F.E.A.R. Extraction Point

‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point’ is the inevitable first expansion pack to ‘F.E.A.R.’ which is notable primarily for managing to resolve NONE of the problems that made the first game into the less-than-incredible experience that it ended up being.  ‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point’ is, unsurprisingly, more of the same, except this time, instead of fighting your way through a horde of heavily armed cloned supersoldiers in a series of warehouses (which apparently store empty boxes as their main source of income), office buildings, abandoned tenements, and laboratories, this time you fight your way through a horde of heavily armed cloned supersoldiers in a series of church catacombs, subway tunnels,  hospital hallways, and a warehouse which stores a surprisingly large amount of empty boxes.  Despite this thrilling change of scenery, all the mechanics of the original are faithfully replicated in this expansion, even though control of the game’s development shifted from Monolith to TimeGate Studios.  As you could guess, such devotion to the source material is in this case something of a mixed blessing.

The original ‘F.E.A.R.’ ended on a fairly open note which was ripe for all sorts of interesting plot possibilities, so it makes perfect sense that TimeGate would use none of them and instead just rehash the plot from the original again.  Despite shooting him in the head near the end of the first game, Paxton Fettel is apparently not dead, and on the same note, despite shooting what one would presume to be all of them in the head in the last game, the replicas have not been eradicated either.  Alma is still around in both little girl and nude teenage form, the former kind to you and the latter a tad more ornery.  But this time they decide to truly ‘flip the script’ as the kids say these days and make Paxton even more tertiary a character than he was in the first, making your objective to simply escape the city alive, preferably with your compatriots Douglas Holiday and Jin-Sun-Kwon in tow (here’s the big surprise twist: they die).  Again, the city provides some unusually linear environments to escape from!  I guess that the fact that you have the best reflexes in the universe doesn’t necessarily mean you can, you know, scale a chain-link fence.

Like all expansion packs, there’s new stuff in this one, the only problem being that all that new stuff suffers from the same lame design issues as in the original ‘F.E.A.R.’.  There are two new weapons to snag: a minigun (because no shooter is complete without a minigun nowadays) and the ‘laser carbine’ which allows you to recreate the ‘Unreal Tournament’ experience in ‘F.E.A.R.’ via cheery red stream of burning death.  Both of these weapons are extremely fun to use, especially the latter.  So naturally the only way to get you to really appreciate them is to provide ammunition for said weapons about five times ever in the game.  Yes, apparently TimeGate didn’t quite do their homework on the original ‘F.E.A.R.’ and realize how frustrating it is to be given fantastic weapons with no way to use them for an extended period of time, and the bile here is even more bitter than it was in the original, because I would really prefer not to be cruelly teased with a horrifying doomlaser if I’m not going to be able to use it with complete impunity.  There’s a new ‘grenade’ in the form of adorable little anywhere-stickable sentry turrets that you’ll probably use once and forget about for the rest of the game like I did, though to TimeGate’s credit, they can’t REALLY be used like frag grenades.  Rounding out the new content are a few new naughty creatures to gun down: one is yet another heavy-style replica wielding a minigun and a titanium shield (again, there’s about four of this guy in the game, so perhaps you should ship them to a nature preserve instead of killing them), and then there are the nightcrawlers; invisible, bitey/scratchy humanoid monsters that are also pretty fun to fight in slow motion.  There’s about twenty-five of these guys, which is practically a blessing in the ‘F.E.A.R.’ world.

Here’s an itemized list of stuff which is still essentially useless: melee attacks, slow-mo, multiple grenade types, weapons other than the assault rifle and shotgun, horror interludes, long stretches of walking to nowhere in particular, and, of course, the plot (there is none).  I can safely say that nothing in ‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point’ has fixed any of the bizarre design decisions that so adversely affected the original ‘F.E.A.R.’.  On the contrary, now there are MORE useless features.  You’re able to bash open doors now via a melee attack to your portal of choice, but this is just like opening a door but at double speed and noise.  The ‘F.E.A.R.’ series has finally jumped into the next generation of first person shooter design by incorporating breakable boxes which are sometimes filled with ammunition (like there isn’t enough ordinarily, and no, it’s never for the rarer weapons) or the ubiquitous health/reflex boosters (I guess those are RPG elements at work), and, more often than either of those, an arbitrary items like phonebooks, binders, and other miscellaneous pieces of paper, despite how there is no ‘office supply store’ level in the game.

In I guess what was an effort to ramp up the effectiveness of the game’s ‘horror elements’, TimeGate has decided to, thankfully, add at least a few jump scares to keep you on your toes.  ‘Effort’ being the operative word here, because only a blind, autistic chimpanzee couldn’t see half of the scares coming from a mile away, probably due to how ‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point’ tends to look more and more like ‘Silent Hill’ with every level.  I’m sure that TimeGate would deny that ‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point”s deformed, bloody nurses have any connection with ‘Silent Hill”s deformed, bloody nurses, in the same way that Monolith denies that the teenaged Alma, their pale, spindly, awkwardly moving, malevolent little girl has anything to do with the popular J-horror technique of employing a pale, spindly, awkwardly moving, malevolent little girl as the main antagonist in any number of their films.  I’d be hard-pressed to find a single moment in ‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point’ that so much as made me jump, much less inspired genuine feelings of fear.

You see, one of the large elements of what makes something scary is a sense of unpredictability.  Possibly humanity’s oldest and greatest fear is that of the unknown, and so, all other fears descend from this basic root.  What does not generate fear is rote, predictable ‘scares’ that are repeated over and over again in some attempt to construct a canon of technique.  It just sucks.  The fact that the environments are even more static and uninteresting than in the last ‘F.E.A.R.’, with the closing hospital levels setting a new low as far as trite, sterile design goes.  ‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point’ was clearly trying to be ‘F.E.A.R.’ taken up a notch, but they way they’ve done it is just by making everything bigger, and not better to match it.  “Does this pool of blood scare you?  No?  How about this even BIGGER pool?  Still no?  Well wait until you see the size of the next one!”

The saving grace of ‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point’, as it was in the original, is the combat.  It’s as brutal and exciting as ever, even if the new features are hardly used to the fullest of their potential.  You’re still gunning down hordes of replicas with pretty much the same weapons as previous, but it was fun before, and it’s still fun now.  The huge, climactic moments are still great (fighting the Leviathan in the parking garage is admittedly awesome) and bigger than ever, and the core of ‘F.E.A.R.”s gameplay is still intact.  The thing is, though, that all the flaws that were more or less forgivable in ‘F.E.A.R.’ because it was the first installment really aren’t so easily dropped here.  I expected more from this expansion pack than I was given.  Even if the core gameplay is fun, the previous flaws are that much more glaring in the next installment of the ‘F.E.A.R.’ series.  It’s hard for me to imagine picking up ‘F.E.A.R. Extraction Point’ as a separate item, but as a part of the ‘Platinum Collection’ which features the original plus both expansions, I’d say it’s decent enough.  I don’t regret playing it, but it sure as hell could have been better than what we were given.

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~ by noktorn on January 15, 2008.

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