Review – Medal of Honor Warfighter – PC

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a videogame review, so here’s one. I’ve always enjoyed military shooters, though my enjoyment of campaigns in these games has been steadily declining since CoD4: Modern Warfare (which I enjoyed a great deal) as Infinity Ward and all of their competitors went further and further down the “cinematic experience” rabbit hole at the expense of gameplay and player freedom. Even with this, I managed to enjoy both Battlefield Bad Company 1 and 2’s SP-offerings as well as Black Ops 1. I even played through the reboot of Medal of Honor and thought it was decent if not outstanding in any way. Which brings us to the point of this post.

Medal of Honor: Warfighter has copped a lot of flak for being terrible and a huge disappointment to EA and the public. With this knowledge I picked up the PC version of the game for about 5 bucks from an online UK retailer’s sale. A couple of weeks after it arrived, I decided to install it to my Origin Library and then decided to play it – given the usual 4? 6? 8? hour campaign length these things have, it shouldn’t take too long to zip through it, surely? Then I can play with the MP for a couple of days before getting bored and shelving it to go back to Battlefield 3 or 4 (which is a whole different set of bugs). Despite the advertisements showing that the MP allows me to play as the SASR, I held out quite easily from buying it at launch, given the huge backlog of games I have to play.

The game does *look* good.

Story-wise, the game tries to tell the story of both shooting people in the face as well as a bit of a reflection of the human costs of this sort of thing on the lives and families of the operators who live it. Unfortunately, the story (what I’ve seen of it) is told with all of the subtlety and interest of a painfully contrived soap opera. Though, I admittedly didn’t get all that far in.

Gameplay-wise, the graphics look really nice with highly detailed player and NPC models. Good looking scenery and reasonably atmospheric locales.

Unfortunately, the game crashes like a motherfucker. Right after installing it, I went to tweak the graphical settings, and the game died on me. It took about 45 minutes of poking around the web to discover that the high graphics settings appear to actually kill the game. That’s right. The game can’t handle it’s own graphical settings. Mind you, this isn’t at launch, when we’re now expected to sit through buggy software in anticipation of the miracle patch – but 15 months after release. Despite the game’s crash and burn status once it hit retail, you’d imagine that huge, gamebreaking issues like this would have been fixed, but apparently not. So after fixing that, I got to play through.

So far, so Modern FPS.

The “how to play” tutorial puts you into the shoes of a Taliban/Al-Qaeda recruit, who runs through a mock-up aircraft as the training segment as an Imam of some description yells at you in Arabic . This was a little bit interesting, and I guess makes sense as you don’t expect that veteran DEVGRU operators would need to go through any of that stuff with instructions.

There seems to be an excited emphasis on door breaching, with each breach getting overly-excited about you getting four headshots to unlock the next exciting door breach animation. So far I’ve gone from boots, to tomahawk to crowbar. Next, I unlock the shotgun. I’m so excited!

I’m using this image of a man with a gun to break up my wall of text.

I quickly found that unlike in other FPS games, including the previous instalment in this series, you can’t scroll through picked-up weapons. Obviously another bug rather than design, but I tried to swap out my pistol for an AK, and later, a PKM, and it refused to let me scroll though my weapons – only allowing (firstly) the AK and my pistol (which I had tried to replace) and later on, my LaRue OBR and pistol, without allowing me to use the PKM that I was carrying around.

So anyway, after a cinematic bit involving a train station in Madrid, the game shit itself again, then sort-of recovered, and resumed with the next cutscene, except that when it “recovered”, the game was now running in 480×720 (as opposed to 1920×1080) and attempts to reset the graphic settings from ingame didn’t work – necessitating a quit out which turned into yet another crash. Rebooting and reloading left it again at 720, though without the crash..

After three or four tries, I got around this by manually editing one of the game’s profiles. Credit to swagrhino on the EA answer forums for the temporary fix.

editing MyDocuments\MOHW\settings PROF_SAVE_profile

Change the values of the following keys

GstRender.MotionBlurEnabled 1
GstRender.OverallGraphicsQuality 3
GstRender.ResolutionScale 5
GstRender.ShaderQuality 2.0000

Still, this continued to result in the same repeated crash/graphic reset to 480p for the car chase scene, which I eventually got around by playing it in a 480p-sized window in the middle of my monitor. When I got to the next walking-around-and-shooting mission, in the Philippines, I set the graphics back to 1080 and went with lower-level arthoscopic filtering (2x instead of 3x, which is how I ran the game initially) and a lower refresh rate 27.9fps instead of the 60fps I used earlier – in the hope that it would run with more stability. The result? Gameplay of about 3fps with massive stuttering. So I turned it off.

