F.E.A.R. Files

Cut and shut.

Version tested Xbox 360

If you're going to put out a game that's basically more of the same, you may as well make it a lot more of the same, right? Because two six-hour chunks of slo-mo gunplay in dark and dingy locales is better than one, right? Right? Hrm, sort of, in theory, ish. In a lazier moment I might cop out and conclude that if-you-loved-that, you'll-love-this. But it's not quite that simple, dear fan o' F.E.A.R.

The thing is, I loved F.E.A.R. I loved - and continue to love - the unpredictable enemy AI, especially in its ability to outflank and outmanoeuvre you like no other FPS. Because of this dynamic nature at its core, it still boasts some of the most exciting firefights ever to feature in an FPS. Fortunately, the same holds true, to a large degree, in Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate, the two PC expansion packs that make up this catch-up compilation for the 360.

Yet even my deep well of enthusiasm for the series ran a little dry by the end of F.E.A.R. Files. There are only so many times developers can pull the same tricks off and expect to keep people's attention, but, unfortunately, the extent of Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate's ambitions are mainly to offer more of the same - to sate the demand while we await a proper sequel. But as delicious as the first helping might have been, by the time you've forced the third sizeable portion of F.E.A.R. down your neck, you might just want to lie down for a bit. On a couch.

Fill Every Angry Replica

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Don't forget your torch. And Kendal Mint Cake. And Lazyman.

It doesn't help, either, that Extraction Point was never that great an add-on to F.E.A.R. when it originally came out on PC a year ago. With development duties passed from Monolith onto Timegate Studios, the drop in quality is fairly jarring from the start, with a discernibly linear approach to the level design not helping to get the most out of the AI, and therefore the game fails to play to its own strengths. Whereas the original seemed to be full of multi-level, open plan offices and warehouses for the Replica soldiers to outflank you, the same cannot be said for much of Extraction Point. With most enemies clustered in groups of threes and fours, you tend to face them as they're being funnelled through manageable choke points. As long as you're fastidious with your use of bullet-time, picking off groups of enemies is a perfunctory exercise for almost the entire game.

And while the dark, moody industrial level design of the original never excited from a visual standpoint, at least you could admire the way it was laid out from a gameplay perspective. Extraction Point's mundane linearity just draws attention to how dull and dated the level geometry now looks. At times, the flat, lifeless scenery of endless office blocks, warehouses, sewers, and ventilation ducts evokes memories of shooters from a different generation. Ported with little love to the 360, and stood next to some fearsome competition, such technical inadequacy is just not acceptable (check out the horribly bit-mapped night-time cityscape when you venture onto the car park roof to fight another giant, rocket firing robot - for shame). And while you can't fault the character model animation (especially in slo-mo), the facial modelling on the human characters is beyond redemption. It wasn't that great two years ago, and certainly isn't now.

2

Meet Brian. He's into Dio, Iron Maiden, QueensRyche, Rush and, occasionally, Stiff Little Fingers.

So, while Extraction Point throws in a few new weapons, and the obligatory couple of new enemies, it can't hold a candle to the original. Even as a huge fan of its parent game, I had a real struggle working my way through to the end. There were a few highlights, such as facing the gigantic, rocket-spewing R.E.V.6 Power Armour in the car park, and the ninja-like Assassins which leap around at high speed, confusing the hell out of you - but for the most part, you're essentially facing the same old samey-looking Replica soldiers in familiar environments.

Forget Even About Roger

Even the nightmarish psychic visions fail to infuse game with the necessary fear factor. If you've seen one, you've seen them all, with either a distant figure scuttling off, or the walls warping around you. Rarely, if ever, do you feel in any danger, so they just become a little annoying more than anything.

Just as well, then, that Perseus Mandate is a much better attempt at furthering the series. Doubtlessly stung into action by some of the feedback to Extraction Point, there's a real sense that the team wanted to offer something comparable in quality to the original - and so it proved. This time, the story runs in parallel to both F.E.A.R. and Extraction Point, and you're also facing a team of ruthless ATC mercenaries - who are also in the business of Replicant extermination. The general gist is that you've got to get hold of something called the Perseus, and must get hold of it before those nasty, lightning-fast Nightcrawlers can.

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