Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Swordfish Studios
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Release Date: April 19, 2005
When I saw Cold Winter’s main character, Andrew Sterling, being tortured in a Chinese prison interrogation room, face bloodied, fingers being intentionally snapped in two by a sadistic officer, I raised an eyebrow and cringed.
When I saw that Andrew’s primary way of staying alive was to inject himself with a needle over and over again an infinite number of times, at will, I was mildly disturbed.
When I then found out that it was possible to blow off every single limb, and then the head, of an enemy soldier with an AK-47, reducing their bodies to naught but bloody stumps, I finally had to step back for a bit.
Others may have to as well. Odds are they’ll keep coming back, though, just like I did.
Cold Winter has a story to tell—a dark, gritty story—and pulls no punches going about it. It cares not whose stomachs it turns, so long as it does its job, and does it well—which it does.
You know all of those movies where the super-special secret agent spy effortlessly infiltrates the enemy base, blows up what he needs to, stops the bad guys, escapes, and gets the girl, all not necessarily in that order?
That didn’t happen here. Andrew Sterling got caught, and got put through hell. He suffered the consequences—the bad part of this sort of work that most people aren’t told about. He was supposed to die; but got saved at the last second by people he hadn’t seen in ages, and asked to work for them.
Oddly enough, this seemingly interwoven tale of espionage, intrigue, conspiracy and just plain bad luck seems to be all covering for running around most of the game’s levels and killing a bunch of people with high-powered weapons.
Well, hey, there are worse things to be doing in videogames these days.
It’s easy to see that Cold Winter’s cut from the mold of Halo, however, there are a good number of gimmicks that set it apart. Whether or not they graduate from “gimmicks” to “features” in the final product remain to be seen, but all of them are quite promising at the moment. For starters, instead of messing with health packs or shields (though there is collectable body armor), you inject yourself with medicine via a needle that never exhausts its supply. It adds a level of strategy in that one can find cover and replenish one’s life force on one’s own time instead of waiting a predetermined amount of time for, say, a shield to regenerate.
Another big thing to watch out for when this game hits is object manipulation. Whereas most games simply allow you to take cover behind stationary objects, or to use strategically placed stationary objects to your advantage, Cold Winter allows the player to manipulate objects, and make their own cover, among other things. When Andrew approaches an object, a small menu will appear in the upper left-hand corner, giving him such options as “tip over”, “drop”, “create cover”, “toss” etc. The player uses the D-Pad to select their action from that point. Various objects, like tables and beds, can be used as shields, dragged, or even thrown at the enemy for damage or distraction purposes. This, coupled with the ducking feature, can allow Andrew to save his own bacon even in the middle of a firefight instead of having to run away blindly or resort to stealth every time his health gets low.
Finally, this game has a bit more of an adventurer’s angle to it than most first-person shooters. When enemies are slain, they can be searched for items, like keys, body armor, ammo, and such. Items can also be found that, while useless by themselves, can be combined to create key items such as lockpicks. Finally, parts of even the walls and other surroundings are searchable, which is sometimes necessary to pick up key items. Opening a refrigerator may reveal edible food, for example. There are multiple objectives to be fulfilled in each mission, with the optional ones invariably supplying Andrew with welcome goods and information, as well as a higher rank.
One more highlight of this game is its multiplayer mode, which is based on maps from the single player campaign, and — thank goodness — actually includes bots to test your skills with in preparation for the eight-player online capabilities. Through an easy to use menu, you can either select several pre-set types of modes, but you can as easily create your own by changing a few parameters. You want a Quake type Rocket Arena? Done. You're more intro a Counter-Strike type action? So be it! It’s also a way to get to know the game’s more potent weapons (and there are a lot of them; the game isn’t broken up into “types of guns” so much as it is “types of types of guns”) before the game proper allows you to test them out. You find a bottle of alcohol, you find a rag, mix and match, you have a molotov cocktail.
Poison gas is very fun indeed.
The graphics are powered by Renderware, and it’s actually one of the better looking titles using that engine. While things look otherwise average and have a consistent polygon count (it is a middleware engine, after all), the game looks surprisingly clean and crisp, and nothing looks out of place. It’s also an impressive feat for a game that contains so much debris and random objects placed with a purpose around the maps. While the soundtrack is serviceable and fits the game, the speech is one to watch out for. It’s superbly acted, from the main character to his cohorts to enemy soldiers who spout at you in foreign languages; it all helps to pull you into the game, especially when you find yourself on the run.
The sound in Cold Winter is of good quality, and the effects made a great impact, quite literally sometimes. Firing a rocket launcher, seeing its trail of smoke dissipate as it travels through the air to then explode in a massive bang is the stuff that makes action movies great, and it truly adds to the immersion in a game. Machine gun fire and grenades also sound top-notch, but nevertheless, there was one excessively annoying sound effect: when your character walked on a metal surface, it sounded like a tin can continually getting kicked down the street. We passed this on to the dev team, who informed us they were aware of some issues and reworking some of the sound was still on the to-do list.
So far, Cold Winter’s shaping up to be one heck of a thrilling killing ride, with a story that pulls you in from the get-go to boot. Anyone with a strong stomach who wants to see the spy story from the other side of the fence should definitely apply when the game drops in April.
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