bland.  The blank, Neanderthal face of Point Man is just as unexciting as his concept.  His lack of reaction to any situation is a large contributing factor to the lack of any engagement for the player. 

There’s a bit of a draw to the visuals with most levels being on the smaller side and the bigger maps being shrouded in a dense fog.  Maps are fairly linear with clearly defined start and end points.

There’s a robust offering of multiplayer modes, but due to my obtaining the game later on, there are no active lobbies any longer.  This coupled with the short campaign provides little replay value at this point.  With a competent co-op partner, the game can be plowed through in roughly five hours.

F.E.A.R. 3 is just different enough to make it entertaining for a couple of play-throughs.  After that, there’s little in the way of story, upgrades, or multiplayer to keep players coming back.  The lack of promised terror also hurts if you’re looking for a scary game.  For those that have played through the first two games, there’s enough merit to warrant completing it.  For everyone else, it’s fun if you’re looking for something a little different in the FPS genre.

App of the Week: Star Wars: Tiny Death Star

Star Wars: Tiny Death Star
Publisher: LucasArts
Platform: Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8
Price: Free!

Combining the addictive gameplay of NimbleBit's Tiny Tower with the juggernaut that is Star Wars rewards fans of both with the hybrid Star Wars: Tiny Death StarTiny Death Star is a game of building resources to generate more resources so players can build more resources.  Long story short, it's a classic time sink.

Building a Death Star is expensive.  And despite the vast pockets of the Emperor and Lord Vader, it's going to take a little bit more to get this machine of terror built.  That's where the player comes in.  It's up to them to build new levels on the Death Star to attract new tenants, bitzens, to live, work, and shop on the space station.  Levels must be constructed one by one and become increasingly expensive to build.  Once a tenant moves in, they must be assigned a job in the multitude of shops that can be built.  From there, product must be ordered and stocked to bring in the substantial amounts of money required to continue building.

There are steep time limits on building new levels and stocking product.  This is where the time sink aspect comes in.  Players can only do so much in one sitting before they're forced to wait for the desired action to complete.  Of course, this process can be completed immediately by spending Imperial Bux.  Imperial Bux are a special form of currency awarded for completing special objectives.  Alternatively, they can be purchased with real world money.

There are loads of Easter eggs and nods to Star Wars universe that are definitely entertaining.  Checking the Holonet provides plenty of humor as the bitzens share their thoughts on living in the Death Star through a Facebook-esque social forum. 

Tiny Death Star is available on several platforms and I found that it played best on my Lumia 920.  The vertical aspect fit well with the screen.  On the tablet, the screen is locked in the horizontal position with a lot of wasted space on either side of the screen.  It would have been great if it were possible to rotate the screen and play it in a vertical mode.  Even better would be the ability to have the game sync across the platforms.  As it stands now.  I have a separate game running on each platform.  While Tiny Death Star is enjoyable in the small bursts I play it in, I have no desire to keep three separate games running.  Especially when I'd be building the same design three times over. 

Tiny Death Star is fun, but is limited because of what it is.  But if you're looking for something to kill a few minutes and have an itch for Star Wars, this is the game for you.

App of the Week: Asphalt 7: Heat

Asphalt 7: Heat
Publisher: Gameloft SA
Platform: Windows 8, Windows RT
Price: $1.99

Racing games are a staple on the mobile market.  The bevy of sensors included in the thin portable devices almost makes them ideal for the genre.  Add in the natural ability to "steer" the device by turning it like one would an actual steering wheel and you can check off another box in the immersion category.

Asphalt 7: Heat was one of the first racing titles available for Windows 8 that caught my eye.  Granted the game has been available on other platforms for some time now, but that doesn't make it any less fun to play on Microsoft's latest OS.  Especially if that OS is running on a tablet.

Visually speaking, Asphalt 7 is a striking game.  I'm floored at the incredible quality of the graphics and that there's no dip in framerate or any pop-in.  There's a great deal of detail in the car models themselves and enough in the environment to make it engaging while barreling through the streets.  The visuals are on a level that I wasn't expecting my tablet to deliver.

The maps themselves offer a good deal of variety so as not to feel repetitive.  There are plenty of paths to chose on some maps with shortcuts cleverly placed to give players an edge while racing.

Cars and races are broken up into categories so you won't be racing a Mini Cooper against a Ferrari.  While it makes sense, it's still disappointing that I can't exclusively drive a Viper in every race.  To progress, mini circuits of several races must be completed which award money and stars for completing side objectives within each race.  As stars and money are accrued, players unlock new cars and upgrades.  There's a bit of a grind involved, but it's not terrible.  It's just enough to keep players coming back for another race.

The handling is very sensitive.  At least it was on my Asus Vivo Tab RT.  I would find myself over-steering in a vain attempt to counteract what I had just done.  It took some time, but I eventually found my rhythm of short, smooth movements that seemed to work.  It's a bit frustrating at first, but works itself out with practice.

For $1.99, it's hard to beat the price for such a high quality game.  The visuals are astounding for a mobile title and the quick nature of the frantic races make it a game easily played in short bursts.  The long term investment of repeating races for more stars and cash eventually pays off once better cars and upgrades are finally unlocked.  And once the single player portion is complete, there's always multiplayer to keep players entertained.  All in all, Asphalt 7: Heat is a package as slick as its visuals.

Game Giveaway!

Thanks to the wonderful deals found in WB's Humble Bundle, I have some spare keys for Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY, Batman: Arkham City: GOTY, and F.E.A.R. 3.  The keys can be redeemed through Steam.  The first commenter walks away with the game of their choice.  Limit one game per reader.

App of the Week: Authenticator

Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Windows Phone
Price: Free!

When it comes to security, one can never be too safe.  Having two factor authentication is one of the best ways to ensure everyone but you can't get into your account.

Authenticator is Microsoft's solution for its Windows Phone users.  The app works wonderfully with Microsoft, Google, and Facebook accounts.  It's very easy to set up the authenticator in the respective account settings.  Once set up, Authenticator will randomly generate codes to be used in conjunction with the account password.  So if someone tries to log into an account with the password, they'll still be prompted for the Authenticator code which is only available within the app.

For the security conscious, this is a fantastic solution to the always growing problem of account security.

The Humble WB Games Bundle

The Humble Bundle is back!  This time, WB Games is backing and supporting the We Can Be Heroes charity.

"We Can Be Heroes is designed to raise awareness and critical funds needed to fight the devastating hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa and bring help and hope to eight million people who are in urgent need of assistance.  The campaign is lead by DC Entertainment's iconic characters - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg.  Since launching the campaign in early 2012, we've helped more than five million people in the Horn of Africa.  The funds we raise through these efforts support the work of the campaign's three humanitarian aid organizations - Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, and Mercy Corps."

To make this a success, WB Games is letting players pay what they want and in return, they receive Steam keys for Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, F.E.A.R. 3, and Lord of the Rings: War in the North.  Those than opt to pay more than the average of $4.58 will also receive Scribblenauts Unlimited and Batman: Arkham City GOTY.  This an incredible bargain for equally impressive games.