F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate
A lot of people still don't fully understand why there is no Gore in the Whitehouse. I can now say that putting aside all theories of dangling chads, Supreme Court malfeasance, and shady recount strategies, the real reason is that all of the available gore in the world is apparently packed into Sierra/Timegate's new "stand-alone expansion pack" for their F.E.A.R. series, along with a more than adequate helping of spilled blood. I don't consider myself particularly squeamish, but the things I've seen over the last few evenings of playing this game have, not to put too fine of a line on it, pretty much turned me off of the idea of pursuing a career as a futuristic mercenary commando. Truth be told, the probability of the wife agreeing to such a mid-life career change as that was vanishingly thin in the first place, but now it's completely off the table.
The full name of the game that has forever closed that career path to me is F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate. It's called a "stand-alone expansion pack" for the principle reason that it doesn't need any previous installations of a F.E.A.R. title to be present on your machine, which naturally begs the question as to why it is referred to as any kind of expansion pack at all. In other words, why isn't it just considered a sequel to the original F.E.A.R. game? I can only guess at the answer to that, but my guess would be that it is because it uses the same two year old game engine as the original title, and the expectation in the gaming world is that a "new" title will be built on an improved engine. Fair enough, and in my case, actually beneficial. My PC is now getting to be three or four years old, which is somewhere around 75 to 80 years old in people time. Exhibiting the classic traits of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and resistance to change, the old box simply cannot keep up with the newer titles hitting the shelves these days.
You've probably inferred from the above that I never played any preceding F.E.A.R. game(s), and you're right. I remember seeing the title a few years ago, but I'm not very good at fast-paced FPS games (or in this case, FPE for "First Person Eviscerator") like Halo and the like, so I never gave it a look. This admittedly could be considered a detriment to reviewing what amounts to a sequel, but I contend that someone that never saw the first Shrek could still credibly and accurately state that the third in the series is a completely terrible movie. If you disagree (not about Shrek, mind you, but about whether or note I can possibly have anything pertinent to share about Perseus Mandate), look up in the upper right corner of this window for a red box with a white X in it. Click on it.
If you're still reading, you're probably like me when it comes to these things. You realize that I won't be able to tell you how the story in Perseus Mandate compares with the story in the earlier game, and you don't care because for us, when it comes to FPS (or FPE) games, the story doesn't matter. The stories, such as they are, are only there to fill the time between when you get to shoot at (and hopefully eviscerate) enemy bipeds and the time you spend looking for them. There is a story in PM (which from here on out will be my short-hand for the game's name since I'm so very tired of typing the word 'Perseus'), but it doesn't differ very much from all of the others. It's the future, and someone was fooling around with biological stuff (or DNA - the net result is the same) and created some nasty, non-human targets. As we all know, the targets have to be non-human, or at a minimum no longer completely human, so as to avoid the trap that games like Manhunt fall into when the kind of people that still cluck over the cruelty of Uncle Scar tossing Mufasa over a cliff get all high and mighty about "what our kids are playing." So, as is nearly always the case, an evil corporation that had untold dollars on tap (and apparently no Board of Directors to please) to spend on evil research ignored all of the applicable OSHA regulations and accidentally created a mutant army. Having the same ethical make up as a typical congressional legislator, they then scampered away and left a horrific mess behind. No problem, though, since guys that have the heuvos to stand up to their wives and pursue their dream job of futuristic mercenary commando are ready and willing to clean up the mess for them.
So, here we are, finally to the meat of the review. And I do mean "meat." The mutant army in F.E.A.R. is nothing if not juicy. Well, juicy and clever. Ok, juicy, clever, and fast. D'oh! I'll try again. Amongst their weaponry, they have such diverse elements as juiciness, cleverness, speed, and in some cases, near invisibility. In fact, as the game progresses there is a notably increasing dichotomy between two types of enemy strength: on the not-very-fast-but-very-hard-to-kill side, they become increasingly armored and resistant to weapons. On the very-fast-and-nimble-and-really-hard-to-see side, they become nearly invisible and very, very fast. Somewhere in the middle are the really spooky ones that never failed to catch me by surprise - I jumped in my chair every time I ran (fell, actually) into one of these guys, but they weren't particularly dangerous. I don't want to spoil it for you - suffice it to say that you'll know them when you see them.
