Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Swordfish Studios
Release Date: May 11, 2005
Buy 'COLD WINTER': PlayStation 2
The first-person shooter is a genre which has been hashed and rehashed time and time again ever since the release of Wolfenstein 3D on personal computers back in the early '90s. Since then, every major console and gaming device has seen its fair share of FPS games. A few have been stellar, many have been good, but most have been downright bad. Outside of Doom, Goldeneye 64, and Halo, there have been few phenomenal titles to come out and wow the public. Cold Winter's attempt to take the FPS genre to the PS2 and come away as the next Goldeneye is certainly a lofty goal, but after playing it, you'll realize that it's not quite the next FPS phenom it has strived so hard to become.
Despite the popularity of the genre, FPS games have been extremely rare on the PS2. There's Killzone, and then there's everything else. Most have been mediocre, none have been system-pushers, and only a handful is worth playing. So it seems reasonable that Swordfish Studios would want to make a FPS game for the world's most popular console. After all, it's got the biggest user base, and there hasn't been any really huge title to blow the pants off of PS2 gamers when it comes down to shooters. Cold Winter seems like a stupidly redundant name, but I suppose it fits the espionage/Cold War feel of the game. You'll play as Andrew Sterling, your typical Brit prisoner who's been locked away in some God-forsaken Chinese prison for quite some time.
Starting off with your escape from the prison (aided by your stereotypical Brit-accented beauty) you'll progress through the game, hooking up with other characters and generally causing coffin sales to go through the roof wherever you go. While the initial portion of the game had me thinking the story would be some rehashed drivel that has been played over and over again, it actually turned out to be the best part of the game. The plotline flows smoothly, the dialogue is much better than most games, and getting attached to the characters isn't hard to do at all.
The controls are your standard FPS fare, but the options for changing the controls around leave much to be desired. There is very little in the way of options to tweak, which hurts the game a bit. Everything else about the presentation is well thought-out and easy to navigate. The menus are simple, the in-game directions are straightforward, and progressing from one area to the next is simple – almost too simple, in fact. The levels are pretty linear, with little in the way of puzzles or anything else that'll tax your brain too much.
Graphically, the game is dated. It's pretty blocky, dull, and mostly uninteresting throughout. The only things that liven up the screen are the impressive rag doll physics and the hilarious amount of gore that pervades the game. When you are shooting your enemies, heads, arms, and legs will be sent flying, or exploding, or exploding and flying. It livens things up a bit, and since the game is fairly bland otherwise, it doesn't feel TOO over the top. Watching your enemies react realistically to your barrage of gunfire is exciting and rewarding. The environment can also be manipulated, allowing you to turn over a desk or a table and crouch down behind it to use it as cover. There are moments when you'll be impressed by what you see, but overall it's not a visual masterpiece.
The enemies will also take advantage of this ability, making them some of the smartest enemies I've encountered in a game yet. They flip tables over, using them as cover, ducking around corners, and generally making things difficult for you. Unfortunately, the difficulty level of the game is fairly low. Even as the enemies come at you in increasing numbers and things start to get hairy, you'll find that Andrew is something of a tank. Even if things do get a bit out of control and you take enough damage to make you nervous, you can always take advantage of your unlimited health pack. It all serves to make things a bit too easy on the player.
Despite the apparent lack of difficulty, a ranking will be handed out to the player after each level, and you are effectively being "graded" on how you performed. While I never got above a B, I assume that it's like the old Goldeneye 64 levels, where you had to complete the level in a perfect state of nirvana in a specific amount of time in order to get the higher ranks. Unfortunately, the ranking only makes you feel bad about yourself, sort of like that math teacher who never gave you higher than a B on any of your tests … not that I'm bitter. Really.
There are a ton of different weapons to wield, but you can only hold a couple at a time, which makes the game feel more realistic. You can search your dead opponents for items, weapons, health and armor, which is an interesting and appreciated aspect. Some of the items you'll find can be combined to make a new item, which is a unique touch and adds a certain bit of individuality to the game. There aren't a whole lot of different items you can create, but just having the option is pretty neat.
The sound is about on the same level as the graphics. There are your standard explosions and gunshots, punctuated by some excellent voice work for the characters; the musical score is unobtrusive but also nothing to get too excited about. Enemies in their death throes sound like what you might imagine someone would sound like if he'd just gotten his leg blown off. It's a fine effort, but again, nothing spectacular.
Multiplayer can be a whole lot of fun. You can play four-player split screen on one TV, or take on your friends in an online deathmatch of up to eight players. The whole bit about flying body parts suddenly gets a lot more fun when it's your buddy's head you've just blown up. There aren't any innovative modes, and the standard deathmatch, capture the flag, and other modes are available. There are 12 different maps to choose from, giving a fair bit of variety. There are also a number of character models to select from, helping you to stand out from the crowd. The only downfall of the online portion of the game is the framerate, which tends to suffer under the load of multiple characters slinging explosive ordnance at each other.
Cold Winter hits the scene when most players are itching for something new. While almost everything here has been done before, in Cold Winter, you'll definitely find an exciting and fast-paced game. The single player portion doesn't cover any new ground, runs a bit short, and leaves you wanting more. Thankfully, there's a solid multiplayer mode, and although it has a few problems and doesn't offer up anything new, you'll have a lot of fun if you find yourself getting into it. It may not be the prettiest or the most innovative FPS out there, but Cold Winter is worth a look.
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