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These days, having a multiplayer component in the latest AAA blockbuster in-your-face awesome-fest is something of a given - and all but inescapable if that game is a first-person shooter. FPS games have been an online multiplayer staple for almost two decades now, so it's not entirely surprising to see that Warner Bros. and Day 1 Studios are building in a little some-some for gamers looking to shoot their friends in the face from afar.
Late last month, we were finally able to go hands-on with the four modes Day 1 is cooking up for the FEAR 3, and all that talk of including horror maven John Carpenter and 30 Days of Night scribe Steve Niles was apparently more than just ticking off a couple of recognizable names. Though Niles is helping to co-write the story and Carpenter is assisting on the cutscenes, their influence runs deeper than just those roles.
But perhaps we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Let's try to catch everyone up first before we just start throwing out names.
For those that have never played the FEAR series, there's not a whole lot to explain. The lead, a guy known only as Point Man, was originally sent in to capture one Paxton Fettel, a nasty dude with a penchant for munching on the remains of his victims. Problem is, when Point Man drops in to capture Fettel, he comes across Alma, a (seemingly little) girl raised in captivity and subjected to years of testing.
Alma also has a habit of showing up with a lot of blood and gore, with a particular penchant for appearing just in eyesight when doing something as mundane and seemingly ordinary as climbing down a ladder. Needless to say, the FEAR series has garnered something of a reputation for being equal parts scary and gripping, but the sequel, FEAR 2: Project Origin didn't actually focus on Point Man for reasons we won't spoil in case you end up wanting to go back and check the game out (and, if you're fond of getting the pee scared out of you, by all means, do so). All you need to know to hopefully have your interest piqued is that the start of Project Origin actually takes place about a half hour before the end of FEAR, and you get to experience the events of the original from an entirely new perspective, which is, frankly, a pretty brilliant way to start off a sequel. Also, it's scary too.
FEAR 3 does feature Point Man once again, along with Paxton Fettel in a decidedly incorporeal form that promises to make the pair's adventure different depending on whom you chose to play as (something WB and Day 1 are calling divergent co-op). Given the, uh, familial ties between Alma, Point Man and Fettel and the impending pregnancy of Alma herself, things are... well, they're going poorly to say the least.
But this preview isn't about the story. It's not about the single-player. It's not even about Point Man or Fettel, even though they're central to the single-player experience. It is however, very much about Alma, and in particular how her growing psychic powers are doing very, very bad things to both this plane of reality and the people (that would be us - and you, should you end up playing the multiplayer component of FEAR 3) that inhabit it.
In a surprisingly pleasant twist, Day 1's multiplayer element shares almost none of the nigh-ubiquitous multiplayer modes one has come to expect from a first-person shooter. There's no capture the flag mode, no capture-and-hold mode, and the straight-up deathmatch has an inviting hook that makes it feel unlike anything we've played to date. Curious? Good, read on for the goods.
The first of the game's four modes (each with three maps) is Soul King, perhaps the most analogous to stuff you've probably already played. Though essentially a deathmatch mode where it's you against everyone else, there's a twist: you're not a normal soldier. Instead, you're a Spectre, a ghostly apparition with the power to possess any living being wandering around the map. Jump into their body, shoot the crap out of the other soldiers and collect their soul payload. The longer you can stay alive, the more souls you can collect, but (there's always a but), when you die, you drop half of your stocked souls the appears as a pickup for anyone else.
It sounds like a simple little mechanic, but it fundamentally changes the way one plays a normal deathmatch mode. In a single move, the player with the most souls can be gunned down, drop half his spoils and impart them to a last-place player, instantly swapping their positions on the four-player leaderboard. It creates a constantly-shifting list of who's actually on top, and ends up being a kind of classic tug-of war in four directions.