IGN Review of F.E.A.R. Files
Back in 2005, development house Monolith turned loose F.E.A.R. and Condemned on the gaming world and we haven't had a good night's sleep since. It took a full year after its release on PC for F.E.A.R. to make it to the console world and another still for the first expansion. A series of confusing publishing and intellectual property rights issues haven't made the ride any smoother, as development and porting duties shifted to TimeGate and Day 1. Most people probably care little who made the game, so long as it's here and it's good. Well, it's here. Fans of F.E.A.R. will surely find some fun, but this content rich expansion disc doesn't excite as much as the original.
The meat of F.E.A.R. Files is found in Extraction Point, the expansion released on PC over a year ago, and Perseus Mandate, the latest expansion. Rather than releasing the two expansion packs on their own through a retail release or download, Sierra decided to lump them together into one release for Xbox 360. Add in some new Instant Action scenarios and multiplayer features and you have what the publisher hopes is an enticing enough chunk of gaming to convince F.E.A.R. fans to part with their money. There's no doubt that it sounds like a pretty darn good deal on paper. Whether F.E.A.R. Files fits the billing or not is another story entirely.
The good news is that the gameplay is still as solid as ever. Bullet-time game mechanics are a dime a dozen these days, but the wonderful arsenal of weapons, great A.I. and moody atmosphere of the F.E.A.R. world keep this franchise at the head of the pack. Pulling out a combat shotgun and laying into an enemy in slow motion until he literally explodes into a cloud of blood and guts is just as disturbingly satisfying as ever. The enemies, too, move with that great F.E.A.R. AI that still doesn't feel dated despite first being unleashed two years ago.
The visuals, though, do feel dated. Whether the reason for the lowly visuals is another year of advancing technology or a less than perfect PC to console port matters little. The simple fact is that F.E.A.R. Files on the console doesn't look as good as the F.E.A.R. expansions do on PC. The prime culprit is the texture work which looks low-res on an HD set. The cut-scenes, particularly the one that kicks off Extraction Point, are underwhelming to say the least. It will almost make you wonder why you ever thought F.E.A.R. looked good in the first place.
A major issue with F.E.A.R. Files is that the expansions suffer greatly from a lack of identity. Though they do introduce new areas to explore, each also reuses bits and pieces from the original F.E.A.R. The single greatest complaint most people had with the original game was that the environments lacked variety. The expansions do little to alleviate that issue and, in doing so, do little to make themselves feel distinct and memorable. The same office hallways, warehouse spaces, air vents, parking garages, and lovely blue buttons labeled "Activate" for your convenience are the status quo all too often.
The truly disappointing part to F.E.A.R. Files isn't just that it's more of the same; it's that the presentation of those original ideas isn't of the same caliber. The scare tactics and action sequences are quite similar, but the use of them isn't nearly as effective. To be fair, there are a good number of moments in the expansions that offer legitimate fright. By no means is this a game for the easily spooked. Nor is it a game for the kids since it has cursing, blood, and gore all present in great quantities.
However, rather than cleverly combining the tension of fighting with heart racing scare sequences, Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate prefer the brute force technique, often hitting you over the head with lengthy hallucination sequences. In Extraction Point, one entire level is just filled with creepy events and nearly devoid of fighting. A different level pits you against one mechanical walker after another in sequence with only a conveniently placed ammo dump to separate them. Perseus Mandate goes a step further and offers a mundane experience the whole way through. Perhaps it is a case of the Alma shtick wearing thin
Telephones and laptops are once again scattered throughout each stage for players to seek out. In the expansions, though, they're little more than collectibles as they offer virtually no sub-plot. The tales for the two expansions are thin enough as it is that the lack of sub-plot is sorely missed.
Extraction Point picks up immediately after F.E.A.R. ends. The huge explosion that rocks the Origin Facility also causes the helicopter to go down. Your driving force throughout the brief 4-5 hour ordeal is to get to the top of a nearby hospital for extraction. Paxton Fettel, the villain we supposedly killed in F.E.A.R., has been revived and the small terror Alma is back to reprise her role. Perseus Mandate, meanwhile, introduces a second F.E.A.R. team that is sent in mid-way through the plot of the first game. This new character also has slo-mo reflexes and...well he's pretty much the exact same character going through the exact same tribulations as the original star. This expansion is roughly the same length as Extraction Point, but the fact that it introduces a new plot line will cause it to leave gamers with more questions than answers.
That's not to say that everything is just a weak rehash of the first game. New weapons are introduced including a lighting arc gun, laser carbine, mini-gun, auto turret, and scope equipped advanced rifle. Though you're still butting heads with the Armacham soldiers and Paxton's Replicant army throughout the expansions, new enemies are dropped in to spice things up. Some offer more pep than others (The new Nightcrawlers are a nice idea, but their tendency to stand in one place shooting for extended periods of time defeats the purpose of their lightning fast speed). The best addition to the gameplay, however, is that larger scale battles occur more frequently. Enemies still prefer to travel in groups of three, but large scale ambushes are a common occurrence and a great change of pace from the standard corridor shooting.
Xbox 360 owners are once again rewarded for their patience with brand new content not found on the PC. The new Instant Action mode returns with eight challenges to test your merit. These put you into short scenarios where you're scored on your speed and efficiency in dispatching a series of foes. They were fun when F.E.A.R. first released on consoles a year ago and they're still fun today. Anybody in need of a quick fix of F.E.A.R.'s fun combat will find some happiness here.
The disc is rounded out with new multiplayer maps for use on Xbox Live. All of the new weapons are tossed into the frenetic mix, livening up the action a bit. However, you don't need us to tell you that a few new maps and weapons aren't enough to keep up with the rest of the online shooter world. The F.E.A.R. community would have been better served by making this multiplayer content available as a download to keep the fan base in one place rather than fracturing it.
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