F.3.A.R. – pronounced 'fthreear' – stands for First Threencounter Assault & Recon. As in the first game, only slightly more coherently titled First Encounter Assault & Recon, you play a time-slowing action hero called Point Man.
Fthreear's refusal to give you a less stupid name becomes increasingly awkward as it puts more and more focus on the conflicted relationship between you and your dead telepathic evil ghost brother Paxton Fettel. I'm going to stop talking about the plot now, hope that's OK.
The original FEAR tried three things at once – horror, slow-mo gunfights and first-person kung fu – and it largely succeeded. Fthreear does each a little worse. The horror element is still just a little girl appearing and vanishing, this time joined by the monster from indie horror Amnesia trying to tongue-kiss you. But as before, getting everything short of written notice that a 'scare' is coming rather undermines the surprise. And the fact that these recycled horror movie tropes never hurt you – in a game where everything else does – makes them the least scary thing in it.
The slow-motion gunfighting is fine: there's a decent shotgun, headshots kill, and enemies flank. It's just that FEAR 1 did it all much better six years ago. Its shotgun was incredible, the enemies truly surprising, and gunshots curled the air and spat gorgeous showers of sparks. It's not clear why even its own sequels can't recapture that.
Kung-fu is present, but it's lost the elegance and weight it had in FEAR 1. Kicks only connect at the shortest possible range, and fail if the enemy is busy with a particular animation. The default melee attack is a knifestab, and you frequently get stuck performing it instead of your intended flying kick or slide move.
None of these failures are damning; Fthreear's singleplayer is occasionally fun, it's just weird to be overshadowed by a six-year-old game in the same series. Happily, though, there's more to it than that.
It has a weird embarrassment of multiplayer game modes: no conventional deathmatch, but five imaginative perversions of co-op and versus. One lets you and your friends hole up in a building to fend off AI troops, running out for supplies and boarding up windows between waves. Another requires you to run from an ominous grey wall of death that consumes the level as you battle through zombies and help each other up. Still another lets fallen players get corrupted, joining the zombie forces against their former friends.
On top of all that, there's a remarkably well-built co-op option for the main campaign. One of you plays as the hero's undead brother, possessing enemies or lifting them out of cover for the Point Man to stab, kick and shoot. Levels that felt drab alone become violently ridiculous in co-op, and melee moves that feel awkward in first-person look spectacular when you see a friend pulling them off.
Unfortunately there's no server browser for this, and the automatching often puts you in laggy or unreliable games. You'll get more out of it with a friend – you can join them via the Steam friends list.
It'd be easy to fire up Fthreear's singleplayer and dismiss it as a shadow of the first game's timelessly brutal violence. But play with a friend, and you'll find it's actually the most inventive game in the series. Not the best – it's ropey in a lot of ways – but perhaps the most interesting.