Cold Fear
By: Tristan Jones on December 12, 2005  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Platform: PS2
Also available on: PC, XBox
Publisher: Ubisoft
Players: 1
Year: 2005
OFLC Rating: MA15+
You know how they tell you never to judge a book by its cover? It's a good little phrase that one, I bet whoever came up with it was right proud of themselves. Problem is books (and most other things that little metaphor applies to) are considerably different to video games. Actually, you should probably turf that whole idea when looking at video games, because it's usually a fifty-fifty split. Cold Fear was one of those games I looked at a number of times before playing, and in spite of a pretty standard cover, I kept thinking "No, I'll reserve judgement on this one." In retrospect, that cover was screaming at me rather loudly exactly what it was…

If you want a general outline of the plot, check out my review of Resident Evil, add a dash of the numerous alien parasite games about and set it all on a Russian frigate.

You play as Coast Guard Officer Tom Hansen who's found himself aboard a ship full of murderously paranoid Russian soldiers and parasitic nasties called Exocels that have effectively wiped off the rest of your team. It's basically up to you to find out how all this happened in the first place and stop it from reaching the rest of the world. Standard Resident Evil shenanigans follow.

Now, back to what I was saying earlier. When I looked at the cover for this one, a couple of things immediately came to mind. The first was the boat setting, which I thought was an interesting premise, one that I hadn't really come across before. The second was that it all looked very similar to what had been before it, and there was nothing that was really setting it apart from the other titles on the shelf. So there was that initial grab, but the rest left me disinterested. It all looked very familiar, but not as enticing as other genre classics it was striving to sit with. And that was exactly what it was like.

The initial stages of the game see you exploring the upper decks of the Russian vessel in the midst of an oceanic maelstrom. Heavy winds and torrents of rain lash the boat and massive waves slam it from side to side in a visually and technically impressive opener. You have to be careful running around as your resistance to the motions of the boat and strong winds wanes the more you run and huge waves slam onto the deck and must be avoided lest you wish to see Tom overboard. After getting used to the controls around here, you must venture into the lower decks, and here the thrust of the game begins, as does it's dive into the very much charted waters of clichéd genre conventions. Things begin normal enough and progressively escalate into another zombie-cum-space-mutant tale of genetic engineering gone wrong (as though anyone was expecting otherwise).

The thing about these games is that they're fairly flexible with the audiences. You may be like me and getting a little bored of it all, you may be indifferent, or you may be a fan of these sorts of games and really dig it, so if you can get into the story then it's probably not going to bother you as much as it did me. What really lets this one down in my mind is the way it plays. As I said, at first it looked great, but it becomes shallow fast. The similarities to the Resident Evil games are all too obvious. Even the switching from third person to the over the shoulder combat perspective, it's like jumping from the conventions of one RE game to the latest. Resident Evil 4 changed the camera angle because the old ones were become old hat and stagnant. What makes any other title think that it can do it better (other than Silent Hill) than the series that not only truly revolutionised the cinematic camera angles, but also did away with them because they realised that it was getting old?

The game looks and plays as though it really wasn't polished before its release. There area a number of graphical and gameplay bugs that really shouldn't occur in games nowadays. A number of times various textures would disappear from characters, leaving solid chunks of black in place of a rendered face. I haven't seen that happen since the early days of the PC's 3Dfx cards. Gore anomalies also occurred, having just thought I'd painted the walls with Russian brain, I discover that there seems to some sort of non-physical glass wall holding the blood spray in the air (On the side, it's kinda funny, Russians must have extreme allergic reactions to bullets, as just about everyone I shot at ended up with his head exploding). Killing zombies in certain areas also becomes a problem, as you may down them without hassle, but moving in for the death blow becomes impossible as the head you intend to crush has become one with the walls or somehow obscured by the elevation of the ground. Once you get inside the ship, it all becomes a bit ordinary to look at, and rooms and corridors become confusingly similar

The controls were also a big detractor for me. I'm not sure how they worked these ones out. It feels like Resident Evil, but they seem to have changed the buttons around just to make it a bit different. As such, buttons that are universally action trigger buttons in this particular genre have been moved to another button, as have various other ones. It makes the controls feel awkward and unnatural. Kind of like when Nintendo games change the jump button from A over to B. It's always been A and always felt right as A, so hitting B to jump feels awkward. It's the same principle here. The controls also feel very sluggish, as though there's no instantaneous response between pressing forwards and the character actually moving forwards, and because of this, turning around and avoiding harm, particularly in shoot out situations, becomes frustrating.

You can always rely on sound to be the best thing in any game under the horror genre. Here, Cold Fear excels, the only real downside being the protagonists desire to sound harder than Solid Snake and Wolverine combined. The Russian vocals all sound pretty authentic and ambient sound is fairly unique to the game with only a couple of standard sound effects being recognisable from other games. The score, while not exactly as memorable as that found in the other genre heavies, flows seamlessly, reacting appropriately to particular situational events such as approaching entrances to unexplored areas, entering corridor shoot outs with Russians and discovering evidence of foul play aboard the ship. Marilyn Manson fans will (possibly) dig the fact that there's a new song included in the game.

I'll say it one more time, the cover told me everything I was in for the first time I looked at it. My suggestion with this one is that you go down to your video store and take a look, if you like what you see on the cover, then you'll probably dig the game the whole way through (and at a RRP of about $25-30, it's not going to destroy your funds). If you think it looks fairly standard, it's still probably worth the rent just to give it a try. It's one of those ones where, if you're not fussy about the horror movies you watch, you'll probably get a few kicks from it, but honestly, when steps are being made in so many directions regarding effective horror gaming, games like Cold Fear feel old and tired.
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