Genre: Action/Survival Horror
Release Date: March 15, 2005
There are a few things in life that never get old, always make you smile, and give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside: Mom’s homemade apple pie, Dairy Queen on a hot summer day, and blowing the bejesus out of a rampaging zombie’s head with a 12-gauge shotgun as it lunges for your jugular. Unfortunately, my copy of Cold Fear did not come with any pie or ice cream, but it did come packed with lots of zombie-slaying fun. Developed by Darkworks, who brought us the highly-acclaimed Alone in the Dark, Cold Fear was recently published in the U.S. by Ubisoft. This is Ubisoft’s first venture into the survival horror genre, and it seems like they chose a decent game to make their debut.
A rescue team was deployed to a Russian ship that was caught at sea in a violent storm. However, after boarding the ship, the team lost contact with the base and left everyone wondering what happened to them. They call on you, Tom Hansen, a Coast Guard rescue agent, and your unit, since you are the only group in the same vicinity as the Russian vessel. They ask that you board the ship and see what became of the previous team. Upon boarding, you see that things aren’t exactly right, and you find the other members of your unit maimed and dismembered. Also, flesh-seeking zombies’ and other mutants are now roaming the ship and killing everyone in sight. You learn that Russian scientists were working on the ship with a newly discovered organism in hopes of creating a military super weapon. Your task is simple: you must destroy the mutations and zombies, recover some vital information, and get off the ship in one piece.
Apparently, the Coast Guard doesn’t have access to any real weapons since Tom only starts with his sidearm, which is a small pistol. As you make your way around the ship, you will find other weapons to add to your zombie-slaying arsenal, including a shotgun, sub-machinegun, flame-thrower, and a special experimental speargun. Ammo and health packs are found in ammunition or medical rooms, or on the corpses of those who have either been slain by you or become zombie food.
With the shortage in starting weapons, you will have to find ways to conserve ammo while still killing any zombies in your path. The best way to do this is to survey your environment every time you round a corner. For instance, if you turn a corner and see three zombies standing next to a 50-gallon barrel marked flammable, it would be wise to just shoot the barrel and have a zombie barbeque. Note that any time you burn an opponent, they will not drop any items that you can use because they will have burned up. You will also find things like red valves on gas pipes that, when shot, produce a rather large temporary flame. Time this just right, and zombies will walk into the flames, causing themselves to burn to a crisp. There are also yellow steam pipe valves that, when shot, produce a hot vapor that damages enemies and makes invisible enemies visible. In a few places, you can even shoot an electrical box that will drop a live current into a pool of water, and every enemy in it will be electrocuted Texas-style. Even the boat itself can be a weapon, but it can also often work against your efforts.
Since Cold Fear mostly takes place on a ship that is being violently thrashed around in a storm, the developers wanted to heighten that effect and managed to add a few other elements into the gameplay because of this. The first thing you will notice is your screen tilting from left to right and back again, in a movement somewhat similar to that of a teeter-totter, to give the effect of actually being on the ship. You may want to take some Dramamine for this if you get seasick at all because it gives a pretty realistic feeling, if you have your lights off and nothing else is going on in the background. Waves also pound against the side of the ship, occasionally thrashing over the sides and up onto the deck, actually causing Tom to lose his footing and take damage if hit.
It is constantly raining so when you are on the deck side of the ship, you will have blurred vision from the rain constantly pelting you in the face. Harsh winds and the rocking of the boat, along with the water-soaked deck, can cause Tom to lose footing, fall, and slide across the deck, possibly falling into the water if you aren’t careful. If you are lucky, you can grab the side of the ship or a rail and pull yourself back up to safety. Objects like crates hanging from cables that also sway back and forth can be found on the deck side of the ship, and some of them are even on fire. Watch out for these, because if you get hit by one, your health will decrease by a good amount.
The environment sounds demanding, but all of these items can also be used to your advantage. For instance, if you are near a hanging crate that is swaying from side to side and a zombie pops out of nowhere wanting to eat you, you can simply lure the zombie into the path of the crate. Now, just stand back and watch the zombie's head get ripped off, or watch him get catapulted completely off of the ship.
The only way to kill a zombie or mutant is the classic way, and that is to completely destroy their heads. This can be accomplished a couple of different ways, and one way is to take a timed shot at the head of your opponent and blow it off completely. Another route, taken by poor players or used in cramped quarters, is to pump as many shots as needed to knock the zombie to the ground, quickly run up to it, and then use your action button to perform the head stomp, which is definitely fun to the extreme.
