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F.E.A.R.: Perseus Mandate (Windows)

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Written by  :  erc (441)
Written on  :  Jan 28, 2010
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Summary

Better of the two.

The Good

I don't understand why every reviewer bashes a late (and probably second) expansion pack to a critically acclaimed game. Sure, it may not bring major improvements to the table but when the original is already polished to perfection, why should the developers mess with the successful formula instead of providing more fun revolving around the initial premise laid down before them?

Timegate's (now non-canon) second effort do not strive for treading new ground and even more than the first pack, focuses on small-scale, visceral infantry combat. Seriously, F.E.A.R's replica troops are among the best (if not 'the best') AI soldiers I've encountered in a shooter - and I know I longed for more when I came to the premature end of the original story arc. They're nearly alive as far as AI opponents go: all the cold-blooded talk and clever maneuvers make them more to be feared than the so-called 'scary moments', at least for me.

That doesn't mean I don't like those defining moments either, they were surely original and initially nerve-wracking. However, TimeGate's copying of the same ideas to their first expansion pack took away much from the effect. I'm happy to state that Perseus Mandate does not offer more than a handful of such scenes (or they would surely be annoying this time). Since you don't play as the 'Point Man' anymore, the idea makes sense too. Why would Alma show herself to a mere sergeant, who is not of her blood?

To be exact, I didn't like what was 'thrown' at me as story in Extraction Point. Simply put, it was a lazy excuse - five minutes into the game and I discover that Fettel's still alive commanding his troops. Sorry but what happened to that dramatic scene where I, as the 'Point Man', put a bullet through his forehead? Then in the midst of the relatively short campaign, my only contacts, Holiday and Jin were also taken away from me one after the other. The expansion than turned into a slog to the said Extraction Point after throwing false premises at me. What remained then was the core combat which suffered much owing to the poorly-constructed and overly dark maps. The new weapons were fun, but the overall experience was not.

Perseus Mandate gets rid of 'Point Man' and gives you the role of a sergeant in the secondary F.E.A.R. team that goes in when things go awry. Thus the pack takes the 'Blue Shift' route where at times you experience the same events through a different perspective. Having clearly defined objectives and a team of two (usually) with you helps much with the sense of accomplishment as well as the immersion.

Since TimeGate's mappers are obviously not as experienced as Monolith's, their chances rely on design choices - and this time, it works. Even though Monolith neglected these two packs, TimeGate's story here expands the universe with newer characters and of course, more evil schemes behind the initial experiment than you've thought.

Although technically inferior to the standards set by Monolith, the maps on offer are highly varied and sees the player fighting outdoors as much as indoors. To tell the truth, they're more practical than aesthetically appealing. However, the set pieces on offer are well thought-out and I guess that's what matters most in a game that relies on tactical firefights - so no worries here. On a positive note, this straight-forward, less-detailed style of mapping helps the game run more smoothly, especially compared to the prior pack where it was clear that the authors craved for highly-detailed, brush-based design which was obviously way beyond their technical expertise.

Just like the first pack, TimeGate throws in three more weapons to an already sufficient inventory. Apart from an advanced assault rifle which helps in darker environments, the other two remain mostly as one-shot affairs (again, just like the prior three) since they're all heavy stuff and you won't find much ammo lying around.

What makes the combat fresh is not the weapons but the addition of a new mercenary group coming in with intentions of their own, namely Nightcrawlers. Their AI may not be much different from the now standard replicas, however their speech patterns and weapon selection makes them special enough - and beware of the Elite among them! With inhuman reflexes, even one of these guys will give you a hard time.

Composed of seven intervals, the campaign takes longer to complete than Extraction Point's. The intensity gets higher along the way and the last few levels turn out to be an all-out war. That's not a bad thing in case of F.E.A.R. I say. Moreover, you unlock three bonus maps (each one clocking around ten minutes) upon completion which will make sure that you remember the original F.E.A.R trilogy as an adrenaline-pumping shooter. That is, if the campaign on offer here hasn't already formed such an idea in your mind.

The Bad

Even though I mentioned above that the campaign here is more about combat and taking the player through different environments (still within the given context), I must also admit that even looking at it from this perspective, some maps come out unacceptably bland in the end - and that's not a comparison between this and the earlier products within the series. The quality highly differs in the product itself: the first half looks neglected compared to the second. It must be a case of different authors.

Sadly, both TimeGate's packs lack Monolith's polish. I believe that the levels here would benefit much from a re-lighting process. Apart from a few later pieces, Monolith's high-contrast, dramatic lighting is nowhere to be seen - thus the character shadows are also mostly missing. Worse are the levels which are dimly lighted all throughout even though there are no apparent light sources in vicinity. Details like these reminds me of poor users maps for older shooters out there - amateur designers may get away without polish, but a professional studio can't.

I didn't get how the sergeant I played as is capable of slowing down time. Apparently, he is no 'Point Man' and has no psychic connection to Alma either. He is your ordinary grunt, nothing more. Still, I didn't wonder much about it once the action fully kicked in. Simply explanation: SloMo is a gameplay gimmick that couldn't be removed, or the pack wouldn't be a F.E.A.R. extension anymore. Even a boss battle is acceptable, as herein done, but SloMo is destined to stay no matter what.

Another little detail that irritated me came out later in the game where the control was taken from me to show what happens right before my eyes in a cutscene. What is the point of that? I don't remember a single instance where it happened so in the original game after I took control of things in the very beginning. It is against the style. Here, have a little cutscene in the midst of Half-Life: would it be acceptable?

The Bottom Line

Perseus Mandate is unambitious, it does not offer anything vastly new, it lacks the overall polish of the base game - but who is to know what it sets out to do? Here are the most enjoyable firefights of the original trilogy. It clearly surpasses the previous pack and stands at the top with the original pack in this respect - at some high points, it even bests the original game's set pieces owing to the sheer scale of the things.

I strongly believe that if the gameplay remains enjoyable, dedicated players will always see behind the technical shortcomings and get the enjoyment out of the product. I don't think the designers set out for more than an extended brutal battle. Thankfully, they accomplished it. I wouldn't recommend the first pack with ease but get this one if you enjoyed F.E.A.R. (even slightly) on its combat basis.