PC expansion pack developers surely have one of the easiest jobs in game development, relatively speaking. Whereas normal game development requires the game to appeal to as large a group of people as possible, an expansion only needs to please fans of the original game - unless we're talking about one of those strange expansions that work without the original and in fact isn't an expansion at all. Anyway, being an ardent F.E.A.R. fan this expansion pack was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and boy it didn't disappoint.
Extraction Point continues directly on from the end of the original game, and if you've played that through to its conclusion you'll know that things didn't end well. What follows is a 4-6 hour continuation of the F.E.A.R. story. One of the main problems with the original is its less than clear story, and Extraction Point poses even more questions, with key moments once again being told though nightmarish visions. Yes, I'm brushing over the key details, but saying anything would spoil what is already a short lived experience.
As with the original, action sequences are separated by numerous rooms and areas where nothing happens at all, other than the odd noise, light flicker and your own mind playing tricks on you. Truly scary moments aren't that regular, if only because by now you'll know that they generally arrive after your headset receives some kind of garbled noise, but Extraction Point's atmosphere is still superbly eerie. You'll mentally prepare for battle by going from room to room gathering health packs (a sure sign that some carnage is about to ensue), and when battle starts, the F.E.A.R. magic kicks in again.
When slow-motion was invented as a concept, F.E.A.R. must have been the inspiration. It's hard to explain just how satisfying it is to run into room, activate your slow-mo ability, hear an enemy soldier yell out in distress, and then blow him into a red mist. By the time you've collected numerous boosters for your health and slow-mo ability, you'll be able to clear whole rooms, shotgun blast after shotgun blast, leaving a wake of dismembered bodies and an awful lot of blood.
Not that the enemy soldiers, semi-invisible ninjas (how I hate them), new semi-invisible demon-like things (I don't hate them as much), armoured walking tanks and the rest make things easy. The AI in F.E.A.R. puts most other games to shame, and creates a game (expansion) that is incredibly dynamic and replayable. They move, take cover, and attempt to get the better of you in ways that feel realistic, and the chatter between them adds to the illusion. While the weapons (with a few excellent additions in the expansion) cause the damage, it's the AI that makes the game.
It always seems a little churlish to pick out some negatives in a game that does what it's meant to do, but Extraction Point isn't perfect. For a start, even after a complete system upgrade since I played the original game (7900GTX 512MB included), performance isn't great. Stuttering was the main problem, but even with some of the visual settings turned down a notch it's great looking game, with an effects system that you'll wish all games employed.
Other problems? At six hours (maximum) it's not all that long, multiplayer can be downloaded and used for free whether you own the game or not, environments are once again rather drab and repetitive, and the ending is... well, the less said about the ending the better. I really am nitpicking though. While other first-person shooters will deliver moments of brilliance, F.E.A.R. gives you the tools and lets you create your own moments. Extraction Point is a must buy for fans, and newcomers should pick up the original and expansion without hesitation.