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
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.
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.
As you might expect, that means a few new weapons, too, such as the Quake-inspired Chain Lightning Gun, which dispenses electrical justice upon anything in range, as well as the more conventional Grenade Launcher. One of the stars of the show is the Advanced Rifle, which sports an enhanced scope which as well as providing a small amount of zoom, also amplifies the light - useful in such a gloomy game. Overall, you dance around a pretty varied and useful arsenal, giving you all manner of ways to pull-off slo-mo death - that never gets boring, and helps drag you through the game even when the plot's not really pulling its weight.
Fundamentally, Erica Aged Rapidly
Perseus Mandate's also had slightly more love lavished on it from a graphical perspective, with the early storm drain levels providing adequate evidence of wanting to provide a little more environmental detail than was possible in Extraction Point. Typically, the industrial greyness never lets up, with some regulation trudges through warehouses, city streets, a car park (again), another sewer, and, of course, our old friend, the office complex, before ending up in underground in a top-secret, high-tec facility.
Somehow, the whole thing just hangs together a little better, with an evidently more directed narrative flow giving you a greater sense of purpose in your balletic death dealing. That said, most of its rare attempts at AI teamplay are almost laughably primitive next to Valve's more recent efforts. And after promising to make it more of a squad effort at the beginning, things fall back into the old solo routine for the vast majority of the rest of the game. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it would have been nice to see the F.E.A.R. template tested in a few different directions. Still, Perseus Mandate is definitely the better of the two by virtue of having more variety, a more coherent sense of purpose, and a little more effort in the map design. Benefiting from a little more of the open-ended freedom we recall from the original, it comes close to recapturing the original's magic, but not quite close enough. In a game that relies so heavily on slowing down time, if all you do is throw in a few more weapons and a few new baddies, it's not going to take long before it starts to feel a little one-dimensional. Yes, the excellent AI still allows it to rise above the mire, but only just. Too many things are counting against it now - especially the crushing familiarity and the creaking graphics engine.
However, there are some nice additions to this 360 release - predictably the effect that the inevitable Achievement points have on your incentive to carry on, and the way they help guide how you play it. For example, they encourage you to try out the new weapons by setting kill targets with each one, and so on. And unlike the utter miserly number of points handed out for completing the single-player campaign in the original, points are now weighted more in favour of the single-player offering, with the usual bonuses for those mad enough to play the game on extreme.
On top of this, you've also got eight single-player Instant Action maps to plough through. As with the console ports of the original, you get to sample a score-based level against the clock in settings culled from the main game. Although it's a bit much to try and play them straight after both expansion packs, in isolation they offer great bite-sized chunks against wave upon wave of enemy replicants. It's fast, furious, brutal, and utterly unforgiving, but with worldwide leaderboards to play for, it's a great way of keeping the game alive once it's all over. And then there's the online multiplayer for up to 16 players online - there's no big news here as such, but with some new maps to sample, it'd be churlish to complain.
Pitched against some fearsome FPS competition, F.E.A.R. Files was always going to struggle to impress, and so it has proved. Putting both expansion packs in the same package, though, is a sensible idea, though given that neither are actually as good as their parent offering, perhaps it should have been a mid, rather than full-priced offering. Extraction Point, in particular, is a real disappointment, and one for hardcore fans only, though the substantial improvement offered by the all-new Perseus Mandate makes the package a lot more interesting. If you've somehow still not managed to get your FPS fix in among the deluge of top-quality offerings this past few months, then F.E.A.R. Files offers a decent, if unspectacular diversion.
7 / 10