Fortunately for you (and your employer's health plan), the weapons you find (and yes, it does make me question the commitment my employers in the game have to my personal safety when I have to find appropriate weapons lying around, rather than being provided with them from the get-go. And don't get me started on that damn flashlight that stops working every time I need it the most, and only has a battery life of 30 seconds when it does work) also get stronger and more efficient as you progress through the levels. Various mutant-killing technologies are present, ranging from the standard gunpowder-based pistols, machine guns, and shot guns all the way through much more sophisticated weapons that use nifty things like plasma, electricity, and (my favorite) what appear to be railroad spikes. There's just something about spiking a bad guy to a wall that appeals to me.
Even with these superb weapons, though, you'd be completely at the mercy of some of the more capable enemies if it wasn't for your incredible (albeit for only brief periods) reflexes. These reflexes conveniently manifest themselves at the press of a button, and slow events to an absolute crawl. This enables you to dodge bullets/grenades/missiles, and also allow you to make every one of your shots count. Which is to say, the super reflexes slow things down enough to drastically increase your ability to make head shots. With some of these guys (oops, "mutated victims of corporate greed," not "guys"), the head shot is the only way to go. Possibly unintentionally, an additional side benefit of slowing things down on the screen is for people like me with less than optimal machines: it reduces the chance of death-by-cruddy-framerate. Which reminds me: thanks, guys, for taunting me with Alienware product placement. Bastards.The surroundings for your battles range from open courtyards to railroad yards to hallways to office spaces, but for the most part they seem to share one trait: they're dark. And, as I mentioned briefly and parenthetically above, your flashlight sucks. Cheap employer must have thought I'd be able to find a better one lying around somewhere. I didn't. That said, navigating through the game is pretty straightforward, using what I like to call WDWO(tm) (Whatever Door Will Open) navigation, which ensures that you won't waste a lot of time that could be better spent in shooting at (and/or being shot by) mutant bipeds in trying to figure out where you are, where you've been, and where you need to be, or every now and then, all three at the same time. This is a matter of taste, I suppose. Some people probably prefer a little more challenge in finding their way through the maze.
The game engine allows for interaction with items in the virtual world, but with no real application in the game. You can shoot the top off of a compressed gas container, for example, and watch it torpedo around the room until it explodes, but that's purely recreational and doesn't do anything to help you achieve your goals. If you've played Half-Life 2 (and who hasn't), you'll understand what I mean. In HL2 you actually have to use the interaction with objects to enable progress through the map. In PM, it's just eye candy. That said, I did find it somewhat ironic that I could absorb multiple shots from high powered weapons, but plinking the fire extinguisher next to me with a pistol caused a fatal explosion. I didn't do that anymore, as you can imagine. I shot the rats instead. What an immensely gratifying mist of blood... but I digress.
The environments, both visual and auditory, were nice and spooky. I get twitchy when I play these games, and PM was no different. The sounds of the weapon fire and the deep resonating booms of explosions, coupled with appropriate screen shake, added to the tension. Some of the really spooky special effects that supported the storyline (presumably, anyway, given that I didn't really pay attention to it) were really neat. In fact, I commented on the Gaming Nexus blog that I hadn't had a trip like that since the year my mother-in-law decided to supplement the carbon-neutral free-range solar-powered turkey that she buys at Wild Oats with some mushrooms she found growing in the back yard. Perspective changes, blurry vision, and inexplicable location jumps added to the ambiance and excitement. The only part of the overall package that I could have done without was the language. Grenades are one thing - my kid (who is just vindictive enough to enjoy watching Daddy get blown up over and over and over...) is used to that kind of stuff. The rampant F-bombs, on the other hand, well... that gets old. Yes, there's a Mature 17+ label right on the box, so it's not like I wasn't warned. It's just that it doesn't add much to the game, in my opinion, and really isn't necessary. I know, Uncle Scar, Mufasa, and all that. I just thought I'd mention it just so you're aware.
From the viewpoint of a player that has not played any of the previous F.E.A.R. games, I found PM to be enjoyable. It's probably the darkest and most violent FPS (FPE) game that I've played, and the battles the with evil, non-sympathetic (non-boycottable) characters were intense. From the point-of-view of someone that has played the previous F.E.A.R. games or others of the same genre, however, I suspect PM would be warm beer. As near as I could tell, there wasn't anything truly innovative about it, which I suspect is the primary reason it was tagged with the "stand-alone expansion pack" descriptor.
Perseus Mandate will probably feel pretty familiar to anyone that has played previous iterations in the series, but is a worthy title for someone new to the scene.
Rating: 7.1 Average
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.