Without giving the whole game away about Cold Fear, right from the start you can tell it's going to be a pretty intense game. The story opens with a special operations team sent to board and investigate a stricken Russian whaling ship, there's no real rhyme or reason as to why they are there but one by one the team is wiped out until there's only one more unit left in range.
The USS Ravenswood, a small Coast Guard fast response vessel that happens to be in the vicinity. On board Tom Hansen part of the Coast Guard and a man that really doesn't want to be out there in the gale force winds, rising waves and threatening lightning.
So the stage is set for Tom's team to board the ship and during the first few moments of the game there's no punches pulled as to what's going on, something has gone horribly wrong and you are left to fend for yourself and find out. Gameplay
Cold Fear plays very much like other survival horror games, such as Resident Evil and draws heavily on the genre for inspiration. The controls are pretty responsive and Tom has a variety of actions he can do, but this really is more of an action game than about solving puzzles ala Resident Evil.
So most of Tom's actions involve being able to move about freely, switch to an over-the-shoulder camera view for accurate aiming of his firearms and beat back the hordes of dangerous creatures with the butt of his rifle.
What sets Cold Fear apart from all the other games of its kind is the actual setting, the deck and interior of the damaged storm-battered Russian whaler becomes as much of a danger as the eventual forces arrayed against Tom. Cold Fear brings to life the ship and storm by using a gut-churning physics engine that often leaves certain players feeling sea sick, especially those watching the game from the sidelines.There's nothing quite like trying to aim your gun when the deck of the ship lurches from side to side and pitches about, as cold water comes crashing in over the railings and lighting cuts the clouds above you. Tom lurches about like a drunken rampaging ferret and if you're involved in a vicious fire fight, you can miss several times thanks to that particular mechanic - it's great.
Tom can steady himself on hand-rails and certain objects by pressing Y and you're given a better aim at that point, allowing for much more accuracy. Later on this becomes a true life saver when you feel the ship tip and Tom nearly sails over the side. You should become proficient in knowing when as there is usually a loud crash or clunk as the vessel is pitched about like mad.You have to watch out for flying debris, ropes, wires and cargo boxes as you traverse the whaler in search of what's going on. The whole game starts as a tiny stone rolling down a hill and quickly you're thrown into a massive avalanche as things start getting nastier and so much more dangerous.
At times you're in a battle with zombie types, Russian guards who are panicked and think you're a threat, all the time waves are coming in over the ship and the whole thing is rocking from side to side sending everyone flying.
A quick word about zombies in this game, while I don't want to spoil the story and tell you what they are - this is a cautionary word of advice - SHOOT for the HEAD! Most non-human enemies in Cold Fear will keep on getting up unless you can take their heads off. If they fall over you can run to them and hit the B button and Tom will do a little head-stompy action on their skull...you have to be quick however or they'll be back up and raring to go for another round.
If they get too close and you're in aim mode (L trigger) hit the B button and Tom will lash out with the butt of his weapon, smacking them back and allowing for another shot.
The creatures will sometimes try and get 'the drop' on you or grapple you, if this happens you'll have to hit B repeatedly to break loose (time it right and a R trigger icon will appear, hit that and you'll perform a critical hit doing insane damage to the monster in question - in the case of most zombie types Tom will hit them with a headshot).
The game itself is very much of the type: go here, find this information, do this little task and keep yourself alive. There are locked doors and simple puzzles to solve along the way; this is usually tracking down a door code or a key card. As the story unfolds you'll face tougher challenges and even more deadly enemies.
The developers have excelled in bringing to life the stricken whaler and other areas of this game. The textures for the ship itself are suitably grimy and grungy with spots of rust and the further on you explore there are pools of blood and other such delights waiting for you.
The whole thing is really well put together in terms of palette and look, the atmospheric backdrops and texturing reveal a grisly series of events as Tom continues his journey looking for answers and trying to get off the ship.
The gore in the game is pretty intense in places and with exploding heads and blood covering the camera from various things, such as Tom being hacked by zombies or blowing their heads off close range, the developers have excelled in this area and delivered a visceral experience indeed.
The zombies are suitably disgusting and their victims are also well textured and designed, the whole horrific nature of the game is brought to life with subtle changes in the textured environments and the creatures themselves...evolving their look the further into the game you are.
Cold Fear is also brimming with real time shadows, lighting effects galore and thankfully several of the weapons have tac-lights built in so you're never truly in the dark. The developers have built upon scare tactics employed by movie makers using the same tricks, such as sudden blow-outs of lights and attacks when you're not expecting a single thing.Another nice touch is that as the storm rages on or you're suddenly sprayed by water via sprinklers, or some other source - water rains down the game camera and drips away - a little gimmick that I first saw in Metal Gear Solid 2 but it still amuses me to see it reproduced here and to excellent effect.