Since trying the above yet again to reset the graphics, followed by manually setting them to realistic levels (that I used for this game initially, and use for BF3 et al), the game once again shit itself and crashed out. At this point, I give up.

Despite impressive visuals, this is a BAD game. DO NOT purchase it. Even for a fiver.

So my review ends thus:

Shooting seemed okay, story bland but I’m sure you could sleepwalk through it. Super-linear non-interactive set-piece-oriented FPS gameplay, which I don’t especially enjoy. The changes in locale looked promising but I never got to play them because the game is so unstable. Given my experience with the game (I’ve spent more time trying to get it to work than actually playing it – quite literally!)

Verdict – avoid at all costs. This game deserved to fail, and fail hard. Which is what it did. If EA had given the devs the opportunity to finish the game, it might well have been fun. Instead it serves as yet another example of how Electronic Arts continually pushes unfinished and/or broken games out the door (along with BF3, BF4, SimCity, et al) which may never be fixed or patched to a properly working state. Like this one.

Review: Mafia II – 2K Czech – PC (Steam)

I’d heard good things about Mafia II, especially in terms of story, but I’d also heard that it severely lacked replayability – unlike most open world sandboxes – your Grand Theft Autos, Saints Rows, Red Dead Redemptions, Just Causes and even your Saboteurs and Red Factions that feature lots of side missions and random shit to do while entertaining yourself – Mafia II basically has none. Sure, you can crush cars to make a few bucks, but your purchasing power seems to be limited to buying more guns from a limited range (pointless as all the guns you’ll need are pretty much mostly supplied for free from fallen opponents or given on a mission), upgrading cars (again, pointless since they handle like junk, and again, you’re given what you need as you go for the most part) and clothes (purely cosmetic).

But back to the game itself. Well, it’s well done for a game story. One of the strongest that I’ve played through, in fact. However, despite the game press raving about it, it’s still no Goodfellas or even Casino, but for a game, it’s quite good. On the other hand, there’s the gameplay. And despite enjoying the game, or the experience – to perhaps put it a little better, (as I found the gameplay to be pretty average at best). It’s not exceptionally bad, but it’s not what I’d call good either. There’s some brawl mechanics that are seriously sub-par, not too far off what you’d find taped onto an Ice Hockey game from 10 years ago. (There are also no baseball bats if you enjoyed them from the first game.) Some cover shooting mechanics which are just standard “meh” quality. Not bad, but not exciting. (and the cover button is awkwardly mapped to L-Ctrl for PC). And then there’s bog-standard GTA-alike driving in a series of cars that mostly handle badly.

Drive carefully, or the police will come after you!

Throw in the other annoying GTA-alike trope where every 10th vehicle is a cop car for some reason – and in this game they will chase you down for speeding. After a few high-speed chases, I actually found myself driving like a semi-sensible citizen because these car chases are just annoying timesinks. Though again, like other games in related genres, if you get to a mission checkpoint it doesn’t matter what your wanted level is (was) or how many cops are after your arse, as it’s all instantly wiped. Regardless, Cop cars being seen every 100m or 1/10 of other cars is still fucking annoying and actually immersion breaking, since it constantly reminds you that you’re playing a game. I mean, how often do you see a cop car when you go driving? If you saw one every 40 seconds in real life, you’d think that some serious shit was about to go down, and you’d probably be right as well.  The game also features such wonderful innovations as needing to drive home and manually walk to your bed after completing a mission, I’m surprised that you don’t also have to manually take a shit, too.

So anyway, while the gameplay is honestly not much to get excited about, the game’s story is it’s strong point. I’ve always hated games that rely too much on long cutscenes between the actual gameplay, and Mafia II is a bit like that, but with the interesting twist that I found myself instead wanting to get through the next mostly-tedious patch of exciting “narrative gameplay” (press “E” to clean the floor/Press “E” to wash the window/Press “E” to call Fat Tony/etc) to get to the next bit of pre-rendered CGI story. I played on Medium, since as I mentioned, I find the gameplay to be workmanlike “good enough” but not especially good or fun. So I felt no need to “challenge” myself by making the gameplay more annoying/tedious/difficult/frustrating. I also found that there are quite a few missions where it’s simply down to chance as to whether you survive or not, particularly the car escape with your crew that has the cutscene with “more of them” as you drive past 2 more cars or the pub where you needlessly yack at the Irish before getting down to business. You can get shot and killed purely by chance by the AI with no chance of getting through, then eventually get a lucky run and go through unscathed, despite doing the exact same thing.

