Few things are duller than yet another first-person shooter which expects you to spend the same hard-earned cash to play the same multiplayer modes, with the same weapons, in the same kinds of settings.
F.E.A.R. 3 developer Day 1 Studios is hoping to avoid that trap with a brand new mode. It's simply titled F***ing Run.
A hands-on playtest reveals that, as you might expect, the main objective is to f***ing run. Now. Fast. Chasing you and your partners down is a giant "Wall of Death", and along the way you'll meet enemies who try to slow your progress. Glance behind you and you'll see a wall of debris and dust forming clouds which resemble skulls and other evil manifestations. Better to keep looking forwards and just f***ing run.
The mode is co-operative and designed for four players. If one player dies the others can revive them, but the wall is always catching up. And if one of you gets taken down, it's game over for everybody else.
Playing through the demo level twice, my squad managed to make it through just one section of the level before the wall closed in on the stragglers. We later found out there are eight stages to this level, and felt humbled.
New challenges appear at every turn. Some enemies might be easy targets but others will sandwich themselves into one-way alleys, deflecting your shots with giant riot shields. Combatting them is no easy task and will routinely slow you down.
It's elements such as this which should provide an opportunity for veterans of the game to take point and become leaders. But at the same time, the focus remains on co-operative gameplay. You must work together or you'll all die.
The fact is, though, multiplayer modes which require the seemingly mindless online masses to use teamwork almost always fail. This is particularly true when it comes to games which don't follow the old Deathmatch or Capture the Flag templates. Just look at the awesome but awesomely unpopular bank robbery mode in Kane & Lynch.
During our demo of F.E.A.R. 3, the chaps from Day 1 made a few allusions to the Horde mode in Gears of War 2 - hinting that they hope this game will capture the same kind of "us versus them" camaraderie, and prove to be as popular.
There are definitely similarities between Horde mode and F***ing Run. They may not use the same mechanics, but they both generate the same feeling of four players struggling together against brutal AI. The major difference here is the tense, nipping-at-your-heels anxiety that can only come from having death just two steps behind you.
F.E.A.R. has always been a series grounded in reality but laced with supernatural overtones. The weapons are familiar, for example - basic assault rifles, shotguns, pistols and so on. Shooter fans might groan, simply because of the wealth of assault rifle-based games already on the market, but it's a good fit here.
When you're attempting to change paradigms to such a degree, it's important to players a firm base to begin from. Especially when you're thrusting them into a mode they don't understand and a level they've never seen before with people they don't know, and a giant wall which is trying to kill them. Being able to get to grips with your weapon helps ease you into the experience.
The weapons feel satisfying to use, too, with a solid kickback and response. But that won't do much to encourage players to work together and allow themselves to become interdependent. To make this mode enjoyable, Day 1 will need to include some important tools which promote teamwork. Otherwise it could end up like so many other modes of its type - left on the shelf as players find themselves giving up after only a few poor and short-lived matches.
The F.E.A.R. series has hit its share of stumbling blocks in the past. Fans have complained about the same old scare tactics being reused ad nauseum. The good news is that F***ing Run suggests Day 1 knows it's time to ramp up the ingenuity in order to keep the franchise relevant. But doing that via a brand new type of co-operative multiplayer mode is a gamble. Here's hoping it pays off.