When I reviewed F.E.A.R. towards the end of last year I was in no doubt that it was a great game, but it's only in the months since then that I've come to appreciate just how brilliant it is. It has its problems, but no other game has done gun-combat anywhere near as well as F.E.A.R. does it. It's easy to fire off words about the experience, but it really was, and still is, an exhilarating game to play. The chance to get some juicy details on the 'Extraction Point' expansion pack, and some hands-on time, was something I simply couldn't miss.
The first thing to note is that this is still F.E.A.R. as you know it. While Monolith will soon be doing its own thing away from Vivendi, the expansion is being created with the talented development studio very much involved. Key duties have been passed to Timegate studios, though, and while the developer most well-known for the Kohan series might not seem the ideal choice, what I saw left me in no doubt that the expansion will deliver exactly what F.E.A.R. fans have been waiting for.
Players who've battled to the end of the original game will know that it ended on somewhat of a cliff-hanger, and without giving too much away, the expansion picks up the story directly from the end of that game. The chopper is down, you're trapped in the city, Alma is loose (and more of a threat than ever before), and the replicants are back online - not exactly the recipe for a fun day out then. What follows is said to be 6-8 hours of intense action, and intense is putting it mildly.
Once again you're separated from your squad (you just don't get any good breaks in F.E.A.R.), and pitted against many of the enemies you loved to hate from the first game. Anyone who grew up with a completely rational fear of the Predator from the famous Schwarzenegger movie will be thrilled to hear that the cloaked assassins are amongst those on the returning list. What's worse is that a brand-new enemy will also appear in the game, and they're more pant-wettingly scary than I ever thought possible.
These new guys are the Shadow Creatures, or poltergeists as the development team like to call them. Playing on the player's fear of all things invisible (and deadly), these slender figures move with fury throughout the environments, causing havoc and throwing things into the air as if a tornado had ripped through the place. The ever useful slow-motion mode is essential to get a good shot at them, but even then their mere presence made my trigger finger even more twitchy than normal.
One of the key new additions in the expansion is larger areas to battle in. The original game made great use of tight environments and plenty of close combat, but a number of larger areas in Extraction Point will give a different feel to combat. This was demonstrated by a subway section, which offered a large open space, with plenty of scope for long, drawn out battles. The enemies took cover behind crates they'd knocked over themselves, and much was made of how objects such as the crates can be splintered away, making cover less safe than you (and the enemies) think.
Of course, enemy AI is as good as ever, with little needing to be changed in this area. The physics still look stunning, especially in slow-motion, with objects flying everywhere and debris filling the screen. By the time Extraction point is released in November, a year after the original game, there still won't have been a game to capture the feel of combat so brilliantly. Explosive barrels and the like made for great unscripted moments in the first game, and the gas cylinders seen in the levels on show for Extraction Point certainly didn't disappoint. A shot sent them flying through the air like a rocket, and the resulting explosion decimated the area - it's classic F.E.A.R. stuff. The new mini-gun isn't half bad either, with bullets ripping through replicants, sending their bodies ragdolling to brilliant effect.
F.E.A.R. wouldn't be F.E.A.R. without the supernatural scares, and while the moments seen during my time with the game were horrific, I dread to think of the horrors that await players when the audio is paired up with the disturbing images - ideally via some headphones. As already mentioned, Alma is more of a threat this time around, and she's not shy about causing a scene, with the results often being more than a little bloody. The freakiness of the 'WTF was that?' moments certainly stays true to those seen in the original game.
Visually things are looking sharp. What you're getting in Extraction Point is an extension of the original game, so things look very similar. Environments are obviously new, but don't expect a game that looks radically different. The upshot of this is that PC technology has come on in the past year, and with the same system requirements as the original game, anyone who's upgraded will be able to experience the game as it was truly intended to be played.
There's a whole lot in F.E.A.R. Extraction Point to be excited about. While the expansion doesn't seem to be doing too many things all that differently from the original, there's really no need to mess with the formula. The new enemies, new weapons, and new environments, combined with a rampaging Alma, the brilliant F.E.A.R. AI and combat should make this a must own for F.E.A.R. fans. We've got a few months to wait until the game's November release, but I'll be counting the days with equal amounts of anticipation and dread.