Fisticuffs. Less exciting then they look!

I had read about how linear the game is and how there pretty much are no side missions, but just how linear the game is wasn’t apparent until I played it, and I was also disappointed when I realised that I needed to divert from a mission (either before or afterwards) to collect more cars or tune them so they would get saved with the normal “end of day” gameplay.

Visually the game is nice. Really quite nice. Aurally, the it features changing-period music in what feels like a bit of a nod to Scorsese, and the game can be nice just driving along under the speed limit listening to the radio on a rainy night. Atmosphere is something this game does well.

I was waiting for this to drop to AU$30 or less on the 360, since I’d heard good things about the story but that it lacked anything else to do, but with the recent Steam sale, even the US$20 price thet Aussies were expected to pay over the US$12 that the Americans got was enough to swing it in the end, with a bunch of US.99 DLC added which swung it. Apparently the PS3 got the first bit of DLC, as an exclusive freebie, while the other two, apparently more arcade-oriented DLC packs are available on PC and 360. But this isn’t a DLC review, it’s for the core game.

There’s no multiplayer, but there are collectables – Some incredibly-(un)exciting Playboy Magazines that give you a cheesecake pic of a period-approriate centrefold – which feel completely tacked-on, since many of them appear to be hidden in locations within missions that you only get one chance to do or go to per playthrough – and in a game with no reason to play through the game multiple times, since the story is the hook and the gameplay is average at best. It was shortly after I found the Playboy in Derek’s office when I started to think that maybe you had to effectively know where they are in the missions in order to collect them all, and this was confirmed when I found the next one inside the sewers. Methinks that perhaps they were just added as a cross-promotion thing. Mafia gets some press coverage, and some teenagers buy their first Playboy magazines out of curiosity instead of just downloading internet porn.

Character design is quite good, though.

I realise that I may sound overwhelmingly negative about this game, but the fact is that while the story isn’t great when compared to a good Cinema Gangster tale, it is a good story for a game, and the story is good enough to keep me interested enough to play through a couple of a few chapters every day since I picked it up.

If you approach it with low expectations as far as the gameplay goes, but are happy to play for the story – and you can pick it up cheap – the Steam sale price would seem perfect, then I say go for it. If you can rent it, you can probably finish it in a weekend without too much trouble. If you do so, you’ll enjoy it and since there’s no real reason to replay it aside from collecting Playboy pics (you have the internet for that!), you’ll have gotten your money’s worth.

Wasn’t using a gamepad because I prefer PC-aiming controls. KB+M. The lack of save points is annoying, and the game truly does feel as linear as any FPS. The story is better than most games and is in fact the best thing about Mafia, but it’s still pretty predictable, and nothing special compared to a halfway decent gangster film. The missions are quite repetitive, particularly their introductions, which the game itself parodies/acknowledges in one of the last few mission introductions of you getting woken up by the telephone I’d recommend that anyone playing who also owns DLC pimp the shit out of their cars as soon as they can afford to, since they stay with you through the inevitable “reset” the game throws at you, unlike your cash. And there’s nothing else to do with your cash anyway, since you’ll always get enough weapons, and clothing is next to pointless.

My Ride, I am Pimping her.

Definately a Steam Sale game, a mid-price or bargain bin console game, or a rental. it’s a it of fun, but not an especially good game.

I picked up all the DLC with the steam sale. I’ll play through them at some stage and either review them as well or append them to this one. The DLC packs with cars and outfits were somewhat pointless, I only used a few outfits or cars, most never even came out in the course of my playthrough. For 99c each via the Steam Sale I’m not too broken up, though.

Jimmy’s Vendetta and Joe’s Story are the more involved ones. I played a bit of Joe’s story right after finishing the main game but it starts with one of those multi-part missions where you do the first thing then they send you to do “anudder ting” right afterwards, so I quit to take a break. No idea if it saved any of my progress. I’ll get back to it.

Right after playing it, I re-watched Goodfellas. Haven’t seen it for a few years now, so always a good watch. I was wanting to watch it when I was playing through Mafia, but as it happens, my wife picked it out to watch. It really brings home the “good story, for a game” thing and even makes you think about the “games as Art” arguments again. Comparing any game to Goodfellas isn’t exactly fair, but then again they share a genre, and so the “one of the very best in genre” thing can be valid to an extent, and clearly Mafia 2 draws some inspiration from Goodfellas.

Dunno, I’m not here to piss on Mafia. And it certainly does atmosphere reasonably well, though that’s also in large part due to the audio and period music. Story though.. it’s a whole other ballgame.

