What are you afraid of? Ghosts? Death? How about little girls powerful enough to slaughter you with their mind? It’s a strange feeling isn’t it? Chances are, if you play through this collection of two FEAR expansions, you will get to know that feeling particularly intimately.
In FEAR Files, players have the chance to build on the story from the first FEAR title with stand alone expansion packs: Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate. Luckily, if you have never played the first game on the 360, these still work. Amongst the current talent of the FPS genre, releasing this add-on pack is a bold move by publishers Sierra…
The first expansion to the original game on offer is the award winning Extraction Point campaign. This follows directly on from the first title, and offers an intriguing addition to the series. It has already been out a year for PC users, meaning if you have already played this you will only be covering old ground on the 360 version. However, if this title is new to you, it should be an interesting prospect.
If you are easily scared, this isn’t one for you. Right from the beginning be prepared for a visceral and bloody experience which will test your nerves all the way, getting increasingly more severe as the campaign reaches its climax. The story is simple: you lose contact with your squad and have to reach a helicopter that will get you out of the hellhole city that is Auburn (a la the point of extraction). Alma, the insane red dressed infant from the first game makes an intense appearance, notifying the player that she is still overlooking their every move. The developers at TimeGate Studios (who have taken over the role of development) create tension with so many simple devices, meaning the player will be on edge throughout.
One thing that stood out for me in this add-on was the unpredictability of what was going to happen next. The ultimate goal of Extraction Point is to make it through Auburn hospital alive, and out of the diminishing city. However, simple aspects (such as turning around) have an unhealthy habit of menacingly changing the environment. An example of this would be when I was approaching what seemed like a normal hospital door, only to be thrown back. As I tried again, and reached the door for the second time, it was apparent that it was locked. Innocently, I turned around to make my way back, only to find the location had altered into a daunting mental asylum. A completely terrifying prospect, as things are never what they seem in this less than satisfactory city. This expansion does feature something of an anti climax however, which obviously leads onto the next title in the series…
“If you are easily scared, this isn’t one for you. Right from the beginning be prepared for a visceral and bloody experience”Which isn’t Perseus Mandate. It seems this is one series that will take many games to completely resolve and tie up all the enigmas created, as the newest expansion is set during the first game. A bizarre move you may think, but it is obvious the company behind FEAR must have huge plans for it, trusting that players will want to come back for more. That certainly is a brave move.
Although Perseus Mandate is a very solid addition to the franchise, it all became very tired and predictable after playing through Extraction Point. The horror is toned down in Mandate, which gives the gameplay a little more pace as it isn’t broken up by the amount of scares seen in the first addition. For a series that has made its name by the quality of the atmospheric horror it brings, this is a strange move. It becomes more of a mediocre FPS rather than the brilliantly involving terror based shooter it is critically acclaimed for. Unfortunately, the locations feel exactly the same as the rest of the series as well. By this point, players will begin to feel slightly concerned as it has the feeling of “seen it all before”. There certainly are some stand out moments in this campaign, but that does very little to make up for the rest of the unoriginal gameplay.
Mandate does see the introduction of the Night Crawler, a new, stronger enemy. Although the Night Crawler is a new type of bad guy, it hardly pushes the boundaries creatively. It looks similar to the rest of the Replicas you have been fighting off for the past two games, just with an advanced gun and armour system. The lack of variation is completely disappointing, and perfectly highlights how there are few improvements throughout Perseus Mandate.
Throughout both expansions gameplay is particularly simplistic, yet still satisfying. The guns on offer are definitely a highlight littering both expansions, building on the impressive arsenal from the first game. They are hugely fulfilling to handle, and the results are just as rewarding: rockets, penetrating knives or plain old machine gun bullets blow your enemy away with a splattering of blood against the wall as their carcass hits the ground - sickly sweet. And this is something you will see often. In true FEAR style, there is an insane amount of gore, and you will be hard pushed to find a room that doesn’t have a crimson puddle of the good ol’ red stuff somewhere.
After wading through so many FPS campaigns this year, playing this felt uncomplicated and completely straightforward. And this is even with the slow-mo feature from the first game, which allows players to gain an advantage in tight firefights. This is handy at times when things get a little heated, as it makes combat and accuracy much easier. Another positive is that I always knew where I was meant to be heading, and never found it difficult to progress. The game is extremely fast paced, as you will spend very little time in the same room. However, this leads to a huge problem in which the game will fend off many potential consumers. As the player moves so quickly through locations, there should be a lot to see with a variation in visual appearance. Unfortunately, in both expansions, you will hardly see a change in the setting throughout. Expect tight office spaces, long corridors, and an influx of doors with identical rooms hidden behind them. Colours are typically always bland, ticking the right box for a horror game, but this begins to get tiresome by the end of Perseus Mandate, especially if you have played through the original FEAR title.
Graphically, this title isn’t groundbreaking. This year has spoilt gamers providing them with many visual treats, meaning a lot of titles were going to be compared to them, only to fall short. There is a fair amount of detail in office areas and on equipment around the game, but as a whole it is completely inferior to a large amount of 360 titles. Still, what it lacks in visual strength it more than makes up for with smart little touches that will stay in the player’s mind well after finishing the campaign modes. For instance, when opening a door, I was surprised to see a knife crashing into the wall next to me, seemingly from nowhere. It’s little things like this that has made the game so popular.
“Graphically, this title isn’t groundbreaking”Alongside the two main adventures is the chance to play a quick “Instant Action” game. This is a timed test of how quickly a player can get through a level, with an onslaught of bad guys waiting to be tackled throughout. It is a decent addition, and if you prefer the heavy gunplay style of Perseus Mandate, it gives you the chance to experience it even more. Furthermore, it gives the title a nice chunk of extended gameplay, adding onto the 10+ hours of the two leading quests.
Adding to these two expansion adventures and “Instant Action” is the chance to play online via Xbox Live. The usual game types are here, with deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag leading the way. The multiplayer experience is a solid one, giving the players a lag free shooter to try out. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough players online to make it worthwhile. I never took part in a match that had more than two players in…and that was including me. This will be saddening for developers, as there are far worse online experiences to be had. It seems that with the strength of online juggernauts such as Halo 3 and Call Of Duty 4, titles like FEAR are going to have a hard time getting any attention. It isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last decent title to fall off the online radar because of these exceptional games.
All in all, this is a solid package. The strength undoubtedly lies within Extraction Point, as the story and setting is completely terrifying throughout. The thrill of having to escape a city in decline is immense. Perseus Mandate is weaker, as the lack of variation starts to hit home. It is obvious to see that the developers need to stick to the horror fuelled narrative of the original FEAR title and Extraction Point as its deeply involving and grotesquely frightening gameplay is far superior. A good effort overall, but a radical change or a back to basics approach is needed for the next instalment. One thing is for sure though: as far as FPS survival horror goes, at this moment in time you can’t do much better.
So, back to that feeling of being scared. If you answered a confident “no” to all my questions at the beginning, pick up a copy of this game. I dare you.
Seven out of ten
- Bloody, gruesome atmospheric horror
- Satisfyingly savage gunplay
- Some excellent scenes, with some neat touches that will live on in the mind
- The thrill isn’t maintained for both expansions
- Graphics are poor and extremely stale
- Lack of variation a recurring theme