When it first appeared on PC, F.E.A.R. rightly earned a host of accolades, from its outstanding graphics to its crazy-good AI to its simple but fun use of slow motion in gunfights. The console version was equally well-received, and VU Games hopes to re-capture that momentum with F.E.A.R. Files, a single disc containing two standalone expansions, Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate. VU is clearly banking on the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as both expansions include essentially the same mechanics and level design. However, VU should have “fixed” this product, because the Xbox 360’s first-person landscape has changed.
Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate both involve storylines that run parallel to F.E.A.R., and each introduces new characters, new levels and new weapons. Perseus Mandate is easily the better of the two, both for its freakish new enemies and its scary moments, but the formula that made F.E.A.R. succeed the first time around is almost fully intact here, for better or for worse.
Are the new stories interesting? Of course; Monolith seldom drops the narrative ball, and Perseus Mandate in particular provides a great “expansion” of the F.E.A.R. universe. Are there intense and scary moments a la Doom and the first F.E.A.R.? You bet; those are the driving force behind the franchise, and the new Nightcrawlers will just plain make you pee. But do the new stories and characters lead to new level designs? Nope. Do the new enemies have even more-impressive AI routines? Nuh uh. And does anything in this package really push the envelope? “Fraid not.
As you’d expect from a F.E.A.R. game, the AI is generally quite good, actively seeking cover, breaking out some melee attacks and throwing grenades whenever prudent. But the AI in both expansions is also surprisingly inconsistent. One enemy will patrol like a blind man, letting you walk right up and fill his face with lead, while the next will see you from across the map and start firing before you’ve realized he was more than a shadow. Likewise, one group of enemies will root you out from behind a crate, while the next will just cluster in a room waiting to be hit by a grenade. It has to be your grenade, though, because the AI is inexplicably immune to its own.
And about those crates: you’d better get used to them, because F.E.A.R. Files by far has the most crate-filled, linear paths yet to appear on a next-gen console. When F.E.A.R. first released, its AI, slow-motion effects and gunplay were impressive enough to overlook its “yes, I’m walking through yet another corridor-filled warehouse” level design, but with standalone expansions on a next-gen console, the “big room filled with boxes” and “hallway filled with boxes” gets mighty old, mighty fast.
Adding to this dated feel is a multimedia experience that just screams “been there, done that.” Perhaps the most surprising of these shortcomings is the graphics, which look surprisingly old and plain, include minimal environmental damage with hardly any physics-based interaction, and don’t have the same level of polish as the original F.E.A.R. Even Monolith’s years-old outing Condemned: Criminal Origins had better textures and more-complex lighting — and Condemned was an Xbox 360 launch game.
The audio is also surprisingly bland, and it’d be polite to describe it as “minimalist.” The banter of the AI and NPCs is both limited and repetitive, the soundtrack (what there is of one) is insanely muted, the guns lack any sort of aural oomph, and — worst of all — the sound effects have a tendency to crackle in and out, almost like the audio track loses reception with the rest of the game. For the latest chapters in a franchise known for its multimedia greatness, F.E.A.R. Files simply looks, sounds and feels like the proverbial redheaded stepchild.
F.E.A.R. Files clearly hopes that its multiplayer options will save the day, as Xbox Live multiplayer supports up to 16 players. And let’s face it; gunning down your friends in slow motion seldom gets old. But for a first-person shooter to succeed when Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 are sitting next to it on the shelf, the FPS needs more than multiplayer options to do well. It needs a compelling narrative, fresh gameplay and — let’s be honest here — great graphics and sound. The competition in the first-person genre is stiff to begin with, but particularly so this year. And F.E.A.R. Files just doesn’t have the total package necessary to compete.
– Jonas Allen