The PC version is pretty much the same as the 360 or PS3 versions.

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Verdict: Rent it.

Review: Call of Duty: World at War – Treyarch – PC/360

File:Call of Duty World at War cover.png

While I picked this up more or less on release, I really only got to play it some time later. Hence this review was written in January 2009. What do you mean there’s a newer Call of Duty game out?!?

Part 1 – PC version.
Onto the game! The review is written from my experiences with the PC version. The later MP thoughts are based on the 360.
The story is.. well, you’re a soldier. American and Russian at different times, and you have to kill Germans and Japanese. Because they’re bad guys and really the story is the same as every other WW2 FPS shooter, ever. So we’ll skip that.

Peripheral stuff, like loading intro screens and such are very well done, though the audio on mine suffers from some pretty bad stuttering, even after I upgraded my NVIDIA drivers. But while the presentation and such is excellent, pretty much on a par with CoD4, the problems with the game are the same, and even exacerbated. Lots of sudden “oh…  you dead now” moments that require you to die the first time so you can know what to avoid the second time.

Amusing caption goes here.

My squadmates seem to have taken a step back from useful and competent as in previous CoD games and are back to being decoration, and in many levels the enemies only seem to shoot at me (except for the occasional 1-shot kill on my decorative squadmates. And I’m only playing on the second difficulty setting.

While it’s an overused term, the game does have consolitis in that the emphasis is SO much more on the action rather than the playing – firefights are non-stop and frankly, a little too intense. As you simply can’t avoid being shot (not shot at), because they all go for YOU. As mentioned above, most of the time your vision is impaired by the “bloody vision” that the game uses in lieu of a wound meter/HP bar. You sprinting to the checkpoints is once again more important than actually fighting your way through, thanks to the endlessly-respawning enemies, who make attempting to fight your way through an exercise in futility anyway. It’s all about sprint-while-being-wounded towards the next gold star on your map.

In the inevitable 3rd-person view tank level, you’re once again at the helm of a T-34, and it’s much like previous CoD games where you’ve been at the helm of a T-34, (and maybe some MoH instalments as well). Except this time, there’s huge clouds of dust. All the time. All the time because your tank is constantly being pounded by enemy armour, panzershreks, bunkers, 88mm artillery. Your fellow Soviet tanks disappear without a trace pretty quickly, so again you have so solo the whole lot. Through the dust. Of course, this is helped by the fact that just like when you duck behind a wall as an infantryman, your tank regenerates it’s, erm, “health” whenever it’s not getting the shit shot out of it. This allows you to take out at least a platoon of Tigers, and probably PzIVs as well. (Hard to make out their profiles through all the dust, you see.)

I feel like I’ve been here before…

I really enjoyed CoD4, despite many of the same or similar flaws, but that may have been largely in light of the modern setting. This feels even more scripted, and at the same time both less realistic and less arcadey-fun. As it is, and despite both the annoyances and the great visuals, I feel very much like I’ve played this exact game before. Many times.

I mean, I’ve definitely assaulted the Reichstag building and planted the Soviet banner on the roof there before. And though it’s definitely prettier this time around, it’s not any more fun, partly because I’ve already done this, but mostly due to the endless rain of homing bullets and respawning Nazis.

Another annoying aspect of the consolitis are the “death cards”, scattered around in hidden places in the SP mode to unlock cheats in co-op. They’re this year’s version of the Laptops in CoD4. In a game that discourages “exploration” by virtue of endless-respawn enemies, rush-to-checkpoint gameplay, and large areas made up of pretty much identical debris/jungle/etc, it’s a very weak attempt to extend the game’s longevity. This is especially so as their unlocks are overwhelmingly just more ways to increase the game’s difficulty with only a couple of “fun” ones. I mean, even if I cared about them it wouldn’t be hard to play through the individual levels again with a walkthrough, but I have no urge to do so.

Parts of the SP campaign are reasonable fun. The Soviet campaign I enjoyed a lot more than the US Pacific  campaign, which is probably due to preferring the urban battlefronts over the jungle ones where you can’t see the enemy, and the German Stahlheim helmets being a more distinctive target to shoot at than the Japanese. The best parts of the US campaign for me were the first section of the Aircraft-gunner sequences, (“Black Cats”) and the levels where you operate a flamethrower in the jungle, though those still suffered from not being able to see a damn thing due to “bloody vision”, flames and dust’n’dirt everywhere. The Soviet missions were I suppose blander but more solid.

