Yahtzee faces F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate.
So I returned from my odyssey into the heartland of video game industry glamour, clutching a supermodel with one hand and brushing duck pâté from my lapel with the other, to find the pile of work that had felt so comfortably far away not too long ago squatting on my desk like a big, papery frog. And reality crashed down like a straight line Tetris block, falling into place, taking with it four rows and the remnants of my short-lived cushy celebrity lifestyle. So, fuck it. Back to the grind of shitty games and Windows Movie Maker.
Perseus Mandate is the completely uninformative title of the new F.E.A.R. expansion pack. This is the second expansion pack for F.E.A.R. to come out, since they're very easy to make. All you need to do is open the original game, randomly copy about half the levels, then rearrange them tastefully in another window. Add a new kind of enemy by re-skinning an existing one and put a big picture of a main character on the box art lit from behind by an explosion and away you go.
I played the first level of the original F.E.A.R. a couple of years back on a friend's computer and thought it looked like the dog's bollocks. But since this was in the days when I was so poor I had to choose between games or regular square meals, when I acquired it for myself for my bottom-end PC I had to turn off most of the fancy visual effects and immerse the CPU in liquid oxygen to get it to run. And once I'd stripped out the dynamic lighting and whoop-de-do damage decals, all that was left was a series of boxy, uninspiring corridors that would have embarrassed the Build Engine.
Two expansion packs in and nothing has changed, except for the fact that while previously you controlled a mute, karate-kicking F.E.A.R. operative with the inexplicable and unique ability to slow down time, now you control a completely different mute, karate-kicking F.E.A.R. operative with the ability to slow down time still inexplicable but apparently less unique, experiencing exactly the same locations, enemies, and plot events as the last guy but with a different wisecracking ethnic support character who might as well paint a target on their face. All in all, Perseus Mandate feels like one of those clip shows TV producers use to buy time when the writers have all passed out face down in buckets of cocaine.
F.E.A.R. is at heart a tactical shooter, and it's good at that if nothing else. The A.I. stands out as clever and challenging among the hundreds of games populated exclusively by suicidal retards. But after the first few encounters, you've fallen into a routine of hiding behind cover, popping out, shooting anything with legs, and popping back. You've fought people in an office, a warehouse, and a sewer, and you're pretty much just going to be running between the three for the next six hours. And there's this feeling that the game is rummaging desperately around in its toy box trying to find something interesting to show you. The best it can manage is to bring in slightly bigger enemies with better weapons. The first F.E.A.R. was an endless parade of identical gunfights broken up by the occasional slightly harder gunfight, and Perseus Mandate is just a retread of that. Déjà vu lies thickly on the ground like a big, fat, sleeping bear.
Every now and again, F.E.A.R. remembers that it wants to be a horror game too, and makes the lights flicker off, throws down a bloodstain like there's someone with the world's most copious noseblood about fifty yards ahead of you. But I have to admit, when the game does descend into sheer balls to the wall mind-fuckery for a few minutes, it's the only time the experience really comes alive for me. I'm running down a corridor when the lights come down and then I'm in another, different corridor, only now there's a blurry filter on my vision and I can hear what sounds like a moose being strangled in a tin bath. Awesome! I open a door and it vanishes into nothing, and now there's a door in the ceiling. Sweet! There's a corpse at the end of the hall, but as I get closer it jumps up and yells at me like everything's my fault. Finally I'm having a good time. Then everything simmers down and you return to boring, predictable normality wishing you were back in the nightmare.
F.E.A.R. doesn't mesh horror and action as well as, say, Condemned does; the transition between prolonged horror sections and bouts of tactical combat occur with an almost audible clunk. And I don't know, there's something about controlling a gun-toting, bullet-time Superman that fatally undermines the sense of vulnerability horror is supposed to invoke. It's like how in Resident Evil 4 the villagers start off being scary, until you discover you can blow all their heads off with a single shotgun blast, and then it's all just a big old laugh. Expecting us to be scared by that point smacks of trying to have one's cake and eviscerate it, too.
I guess if you're a huge fan of F.E.A.R. - and I mean huge, like if you play it twice a day and you have Jason Hall's face stenciled onto your toilet seat, and you've got a love of repetitive tactical combat that borders on the fetishistic and if you really badly need to know what happens next to the faceless, characterless protagonist of the ongoing storyline, then I heartily recommend Perseus Mandate! Maybe you could play it while you hang around the Labyrinth with Theseus, because you're obviously a non-existent creature of myth.
Shameless puppet of the corporations: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
"Ghostbuster's Theme" by Ray Parker Jr.
"Yo Mama" by Butterfingers
Also could the person who made a ZP-style review of Art of Theft while I was away please forward his name and address to the Escapist so that I can burn his house down
I'm just jet lagged up the arse right now