Crispy Gamer

FEAR Perseus Mandate (PC)

One of the things a stand-alone expansion pack should do is stand alone. Perseus Mandate, however, goes ahead and assumes that you not only played F.E.A.R., but that you also paid attention to its borderline incoherent plot. It just dumps you into the game, briefly mentioning that you're a second team dropped into fighting between Replicas and the ATC. The who? The what? Armacham? Betters? Huh?

This cavalier attitude about telling a story, or even making any sense, is indicative of the lack of care that went into this collection of B-side material passed off as an expansion pack that works just fine even if you never played F.E.A.R. It makes you wonder why they bother to reference the original game with an unexplained explosion that "releases a torrent of paranormal activity." When Paxton Fettel notes that you remind him of his brother, the developers are obviously assuming you paid your 50 bucks to play the original game. Calling this a stand-alone is little more than a way to raise the price from 20 bucks to 30 bucks.

This $30 joke is on you, since Perseus Mandate looks like stale leftovers and plays like yesterday's news. Didn't F.E.A.R. look better? Has so much changed in little more than a year? When it came out, F.E.A.R. was cutting-edge. But then along came engines like that in Crysis, art direction like in BioShock, gunfights like in Rainbow Six: Vegas, and the degree of visual spectacle found in Call of Duty 4. F.E.A.R. has been thoroughly upstaged by the games that have come out since its release.

The animation and incidentals of the firefights still look good. The smoke, tracers, blood and bullet-hole decals are a minor spectacle. But the levels. Ick. All the boxy rooms, halls, streets, cars and buildings. These tedious and unimaginative office buildings, warehouses, train yards and underground labs. This is all we get for our 30 bucks? Near the end of the game, you find out you're going to a cloning facility on an island. Ooh, goody, an island! That might mean a boat trip! Maybe a level set on a ship! No such luck. The way to this island is through a bunch of underground corridors.

Along the way, you'll see some spooky parlor tricks that feel out of place between the shoot-outs. There are dream sequences and cheap-trick ghosts that come out of the floor. Along the way are a hundred corpses and a thousand blood smears. Alma, the spooky girl from the original game, makes a couple of token appearances, but for the most part, you just get the occasional visit from the ghost of telepathic clone commander Paxton Fettel.

The name of the expansion is a reference to a phone conversation that opens the game. A senator wants Perseus, whatever that is. Hence, Perseus mandate. Robert Ludlum would be proud. You'll eventually discover that a mercenary army has been tasked with the eponymous mandate, and you have to stop them. Yadda yadda yadda.

Most of the story is told via the radio voices in your head, along with messages left on phone machines scattered through the first half of the game. Whose message machines are these, left blinking on random counters and desks? Why does everyone use a Dell XPS desktop or an Alienware laptop? How is it possible for anyone to get any work done in an office with such ridiculously long hallways, winding along their tortured courses? Why are there so many fake doors?

There isn't any effort to construct a believable world, just inanely labyrinthine corridors with dribbles of uninteresting exposition along the way. This isn't a place; it's a bunch of halls stuck onto each other, end to end, like hamster tubes leading to an obligatory "get to the chopper!" ending. Get to the chopper, huh? As if there was any way to get any other place. There are a couple of borderline interesting sequences, including a bot that chases you around, busting through office doorways too small for its frame. At one point, you have to chase a bad guy back through the level you just played, padding the expansion's total playing time by about a half-hour.

Even the gameplay feels dated. The artificial intelligence is serviceable, and most of the gunfights involve ducking around corners, crouching behind cover, and timing your "slow-motion juice." The real challenge comes from managing ammo and medkits. You'll spend plenty of time rooting around for healing and dropped weapons. You can also find a few power-ups to permanently increase your health and slow-motion juice.

The expansion's three new weapons aren't new so much as they are refined versions of weapons already in the game. The VES rifle is simply an assault rifle with no recoil and a red-tinted scope view. The K3-BT grenade launcher is just a way to bounce grenades out there without having to throw them. The Lightning Arc gun is a blue-tinted variation on the laser carbine, firing homing beams that can jump between a couple of enemies. You get all these guns pretty early, but the game is stingy with ammo for the lightning gun and grenade launcher. Don't expect to get much use out of them. Also new is the ability to punch open doors with your rifle butt, which probably isn't safe. Plus, that can't be very good for the gun. Don't try this at home.

The only change to multiplayer is that it adds all the guns from the expansion packs. This is actually a welcome fix after the last expansion pack, Extraction Point, gave you new guns and no way to play with them online. So even without any new maps or modes, Perseus Mandate is the expansion pack of choice for multiplayer F.E.A.R. When you finish the campaign, you unlock some silly bonus missions, which are like B-side levels stocked with enemies. Your time remaining until the end is listed when you finish a bonus level, but it isn't recorded anywhere. So much for trying to beat your own best time.

F.E.A.R. is a game whose time has come and gone. Tossing this expansion pack into the current market for shooters is like waving around a store-bought cookie in a gourmet bakery. Yeah, sure, it's a cookie, but check out what else we've had lately.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.