Multiplayer seems to be pretty much exactly the same as CoD4, only with dogs and recon planes instead of attack choppers and UAVs. I got sick of the spammy combat and loudly stupid playerbase after one round. I enjoyed CoD4’s MP for awhile, but eventually got bored with it. As I’m still bored with CoD4 MP and this is exactly the same, I was sick of it about 5 minutes after firing it up for the first time. To be fair though, if you still enjoy CoD4 MP, then you’ll likely enjoy this iteration’s MP.

Overall, it’s like CoD4. It’s not a great game. It’s a cinematic experience that you play through. But it’s WW2, again. And I’ve already done all this. I’ve played this. I liked CoD4 a lot more as it was a fresh take. This feels like a mash-up rehash of CoD4 and every other CoD/MoH you’ve already played. Beyond that it doesn’t make me want to play more every time I take a break, and the best FPS games do that. Instead I had to make myself play it through to the end to unlock the Zombie-Mode carrot. Zombie mode looks good on paper, and the combination of wanting to try it and wanting to finish this review was pretty much the main reason I made myself slog through and finish the campaign.

All games must have zombies. Apparently.

Once I unlocked that carrot I found that it was pretty fun. In SP zombie mode you can see that it’d be an awful lot of fun with 4 pals and voice chat (hmm… sound like another recent Zombie-themed game?). Nonetheless I tried it online, and found that there were unfortunately not too many games going, and more importantly, the calibre of players in it is pretty much the same as the random idiots in CoD4/5 MP, or your average trade channel discussion in World of Warcraft. Still, it’s a simple but worthwhile addition to the game.

It’s a solid rental. If you love the CoD-style multiplayer and you’d rather use WW2-era weapons than modern ones for a change it’d be worth the purchase. The SP mode/campaign is like CoD4: Worth playing through, but not necessarily worth buying or owning.

Part 2: 360 and Multiplayer thoughts.

So 3 years after release, and 2 years after writing the above review of the PC version, I got around to playing the 360 version. Why? That’s a reasonable question. The simple answer is simply that I wanted to try the co-op campaign and play through it with my wife. I’m also halfway through the SP campaign, mostly because I thought I may as well play through it since I bought the thing. I’m also interested in seeing how it looks on the big TV screen.

So anyway, my thoughts on both modes are generally much the same. Still can’t see a damn thing with all the bullets whizzing around and your bloodied vision – especially in the Pacific missions. The Flamethrower still (almost) makes up for all of it with it’s sheer mindless fun (time to reinstall RTCW for MP?). Endlessly-respawning baddies still make everything a sprint to the checkpoint. So no major changes. As a co-op piece, it’s okay. I figure that playing almost anything co-op with a friend is usually going to be fun, often fun than solo, so there is that. The co-op campaign omits several missions – the more Singleplayer-oriented ones. Black Cats (the one in the seaplane), the introductory cat-and-mouse Russian sniper level. Possibly another 1 or 2 that I can’t recall. I’m not finding the SP campaign to be “sticky” at all, wanting me to play more of it. It feels a lot more like a chore actually. Something I have to do to “get my money’s worth” from the game. So I might not finish it if I can let common sense and logic win that particular argument. (6 months later, I still haven’t gone back to finish it – so there you go…)

There are no Achievements given for the co-op campaign, and you just play them from a chosen selection of standalone levels, though it does queue the next one automatically when you finish the previous. There are Death Cards in here, so you can collect those for various MP cheats. I pretty much ignored those in the PC version, sine I had no intention of playing through it again, but I may go back for them on the 360. Partly as achievement whoring and partly “just in case” my wife wants to (or is willing to) replay through a level or two with various silliness turned on. Nazi Zombies mode is also unlocked from the beginning, though I suspect that’s been patched in sometime int he past 2-3 years, as I recall needing to finish the game on PC to unlock it.

I did have a muck about with the multiplayer. I actually enjoyed it more than I did on PC for some reason – and more than CoD4 on 360, though the game does have a habit of putting you into a game, then kicking you if you don’t have the DLC map packs, so you have to queue again.

Multiplayer Madness. Ok, so it’s not so mad.

The 2 copies I got for MP were bargain bin pickups, and the MP was fun enough, but unless I can get some major MP use out of Nazi Zombies, it’s not something I could recommend. Regardless of platform, the SP game is still “like CoD4, but not quite as good, and hard to see anything.” and the co-op, while servicable, is nothing to write home about.

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The Verdict:

If you’re looking at picking up a PC or console FPS for Singleplayer, there are so many better choices out there.