To tie in with the horrific graphics the developers have created a suitably gruesome cast of dead bodies, zombies and other creatures with some truly exceptional monster designs that I can't go into because it truly would spoil the surprise.
Tom and the Russian soldiers are modelled to a good degree, there's nothing I can say truly stands out but there's nothing that detracts either from the main character. He looks the part and acts like a hero, that's good enough for me.
The level of animation in Cold Fear is perfectly suited to the game, while it doesn't push the boundaries with the animation side of the game it certainly doesn't skimp on believable actions; Tom slides around in the storm and flails when a giant wave sends the ship pitching one way or the other.
The zombies attacks and poses are very well created, they are some of the best undead I have seen in a survival horror game yet. Not only are they flesh crazed, blood thirsty psychopaths but they're also fast with it, they have an almost rudimentary intelligence and as the story unfolds you'll learn why (as long as you pick up notes and make sure you read everything).
There are other things and other animations, trust me they're all good but they're worth discovering for yourself. One last word however, the critical hits aren't as imaginative as I would have expected, they don't detract from the overall but they are often just Tom blowing something's head off (as long as he has ammo for the weapon at hand).
The game is split over two core areas, the whaler and another location which will become evident as the game progresses. The attention to detail on both of these locations is great and they have been brought to life with some careful attention to detail along with a flair for design, top marks in this respect and I can't say any fairer than that.
The whaler is suitably claustrophobic in places and run down and damaged with broken scenery and burning barrels (some barrels can be shot and explode) littering all over it. Several of the doors are broken and can't be opened no matter what you do. Some areas as not important to the main plot but will contain information, weapons and ammunition so it's worth exploring everywhere.
From every pipe to broken valve Cold Fear screams aesthetics and competent design mechanics. There's even Russian lettering on the various doors and walls, if you point Tom towards them he can read what they say - useful since there's no map in Cold Fear (only the one in the manual).Physics
Cold Fear has nice rag doll effects and the ship's rocking physics are the best I have ever seen (the only game so far with them in, so that's not hard Ed.) Explosions send creatures flying around like confetti and every hit causes you and them to react in a realistic way.
There's something quite satisfying about unloading a shotgun into the gut of a zombie and watching them flip over, landing with a crunch, giving you that time you need to stomp off their head.
Environmental hazards such as loose guy ropes and swinging crates can be as much of a danger for your enemies as you; if you time your movements correctly you can often use these as traps to knock down foes and then finish them off without using ammunition.
Russian guards take cover and lay down suppressive fire, they're panicked and dangerous and this is modelled very well with the AI. The creature AI varies between the different beings you encounter, the zombies are often prone to wandering around until they catch sight of fresh meat - then they'll either roar on the spot and try and taunt you or they'll charge in hacking and slashing with any implement at hand.
Some of them come armed with a rifle which indicates at least a rudimental intelligence operating them, which means there's something else going on Tom needs to uncover.
Tom Salta (the composer from the Volvo S40 advert) has whipped together a suitably chilling score for the game, which tends to react to the action and offers slight hints when things are going to get really nasty. It's a nice choral style horror soundtrack that blends in well with the game.
It's certainly not the star of the show but the voice actors do a reasonable job and Tom's actor makes good use of his lines, there could have been some better performances from the supporting cast but again it's done well enough, especially compared to the original Resident Evil which for me was one of the true charms of the game.
"Take this Jill, it's a lock pick, you better have it since you're the master of unlocking things."(Ed.)
Cold Fear is a short game and the ending really lets it down, the story doesn't explain certain things and it's as if the developers actually forgot a certain plot point there. There are some features to unlock but they're concept art and basically decent but nothing to scream and shout about, compared to say unlocking new characters and costumes.
There is an Extreme Mode to unlock but I haven't managed to do that yet considering I decided to buy Cold Fear the other day and review it myself, because I love survival horror games.
There's a fair bit of backtracking as well which will see you revisit the same old areas again, this is an artificial way to extend the life of the game and a bit of a cheat in my opinion, thankfully however there are a few new areas later on which keep things kind of fresh.
There are only a few weapons in the game and they are not really that inventive, so this is another downside, but not a major game breaker or one that will wholly detract from my score for it.Brr that be cold!
Well that about wraps it up, Cold Fear is a good entry into the survival horror genre at the right time. It brings a brand new gameplay element that makes it well worth getting, dealing with a constantly changing and dangerous weather-battered environment is a hazard that will test the skill of many players, but as long as you develop a tactic and don't go blindly rushing into combat thinking Tom is playing in a version of a zombie-infested Die Hard, you'll be fine.