Some horror stories cultivate a creeping terror that slips beneath your skin and gnaws at your brain. Others like to slap you across the face with one huge scare--one moment everything seems fine, but the next, you're leaping out of your seat and knocking over something expensive. Both have their merits, but the F.E.A.R. series has always relied on the latter. We recently attended a multiplayer event here in spooky San Francisco to match wits with Alma, the villain of the F.E.A.R. games, and her supernatural hordes in the game's four multiplayer modes.
Because we have already covered F***ing Run, the fast-paced mode that pits man against wall (or more to be more specific, The Wall), we decided to start with Soul King. In this mode, you take on the role of a specter that can possess numerous living weapons--cultists, armored troopers, wraiths--that populate the map. Your goal is to rack up souls by killing everything in sight; the player with the most souls when the timer runs out is the soul king. Naturally, you lose a few souls when killed, which the other players may collect and add to their scores.
During our session, we chose to think of ourselves as less of a soul king and more of a soul assassin. As the end of each match drew near, the other three competitors got nervous and stopped collecting souls in favor of hunting the current king (who is outlined in white for all to see). We took this opportunity to sneak behind the king as he was being chipped away by the other players, and when the time was right, we shot him in the back. We then snatched up all his lost souls and became the new soul king just as the timer hit zero.
After we finished with Soul King, we moved on to Contractions. In this mode, Alma has a bad case of being pregnant. But instead of doing what any normal person would do--starting her own reality TV show--she terrorizes you with hordes of monsters instead. Contractions is highly reminiscent of the numerous horde modes found in other games. Barricaded within our safe house, we had to either survive numerous waves of increasingly difficult enemies or be trampled underfoot.
To better our odds of survival, we had two jobs in Contractions: collect weapons and rebuild barricades. The weapons were stored in crates hidden around the map, which had to be hauled back to the safe house before we could use the destructive goodies within them. Rebuilding the barricades covering the windows of the safe house reinforced the fact that--in a supernatural apocalypse--being able to nail boards into walls is a life-or-death skill.
When a contraction hit, it was time to stop what we were doing and take cover in the safe house. While it was tempting at first to battle the enemy hordes along the balcony that surrounded the safe house, by the second or third wave, we had retreated (or limped) back inside. Though the interior of the safe house wasn't very big, it was divided up into several rooms and littered with windows. It was crucial for our team to coordinate with each other so that we all knew which room was getting hit and how to divide up our forces.
Ultimately, we ended up getting divided into little bits by our foes, so we decided to move onto the final mode of the evening: Soul Survivor. In this mode, at the start of each match, one member of our team was chosen to play the role of the corrupted. Just like in Soul King, the corrupted can fly around and possess enemies to use as weapons. Your goal is to overwhelm the other three players and convert them, one at a time, to your side. The non-corrupted players just have to survive.
At first, the survivors had the definite advantage. They would huddle up and easily dispatch everything thrown at them. However, as the fight dragged on, they would invariably run out of ammunition and be forced to move out to scavenge for more. As the corrupted, that was our time to strike. If one fell behind, we would quickly descend upon him and beat him into submission. While his teammates fought to get to their fallen comrade, we would quickly convert him, making it a two-on-two match.
F.3.A.R.'s suite of multiplayer modes is shaping up to offer a refreshing break from the usual Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag modes you may have come to expect from other games. Each brought a different flavor of anxiety to the mix and kept us on edge throughout. You can check out all of F.3.A.R.'s multiplayer modes for yourself this May on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.