Certain enemies in the game have other weak spots, but you will learn about those in the actual game because I wouldn’t want to ruin a first-time player's experience. Cold Fear also implemented zombies with guns, which aren't dummies and will actually fire at you rather than charge you. When an enemy dies and you check the body for supplies, the game tends to give you exactly what you are short on. This is a pretty cool addition, since you seem to keep all of your ammo full throughout the entire game.
The camera angles in the game are exactly like those of any survival horror game ever made to date, sarcastically referred to as the “wonderful” fixed camera. Thankfully, the developers offer a semi-third-person view that helps make the camera angles a bit more tolerable. This can also be troubling with the weapons system, though, since some of the weapons have a laser sight equipped to them and others don’t. For the weapons that don’t have the laser sight on them, just point in a general direction, fire, and hope they hit your target. While the laser sight sounds like it might make things a bit too easy, it, in fact, makes things harder at times. Learning where exactly to point your laser at a charging zombie will take a bit of adjusting, but it is possible to learn to score a headshot every time from any distance.
Certain weapons also come with flashlights attached, which are a must if you plan on finding your way through some of the pitch-black rooms in Cold Fear. These weapons tend to be the most often-used weapons from your arsenal, and you seem to run out of ammo for them all too fast. Unlike other survival horror titles, Cold Fear did away with the equipment screen and added a quick, on-the-fly weapon change system; you do this by pressing your white or black button. Imagine this: you open a door and find yourself in a very cramped hallway, and a few zombies charge you. All you have is a measly pistol equipped, and the zombies are trying to chew off your ears. You will be grateful for this new addition as you will be able to quickly swap to your shotgun and blast those zombies back to Hades without skipping a beat.
The music in Cold Fear adds to the gameplay quite a bit, but at times it can become a nuisance. Rather than produce an eerie horror effect, the developers thought it best to throw in some action sounds, alerting you that a battle was going to take place before you were ever the wiser. On a whole, the sounds were wonderful and really added to the effect of actually being on the Russian ship in that storm. Loud, vibrant sounds of winds blowing, waves crashing, squeaky floors, and the roaring thunder and the pitter-patter of the rain all make for a good setting. The voice acting is quite terrible, and while it's not like you haven’t experienced that in a game before, this time, it will have you laughing. I can’t get one of the sayings, “Damn, it’s stuck,” out of my mind. Sound designer Thierry Desseaux also thought it best to include a Marylin Manson song “Use Your Fist,” which really goes well with the game and is probably its high point, since you really get a chance to hear it after beating the game.
The good, the bad, and the ugly: let's face it, all games have them. Unfortunately, no game has ever been so perfect that everyone who played it was pleased. However, the developers of Cold Fear added some new elements that made the game rather rich by providing a nice in-game style and took away some older features from their tittle. The first thing I noticed was there was not a map. I thought that perhaps I was just not pushing the correct button to bring it up, but it turns out that they ditched the whole map idea. In order to find your way around, you must rely completely upon your memory and by the new spawns in the areas to which you need to go (mobs usually don’t spawn in an area you have already traveled, unless there is some reason the game has lead you to go that certain direction).
Also missing is the inventory screen where you equip items and weapons to your character. This was replaced by the weapon swap during gameplay, and items, which are mostly documents, are stored in your information screen. Another thing missing was the lack of puzzles; what is a survival horror game without some good puzzles? The biggest puzzle you will find in Cold Fear is a door that is missing the handle, and you must find it to be able to get into that certain room. In certain cases, you can actually check a door, and after it tells you that you need a handle for it, you can walk along the wall and pull ammo through the wall, the same way that flags and weapons can be transferred in Halo. It’s kind of cheap, but it sure beats hunting up the handle for the door just to get a few bullets.
Another thing that is kind of strange is that the save game feature is completely missing. You can save your game, just not when you decide it is time to save. There isn’t a marked save point either, just an occasional door that you open, and before opening, the game will ask you if you wish to save. I highly suggest creating a chain of save files for one single player campaign because if you mess up and need to go back to a previous save game, you can and don’t have to worry about playing the whole game all over again.
All in all, Cold Fear was a very fun game, but I believe it was missing some key elements that would have made it a great game. The graphics and sound are superb and actually give you the feeling of being Tom Hansen. While the story is good, it could have been lengthened to help make the game a bit longer, since I ultimately finished the game on hard mode in five hours (the lack of puzzles really made the game move way too fast). There were also a lot of empty rooms that contained some ammo for a gun at most, which leaves me wondering if the game was rushed. Cold Fear is not a bad game, but with its lack of replayability and quick playtime, it’s just not a keeper.
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