F.E.A.R. Extraction Point Exclusive Hands-On

F.E.AR. was one of the best shooters of 2005 thanks to fantastic gameplay, and we got our hands on the upcoming expansion to see if the action holds up.

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When F.E.A.R. was released last year, it elevated the intensity of first-person shooters. Firing a gun in F.E.A.R. was an incredibly satisfying experience, thanks to the way the environment reacted to bullets. Thick clouds of dust and smoke clogged the air, bullets left gouges in walls and furniture, and your opponents were riddled with lead. Well, F.E.A.R. will return soon in the form of F.E.A.R. Extraction Point, an expansion to last year's game that continues the storyline about cloned soldiers, paranormal activity, and the military's First Encounter Assault Recon team. We couldn't wait, though, so we got our hands on a work-in-progress version of the expansion to dive right back into some of the best firefights seen on the PC. We'll give you fair warning that we'll discuss plot elements in this preview, so if you want your Extraction Point experience unspoiled, it's best to stop reading now.

Extraction Point picks up just where the original game left off. Your character (the F.E.A.R. team's "point man") is caught in the nuclear blast that destroys the Origin facility where Alma, the powerful psychic little girl, has been unleashed. Somehow, you survive the blast and are picked up by a Black Hawk helicopter, but as you and your comrades stare out at the mushroom cloud in the distance, Alma suddenly appears over the side of the helicopter. Fade to black, and you wake up around the crashed Black Hawk, which has come down into the side of an apartment building in the now-abandoned city of Auburn. Jin Sun-Kwon and Douglas Holiday, your F.E.A.R. teammates, are alive but separated from you, and you must figure out a way to link up with them again.

The intense action of F.E.A.R. will return in Extraction Point, which picks up moments after the shocking ending.
The intense action of F.E.A.R. will return in Extraction Point, which picks up moments after the shocking ending.

The expansion wastes little time building up the tension of the first game. Just as you emerge from the apartment building (which is full of all sorts of scripted moments that will make you jump, like a gas line suddenly exploding), you'll encounter the cloned replica soldiers you battled throughout the core game. However, before you get all crazy with your sidearm, you'll realize that something is strange. These guys aren't moving, they're just standing still. With the death of Paxton Fettle, their commander and psychic puppet master, there is no one to control them. Of course, this won't last. As you enter an abandoned church, you get a vision of Fettle and his soldiers inside. Fettle mutters something cryptic about how he didn't stay dead, and suddenly the replica soldiers are alive and animated and shooting at you.

This opening firefight is fairly big, as you're suddenly faced with five or six replica soldiers armed with submachine guns while you've got a regular pistol. Thankfully, the inside of the church is great for a firefight, as the large sanctuary offers plenty of room to maneuver, and the pews can make for good cover. Meanwhile, you can quickly upgrade your arsenal by taking out a bad guy and picking up his weapon. Yeah, now you've got a machine gun, too. The combat hasn't changed all that much since last year, but it's still as intense as ever. Of course, as soon as you dispatch the bad guys, you're reminded once again that freaky things are going on, as suddenly the floor rips apart and chunks of it fly up toward the ceiling--not from an explosion, but by some kind of paranormal force. That's probably Alma again, the terrifying little girl with off-the-chart psychic powers who dogged you throughout F.E.A.R. Like in the original game, you'll encounter strange visions where Alma suddenly appears, though this time something's different about her. She seems to shift between her little-girl form and the older version who was locked up in stasis at the Origin facility. And, even weirder, her voice whispers in your mind, and she sounds like she needs your help.

Paxton Fettle is back? Why won't he die already?
Paxton Fettle is back? Why won't he die already?

While the opening levels take place in new environments, such as the catacombs beneath the church and in the sleek modern office spaces of some of the church buildings, you will once again find yourself battling in deserted locations, a familiar feeling from having blitzed through empty corporate towers and industrial facilities in F.E.A.R. Indeed, it doesn't take too long before you'll find yourself in warehouse areas, so hopefully developer TimeGate Studios, which is handling the work on the expansion, has a few new places up its sleeve for us to see later in the game.

For the most part, your opponents will likely be familiar, though the good news is that while you'll mostly battle the replica soldiers throughout the opening levels, you will encounter some different foes. Fettle has a habit of doing what Alma did to you in the original game, as his ghostly visage is always turning up when you least expect it, or you catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of your eye. Those ghostly apparitions that attacked you near the end of F.E.A.R. also return, though you can disperse them with a few rounds out of your weapon. But even more interesting (and potentially challenging) is some strange new foe that you encounter but don't fight at first. Instead, you watch as this almost invisible foe (all you really see are glowing red eyes) takes out replica soldiers like a flamethrower melting butter.

The excellent artificial intelligence that made the replica soldiers some of the best opponents ever to grace a first-person shooter is back, and they seem better than ever. Or maybe we're a bit rusty, because these guys handed it to us on several occasions. What makes the AI so good is that it's never content to just stand there and shoot at you. Soldiers are constantly on the move, trying to figure out how to hit you from the flank or the rear. The environment in some of the larger firefights really accommodates this, as the AI is smart enough to know which path to use to maneuver around you. If you're shooting at one guy and then suddenly shift your fire to another that suddenly appears, the guy you were originally shooting at will most likely displace to a better position while you're not looking.

Your hyperfast reflexes are still around, so you can slow down time and blast the heck out of bad guys.
Your hyperfast reflexes are still around, so you can slow down time and blast the heck out of bad guys.

Taking these guys out will have you relying mainly on your shooting skills. The arsenal that you played with in F.E.A.R. remains relatively intact. There's the pistol (which can be used in tandem with another pistol), submachine gun, assault rifle, shotgun, and more. You don't get to carry every weapon simultaneously, and you can only carry three at a time, so it's good to choose a shotgun or submachine gun for close-quarters combat along with a rifle for longer engagements. Your enhanced reflexes are still as sharp as ever, and you can engage F.E.A.R.'s version of bullet time for short bursts, which lets you take out multiple opponents in what's basically slow motion. And your martial arts skills are still intact, so it's as much fun as ever to bicycle-kick an opponent to death, or slam the butt of your weapon in his face.

Extraction Point will mainly be a single-player affair, as Monolith and Sierra have already divorced F.E.A.R.'s multiplayer component from the core game and made it available for free on the Internet under the name F.E.A.R. Combat. Still, this feels like a promising expansion. Yes, Extraction Point seems to be sticking with the safe path and giving us more of the same thing, but that's fine with us. Playing Extraction Point reminded us just how good the combat in F.E.A.R. is, and the gunplay holds up remarkably well a year later. Besides, it's the story that's almost more intriguing at this point. What's the deal with Alma? Why is Fettle back? What's going on? We'll hopefully find all of this out when the expansion ships later this year.

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