If you’re looking at picking up a PC FPS for Multiplayer, again, there are so many better choices out there.

If you’re looking at picking up a console FPS for Multiplayer, it’s actually quite decent but now quite underpopulated, so there are better choices. Decent if you can get it for cheap.

If you’re looking at picking up a console FPS for co-op, there are far better choices out there.

It’s ok as a bargain bin pickup, especially if you enjoy WW2 shooters.

Review: F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate – TimeGate Studios – PC

F.E.A.R. : Perseus Mandate adds proper widescreen support back into the game. The original F.E.A.R had it, and then Extraction Point inexplicably lacked it, so it was a relief to get it back and be able to see things in their proper perspective again.

Back again-again.

It opens with a “proper” intro, explaining how the first two teams are down and you’re going in and yadda yadda. As the game takes place parallel to the final events of FEAR and alongside Extraction Point, the Clone army is inactive for part of the game until they get reactivated with the resurrection of Fettel. So this time you’re fighting against mercenaries initially. After about 5-10 minutes of the game being slightly fresher, we’re back to the same old series of rooms with the same old art assets and the same old blood spatter on the walls. Your character has the same “bullet-time” ability of the guy you played in FEAR/Extraction Point, which is never really explained.

On one hand, it is the next bit of FEAR, on the other hand, by this stage I’d really appreciate some effort to mix it up just a bit, because it’s getting fucking tedious. Your two squaddies are also fucking stupid, but at least you know you’ll be rid of them quickly enough, either from some kind of contrived “we’re separated” plot point or gory death. Or, most likely, a combination of the two. This happens a couple of times through the campaign. Much of the game consists of running down endless corridors and through office buildings once again. Many of these offices naturally contain ammunition, grenades, first aid kits or body armour. Just like real offices do.

The gameplay is pretty much the same as the two previous instalments – A firefight with 2-6 enemy followed by 2-6 minutes of running through empty offices, rooms and hallways, occasionally punctuated by a telephone message or some other bit of exposition. An odd thing about Perseus is that at quite a few points it really does feel like they tried to do something a bit different with the FEAR formula. There are a couple of interesting locales, and there are also some interesting architectural points within the inevitable endless research facility. The main problem with it all is still essentially the gameplay issue presented above.

The lightning gun in action, which is the best part of the Expack.

You could, in theory stop and look at the scenery, but at a certain point a medical centre with blood-spattered walls and a couple of dessicated corpses just ceases to be creepy and becomes as samey as any other bit of random wallpaper. Unfortunately, you pass that point way back in FEAR 1, so both expacks just end up retreading the same ground ad nauseum. There’s a new Lightning Gun that’s pretty cool but you never get enough ammo for it ever to become any kind of primary weapon – another archaic design choice – “let’s make a really cool, fun weapon, then make sure the player barely gets to use it! Yeah!” I mean, the SP campaign doesn’t need to be balanced for multiplayer, after all.

There’s not much else to really say about it. I ran through it as quickly as possible. It’s better than Extraction Point, but ultimately it’s just more of the same. A solid shooter by the standards of half a decade ago with the visuals to match. Unless you love both of the previous ones, or you’re jonesing to play F2 and maybe F3 and really want to get the whole story before doing so, I wouldn’t bother with this. Especially since the story is still paper-thin, and both EP and PM are non-canon to the FEAR franchise these days anyway…

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Verdict: Skip it.

Review: F.E.A.R. Extraction Point – TimeGate Studios – PC

Well, following on immediately from the original FEAR, this will be a bit more of the same. An add-on to the original review, if you weeel… makes sense in that one of the main ways to get hold of the original game these days is with the two expacks bolted on via Steam, and it’ll no doubt be a freebie attached to pre-orders of FEAR 3.. sorry, F3AR (See what they did there?).

So for starters, the plot involves a helicopter crash after the end of the original game, the resurrection of the main bad guy, even he says “I know it doesn’t make sense”, and a fighting flight to safety, which is an Extraction Point (see what they did there?) in a hospital, which will unsurprisingly gives us some creepy hospital halls and rooms to fight through, decorated with bloody instrumentation. Right after we’ve first fought through a church, some streets, warehouses, sewers and a subway. All creepily lit and decorated with bloody messes on the walls and so forth.

Due to various reasons, the two expansions to the original F.E.A.R. (Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate were rendered non-canonical by Monolith after they got the rights back to their storyline and characters, and then later the name F.E.A.R.

Differences from the initial game.. well, it doesn’t support Widescreen resolutions properly, so I’m playing in a distorted 1600×1200 instead of the 1920 x 1080 of the original. Seems a bit odd to go backwards like that, but there you go..

