Never can there have been so much fear surrounding an expansion pack and I haven't even seen it running yet. Ushered into a darkened San Francisco hotel room with a PC set up in one corner, I'm ordered to turn over all recording instruments (I don't have my guitar with me so I have to hand over my dictaphone instead), lest I gather too much information during this early demonstration of F.E.A.R.'s first expansion pack, Extraction Point.
Armed with just a pen, a pad, my eyeballs and my wits, I sit down by the PC breathless with anticipation, hoping to see more of the searing action that made the original such a phenomenal experience. This time, thankfully, I'm not to be denied.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Extraction Point is set in the immediate aftermath of F.E.A.R.'s shocking climax. Your chopper crashes to the ground. Your eyelids flick open. You're completely alone. So begins the next chapter of one of the most terrifying shooters ever made. This time, however, it's not that master of the macabre Monolith which is heading up the project, but rather a little-known, yet highly proficient development team called TimeGate Studios - developer of Axis & Allies and the Kohan games. And from the looks of it, it's picked up right where Monolith left off.
Extraction Point's premise is simple. In F.E.A.R. you were the hunter. This time, the roles are reversed. And while no-one will confirm my suspicions, it doesn't take a genius to work out that getting to an extraction point before your brains are slurped out of your skull will play some kind of role in the proceedings. After all, it's a tried and tested formula and, if executed properly, practically guarantees hours of tense, adrenalin-sapping gameplay.
Rather than simply replicating the fear factor of the original, it seems that TimeGate has set itself a far loftier goal in expanding this already rich franchise. As well as shifting the balance of power even further to the dark side, the team is also embarking on a mission to make your surroundings far more interactive. The key component here is physics, and during a brief demonstration of a firefight in a typically low-lit office, I'm more than a little impressed with what I see.
Armed with a mammoth chain-gun - an all-new weapon - I watch as my guide battles it out with a giant mechanical walker that spits out rockets. If you thought the level of destruction you could wreak in the original was impressive, then you're in for a treat here. Glass, concrete, wood, paint and office equipment are pulverised by missiles and barrages from the chain-gun, while hanging signs and lights are shot off the roof and come tumbling down on the mechanised walker, causing it to stagger under the weight of the makeshift projectiles.
Although it's far too early to make direct comparisons to Half-Life 2's physics-filled levels, there's just about enough on show here to make me believe that Extraction Point could be a contender if it maintains this level of detail throughout.
THE SCENT OF BLOOD
Next, my guide takes me into a room caked in blood and strewn with office equipment. Suddenly, two red eyes pierce the gloom, signifying the arrival of a brand new enemy called a Shadow Creature, a foe that's practically invisible to the naked eye.
However, in a cunning twist (and, I suspect, the reason behind its moniker), this new foe can only be tracked by its shadow, which dances around the walls, betraying its true self's whereabouts. After a brutal firefight and with further proof of the game's enhanced physics system - said strewn office equipment quickly becomes pieces of strewn office equipment - the Shadow Creature is no more and the demonstration comes to a close.