F.E.A.R. Files (Xbox 360)
The original F.E.A.R. -- which debuted on the PC in 2005 and the Xbox 360 in 2006 -- combined superb first-person shooter action with one of the most awkward acronyms in videogame history.
First Encounter Assault Recon -- yes, kiddies, that's what F.E.A.R. stands for.
But in a year in which the first-person shooter is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, putting forth some of its best offerings in the genre in ages, this duo of expansion packs -- which function as stand-alones on the Xbox 360 (in other words, you don't need a copy of the original F.E.A.R. to be able to play them) seem disappointingly crude when juxtaposed with games like The Orange Box and BioShock.
The original F.E.A.R. had two remarkable things going for it. One, the game would seamlessly lapse into nightmarish dream scenarios. One minute, you'd be barrelling down a hallway, and the next, the walls would suddenly blur around you, a door would fly open, and a tiny girl with no eyes would slowly start walking towards you. These rug-pulled-out-from-under-you moments were novel and unique -- and sometimes even downright scary. I hadn't seen anything like that since Eternal Darkness on the GameCube.
The second way F.E.A.R. distinguished itself was via its slow-motion gameplay. Slow motion has been done countless times in games before, but never had it been done with such sadistic panache as in F.E.A.R. In fact, the game was virtually unplayable without the slow-motion button. Enemies moved too fast and shot with such deadly accuracy that the only way to survive was to make judicious use of the damn thing.
And those slow-motion kills proved to be most satisfying. Unloading a double-barreled shotgun into an enemy's chest, then watching him literally fly to pieces before your eyes, with blood and guts and particle effects spraying everywhere -- well, call me a violence-loving whore, but that never got old for me. In fact, it's exactly those jacking-guys-up-off-their-feet moments that helped me overlook the game's undercooked narrative and beyond-bland office/warehouse/office/warehouse setting.
I was eager to play these expansion packs -- I giddily rubbed my hands together as the disc disappeared into the 360 -- but after only an hour or so into Extraction Point, the first expansion pack of the pair, it dawned on me that something was definitely missing this time around.
I could blame the office/warehouse/office/warehouse environments (yes, they are back) or the repetitious, generally brainless gameplay (enemies tend to travel in packs of three for some inexplicable reason). Or maybe it's Paxton Fettel, the game's oddly named vampire-like villain who, even though I supposedly killed him at the end of the original game, is somehow still alive.
But I think some of the blame, if not all of it, should be directed at BioShock and The Orange Box. Both blue-chip titles forever raised the bar for first-person shooters. F.E.A.R. Files falls short of that bar, and the game's once tolerable flaws are now simply too great to ignore.
Those shocking nightmare/dream scenarios no longer shock. The dead girl with no eyes? She's back, leaving her bloody footprints around the game's offices/warehouses, but she also fails to creep me out anymore. Overall, what once seemed frightening and violent and novel now seems pedestrian and dull and primitive.
Extraction Point picks up where the original F.E.A.R. ends, so it makes for a natural epilogue to the first game. But Perseus Mandate feels like a poor excuse to extend the franchise. It focuses on a separate F.E.A.R. squad, and supposedly stars a different supersoldier who just so happens to have all the same powers as the original character. In other words, Perseus Mandate is an exercise in redundancy.
Some of the new weapons are fun to monkey with, especially the auto turrets. Setting up a gauntlet of turrets, then watching an incoming trio of enemies get harrassed by them, tickled me a little.
The game teased me with a new, speedy enemy called a Nightcrawler. For several levels, I got glimpses of the Nightcrawlers as they skittered away, always just outside my peripheral vision. But when the game finally let me square off against them, these supposedly agile creatures suddenly stood stock-still, like deer in headlights, while I picked them off one by one.
As a rule, magicians never do the same trick twice. The same rule should have been applied to F.E.A.R. Files. Getting a second, closer look, I not only can clearly see how it's done, but I also wind up feeling a little foolish for falling for this ruse the first time around.
Verdict: Mmm! Smells like fried game in here.
This review was based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.