How does a PC expansion pack come to the Xbox 360 without looking overpriced? Sierra Entertainment could have offered Extraction Point (the first PC expansion) on Xbox LIVE Marketplace, but they didn't. In what I'd class as a wise decision, Extraction Point and more recent expansion Perseus Mandate have been bundled together. Given that each takes between 4-6 hours to complete the package more than stands up to the average shooter in terms of length. But given the strong line-up of first-person shooters the Xbox 360 has at the moment, do these two games still cut it?
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.
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 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.
While Extraction Point is great, the newer expansion included in F.E.A.R. Files, Perseus Mandate, manages to be even better. The game runs in parallel to the first two games and this time sees you looking for something called the perseus - hence the name. Although you'll see some new environments, new enemies and a few new weapons, gameplay remains pretty much as it was, with a heavy emphasis on slow-motion gun-play and a lot of action.
What makes Perseus Mandate more enjoyable is the larger areas you fight in. Extraction Point is great fun, but it often forced you down narrow corridors and didn't allow the enemy AI to excel like it did in the original game. While not quite up the standard seen in the first game (which is still one of the most entertaining first-person shooters available), playing Perseus Mandate directly after Extraction point makes the differences between the two expansions clear to see. Not only is the level design better suited to the gameplay, but the overall level of care put into the game is higher - it feels like criticisms of the first expansion were taken to heart and sorted out.
As well as Xbox LIVE support for up to 16 players (which hasn't changed a great deal since the first F.E.A.R. game to grace the Xbox 360) you also get eight instant action levels. These are essentially sections from the main two games, with you going against the clock to score points as enemies try to take you out. They aren't for the faint hearted, but the included online scoreboards make them highly addictive and a worthy addition to the two main games. Achievement points are also an improvement on the first game, with points being spread nicely between the single and multi-player game modes.
Visually both games are showing their age, and the number of grey concrete buildings and offices started to grate by the end. While the game engine still looks great when you're in the middle of a fight (with stuff blowing up and debris flying), for the most part both games look a little dull. Performance is solid on the whole, although the frame rate does bog down on occasion, which really isn't acceptable given the relatively basic visuals. The gameplay is still great, but the graphics engine is on its last legs.
F.E.A.R. Files is a highly enjoyable package, but the games do show their heritage. Both expansions are based on an engine that we first saw over two years ago and games have moved on. For some thrilling and often scary gameplay look no further, especially if you're a fan of the first game, but gamers who have gorged on Call of Duty 4, BioShock and Halo 3 might find Sierra's latest a little dated.