Gameplay is pretty much the same. Running through an endless series of corridors, warehouses, back-alleys and such, all fenced off by blocked doors and all with graphics-that-would-have-stood-out-nicely-in-06.It also features that awesome bit of game design: doors that are blocked until an NPC comes up to open them for you. This doesn’t get tedious at all. When it comes to chain-link fences that I could easily vault over, you’re the kind of spec-ops elite that just doesn’t even try, and instead walks down the game-corridor that’s provided.

There’s also more than its fair share of crawling around ventilation ducts. I seriously question which game dev actually finds that kind of shit to be fun? Remember that awesome time you had in Half Life 2/DOOM/Quake/Call of Duty where you crawled around in a ventilation duct for 5 minutes? No? There’s my point. It’s just weak padding.

Oh, as another bonus, the game features smashable crates with goodies inside. Though not all crates are smashable. Just some. So, you know, keep your eyes out. We’re talking real FPS innovation here. Stuff that needed to be in the game. Because of this, getting upgrades is much slower than in the original game, as 99% of the boxes here are just scenery, so you naturally end up ignoring most of them. It would have been nice (and made sense) if the expack looked for a saved game from the original game and let you continue with your bullet time and health upgrades.

You can also melee doors open instead of just hitting he use key. And doors near an explosion will also be opened up by that same explosion. Yeah. I guess this is because doors will automagically close by themselves. Just like doors in real life do.

Oh, it turns out that I must have played the original in Normal, since I couldn’t remember, I picked “Easy” for this one, and there are health pickups literally every 6 feet, and I’m blasting through the mobs like Rambo on amphetamines, and barely touching the “bullet-time”. It’s not actually as fun as it sounds, but then again I’m not going to start again, and I’m really playing it more to finish it and to have played through it at this stage, so I won’t hold the lack of challenge against it, but whatever. I’m actually playing the game and writing this to keep me half-interested while trying to churn out an essay for my course. Funnily enough, bitching about games is more interesting.

Look! More of the same!

Because Extraction Point is an old-school expansion pack (remember those?) it has a list of things it needs to do in an adventure about half the length of the original. One of those things is to give you new weapons. As in the original FEAR, you can still only carry three, and so what you end up with here is being given many of the original weapons within a few minutes of each in some cases, along with one of the new ones. The first new weapon you’re given, or half a new weapon, I guess, is dual pistols, to be wielded akimbo. Like Max Payne. Kinda. There’s also a “grenade class” deployable turret that you get pretty early on. Later on, you get a Laser Gun and a Minigun. That’s pretty much it. There are also 2 new enemy types. Even bigger bad guys than the usual big ones, armed with miniguns and shields, and some walking mecha, bigger than the ones we saw in the base game.

When I checked out the game on Wikipedia before starting it – mostly to see which one of the two expacks is the first one, I noted that a criticism of Extraction Point was that there are more of Alma’s “creepy moments” in the game. Despite my misgivings of how they’re actually implemented in the main game, this is actually a positive point for me. Some still manage to be slightly creepy, despite how jaded I now am to the whole thing, and it’s also kind of half of the point of the game. I mean, points of differentiation. Nice graphics (for the time), bullet-time and creepy horror. If your horror game barely has any horror in it, then you’re doing it wrong, so as frequent as they come in this pack, it’s understandable and they’re actually more effective in my opinion than the ones in the original FEAR

In the end, Extraction Point clocked in at about 6 hours according to Steam, which includes time paused and alt-tabbed, though on Easy mode, so the time seems about right. Should you get it? Well, it’s more of the same. A workmanlike older shooter with some decently done horror-y bits and decent atmosphere with a nonsensical plot and sub-par widescreen support. Really though, it doesn’t add much if you’ve already played the original.

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Verdict: Skip it.

Coming up next: F.E.A.R. – Perseus Mandate. Probably.

Review: F.E.A.R. – Monolith Productions – PC

This is a game I originally got years ago (with it’s two expansions) at some EB Games sale, and then found that it barely ran on my PC at the time. Over the years it just sat in the shelf, as most of my PC-gaming time was eaten up by either Battlefield-series games or World of Warcraft or other shooters or… well, you get the idea.

About a year ago, I picked it up (again, with both expansions) via Steam Sale, since I would sometimes do that to divest myself of needing to find CDs and possibly hacked no-CD exes for games I’d bought and not want to muck about with discs.

So recently, I actually started playing it.

Prepare to be scared. Maybe.

