Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: October 24, 2006
They say it's always darkest before the dawn, and somewhere right around that corner is the first shining sparkle of sunlight to lead you from the shadows. What happens, exactly, when that light goes "paf" and burns out, leaving you in even more dire straights than you were 20 minutes ago? The city is burning, evil minions are attacking in ways even more impossible than previously thought, and there is no way out in sight. A hero's work is never done. So begins First Encounter Assault Recon: Extraction Point, the first expansion pack for 2006's super-hit F.E.A.R.
Things pick up exactly where they left off (if you finished F.E.A.R, which is no mean feat). The Origin Project has leveled the city in a gigantic mushroom cloud of nuclear fury, leaving the controller of the Replica Army, Fettel, dead beneath your evacuation chopper. You and your cohorts are battered, bruised, nearly dead, and free for all of 60 seconds before something —or someone —sends you right back into the combat zone at high speed. It's right back to the way it started before, but this time, instead of going in slow and easy, it's just you and surviving Delta Force detonation expert Holiday heading into the remnants of a virtual apocalypse. The situation is made even less convenient by your complete lack of armaments and the fact that you're buried deep inside a collapsing building somewhere in the outskirts. Getting out is not going to be a straight task by any means.
Extraction Point, outside of a new story and several new levels, is more of the same FPS action that brought folks in droves to the original. You are still the unnamed combatant, a man with a convoluted past and several abilities which make the entire situation much easier: you are a crack shot, can absorb bullets without flinching, and when necessary, you can bring time to a near halt, giving you advantages over those around you. (I admit, it's a great pleasure watching your targets freak out in slow motion while you get ready to pepper them with firepower.) Nothing much has changed internally, with everything controlling and moving pretty much the same as you'll remember from your run through the original story, meaning if you liked it before, you'll keep right on liking it.
The only bonuses you'll find in your arsenal are two guns: a mini-gun with enough firepower to shred people at the opening burst and a laser carbine that slices and dices with the best of the Ronco product line. To round it out, you'll find a few portable anti-personnel turrets, which are a lot of fun to play with — drop one in a choke point and either use it to cover your back or to help double your firepower. They seem to be most often placed where "useful" in scripted sequences with a bunch of grunts, though.
If anything intrinsically has changed for Extraction Point, it seems to be the levels themselves. The tense, claustrophobic hallways and cubicle farms of the basic game have given up their grip on nearly ever level; the very first level opens up quickly into a fight in the streets, with the action progressing through warehouses, shipyards, and other wide-open areas with limited cover.
This really changes the feel of the game more than you'd expect: F.E.A.R. was built around quick, tense firefights, with the more open areas allowing room to maneuver with smaller pockets of enemy soldiers spreading out. While improved A.I. for the Replicas seems to do a lot of good — they'll flank more consistently and have a very good sense of when to peg you with a grenade to the face — not running into whole walls of enemy forces dilutes the experience. The continued presence of Holiday, who just happens to be a great shot who's able to get into great firing positions and is completely immortal, dulls it even further; I often found myself heading some place safe and letting him do most of the work.
The engine here is exactly the same as found in the original F.E.A.R.: it's riddled with beautiful effects and no lack of visual charms, with top-notch animations and environments that rival the best games on the market. The way your world changes to a blurry, smeared version of itself every time you use your "boosted reactions" is quite possibly the best representation of bullet-time yet, and all of the modeling is top-notch, from the heavily armored "Super Troopers" to the solid and often-excessively huge guns. The world is a tad bland, with many environments smacking of earlier levels and lots of open yards at night, but you'll be happily focused on killing the heck out of the well-articulated Replica Soldiers. (Nothing was quite as cackle-inducing as shooting a soldier in the kneecap and watching him hop about a bit, spraying fire in my general direction while he struggles for balance.)
Extraction Point also makes the same great use of sound that F.E.A.R. did. Listening to the world around you is necessary in a few cases, particularly making sure you listen to hints the Replicas drop about their course of action or how badly you've ransacked their squads. Gun battles are deafening things, where the only thing that carries through is the cacophony of bullets and explosions. Some of that is lost here, though. The wider arenas don't allow for much than nearly silent games of "chase the grunt and put a shell in his face" or listening to Holiday talk about how he's kicking ass and taking names.
I rather dislike reviewing expansion packs in many cases, mainly because expansions for FPS titles bring so little to the table that it isn't worth even discussing them beyond "if you liked the original game, you'll probably like this too." Extraction Point falls squarely into that category — if you were a fan of the first 12 chapters, these extra ones will certainly keep the experience going for a while. At the end of the day, only bringing in some new enemies, a small cache of new arms, and a bit of extra story that's even more incoherent than the original keep Extraction Point from being more than what was already good. But that's no crime: I'd happily offer up a few dollars to the Retail Gods if it extends something that was initially so much fun. If you enjoyed the concert, stick around for the encore, but don't expect to be wowed as much.