Back in the day, FEAR had a bit of a rep as a damned scary and graphically intense game. Since I played it in 2011, I’m looking at it through modern eyes.

Graphically, it obviously doesn’t stand up to more modern fare. The details are still good, but the environments in the levels all have a bit of an overly-squared and clinical look to them. The enemy models are still quite decent, as are the flying robots and the couple of supernatural foes you encounter. It does support widescreen and modern resolutions, which is a plus.

The environments are a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are tons of offices, a tenement, some warehouses and an underground super-facility, each level set in one of it’s own type feels very samey – and the overall effect is of hours of walking through incredibly-similar environments with little variation or interesting variations. The levels are all pretty much standard-shooter fare, right down to red and yellow exploding barrels set at (in)convenient, (un)realistic spaces inside research facilities and everywhere else.

The levels also feel padded out when there are large expanses without any enemies, which just leaves you with running through office spaces for 3-5 minutes at a time on occasion to get to the next bit of shooting game. Steam says I played for 16 hours. While I played on either Easy or Normal (I don’t recall), it definitely felt padded. While I’m not exactly a fan of the way that shooters and games are moving towards 5-hour campaigns, I’d rather play a lovingly-constructed 8-hour campaign than a padded and tedious 16-hour campaign.

The game isn’t all tedium of course. The generic-shooter aspect is broken up occasionally by bits of “atmospheric creepiness”, which can be good, but can also just be okay. The issue is that with the long playing time, what is initially creepy and atmospheric (light and shadow, effective sound design, pop-up creepiness) eventually just becomes “stuff” that you need to get through before you kill some more clones who swear a lot. This is pretty much another example of how a shorter more focussed campaign would have resulted in a better game. The “horror” aspect of it also feels detached from the shooter experience, making the overall game feel a little disjointed as you go into another “horror” sequence where you know you pretty much just have to wait 3 minutes with little control, or move slowly through the blurry screen and simply avoid standing in fire before getting back to the actual game.

The Howwor, the Howwor!

The story (such as it is) is alright, but very simple. The game over-uses the meme of “audio logs” by leaving phones all over the place with answering machine messages, which range from the banal to the stupidly unrealistic, where the evil criminal masterminds leave in-depth messages to one another on answering machines in unattended offices.

There are a few different weapons, though you can only carry 3 at a time, so you’ll have to make a selection of your favourites. The selection is the usual fare – pistol, pump-shotgun, assault rifle (with no scope), scoped rifle (with 3-round bursts), rocket launcher. There’s also a kind of scoped electric railgun and an autocannon thing. All are fictitious weapons, so for those of you who appreciate using real-world weapons, no luck here, I’m afraid. The weapon models look a little weedy when carried, and lack a real punch when you fire them, but they do their job. More annoying is that while right-clicking is the “aim” toggle, it just zooms you in slightly – no aiming down the (iron) sights.

As an older shooter, it features mechanics from the older age of PC-shooters. While you do get a separate button for throwing grenades, you have a limited health bar, and also an armour bar. You can carry up to 10 health packs, which you chug down with the press of a button. Since the game uses this older mechanic (as opposed to the current trend of regenerating health) I found myself doing what I always used to do, which is backtracking constantly to pick up health kits I left behind earlier.

The game’s point of definition from other games is that the protagonist, aka “Pointman” can enter “bullet-time” (or “reflex time” as FEAR calls it) with the click of your middle mouse button. This slows down time so you can get the drop on the bad guys, etc. It’s pretty similar to what we had in Max Payne and every other “bullet-time” game out there, and as in the other games, it can be a bit of decent fun. Pickups scattered around the levels can increase the size of your health bar and also the amount of “bullet-time” you get to use before needing to step around the corner afk for a minute to recharge. You also have a flashlight that can only be on for about 90 seconds at a time, then takes 10 seconds to recharge. Exactly like a real flashlight, then.

Bulle-.. I mean Reflex Time!

In the end though, despite the horror trappings, FEAR is a shooter. Playing it on the PC, there are no major issues mechanically, but it’s pretty unremarkable, aside from “bullet-time”. FEAR is one of those games that I think was great for it’s time, but it’s time has now passed, and it’s just not anything special anymore. Having played this now, the main feeling I have is that I wish I played it 4 years or so ago, when I may have first gotten a PC that could run it properly.

If it were about 8 hours shorter and more focused, I’d advise it as Steam sale fodder. Ultimately, unless you’re a big fan of FEAR 2 (or eventually, 3) and want to see where the franchise started, I can’t really recommend it.

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Verdict: Skip it.