Wednesday, 09 March 2005
With Resident Evil 4 round the corner, it might not be the best time to release Cold Fear - but nevertheless, we feel it's still worth a look.
It seems quite the unusual time to release Cold Fear. Here we are, on the brink of getting Resident Evil 4 into our clammy hands. A game that all the importers do nothing but praise. A game that apparently takes the genre in a whole new direction, a direction which will blow all the previous outings from the “big three” of the genre (Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Project Zero) out of the water, and sit atop of the pile. But nonetheless, Ubisoft have seen fit to bring Cold Fear to the gaming public, but can it find a niche in the genre?
The best way to really grab the attention of the gamer right from the off, especially if you're starting a brand new IP is to give a particularly unusual opening section of gameplay. Cold Fear’s idea is to give you a dramatic look at the setting for the opening half of the game, and showing the nuances it’ll add to the gameplay. With the opening setting on board a seemingly abandoned ship, the dramatic opening with the sickness inducing rocking of the boat, waves crashing into the side, Cold Fear shows most of what you expect it has to offer right from the start.
But nothing prepares you for the sheer claustrophobic atmosphere once you get below deck. It’s a simple fear inducing effect, giving you the feeling that you're trapped, unable to freely turn away in fear and run for all your worth and get away from the bad things. And it works in Cold Fear particularly well. I mean, what better to instil this particular atmosphere than a game set on a ship drifting in the middle of a vast ocean? There’s nowhere to run away to here. But the ship plays a part in how you’ll actually play the game too. With the ship rocking violently from side to side, you need to be extra careful for any pitfalls you could find yourself falling into. Not only could you find yourself swept overboard by the merciless sea, it even plays a part in puzzle solving. To give an example straight from the game, early on you’ll need to shoot away at a power unit to open up a securely locked door. This leaves bare wires swinging about. Now they are fairly easy to manoeuvre around, despite the rocking of the boat. However a little later on you’ll come across a similar situation, with one cruel twist. The room you're in is half filled with murky sea water (or is that half empty?). Shoot away at the power box this time and allow the loose and live wires to drop into the water your sharing accommodation with and you’ll be fried in no time. I’m not going to give away the answer, that’d be mightily cruel, but it’s an example of the detail that the developers have put in to Cold Fear in order to give the setting meaning, rather than it being for all intents and purposes a house with a sea faring theme.
The storyline itself, at least in its initial stages isn’t anything new or fresh. In fact, this is one section of Cold Fear that can be heavily criticised. It’s somewhat of a straight rip off of the first Resident Evil game. “Something” odd is discovered, a team is sent to investigate, this team disappears, so another team (of which you’re a member) is sent in. Things do get better, and I suppose the bits of back story that you pick up along the way via the traditional dropped notes and diaries do help bring the storyline together, and give it all a sense of meaning. It’s a strong narrative, but there’s just nothing new and fresh to sink our teeth into.
The manoeuvrable third person camera gives this the edge over the fixed viewpoints, at least in some senses. While the fixed camera viewpoint has been explained away as to give gamers the “best” view of the game, there have always been situations where we’ve wished to be able to manoeuvre it about ourselves. Not only does Cold Fear give this little feature, but also allows us to snap into a first person viewpoint in a split second. But instead of merely allowing you to aim and fire, your able to freely move around and perform all the same actions, whilst also allowing better aiming at the various beasties you’ll come across.
The ship based setting has been used to great effect before in the opening section of Metal Gear Solid 2 as we’ll all remember with great fondness. While the MGS world looked unusually sharp and clean, Cold Fear has the kind of murky, dirty aesthetics that are required to give the atmosphere that required level. No surface feels out of place. No surface seems unusually clean, and lacking in the grime required. This is an abandoned ship, a ship that’s been over-run by various beasts. These beasts don’t have table manners, and go around the deck with a mop every morning. While this may to most seem like a slight drop in visual quality, it’s a most difficult effect to pull off, and the developers again have to be commended.
There’s little doubt that Cold Fear has the makings of a solid, if a little unspectacular survival horror title. While the “fear factor” may be a touch below the sheer terror instilled, there’s still many a moment where your feel a little nervous as to what you’ll witness next. While the aesthetics may not be pure next generation standard, the lack of any of those “clean” surfaces which detract so often from the overall atmosphere, and so readily dump you back into the mindset of playing a “mere game” is something that has to be commended. Not a revolution, but an evolution of a concept that’s been proven to work time and time again. Resident Evil 4 will blow this out of the water (no pun intended) - we have no doubt about that, but Cold Fear is still a game that’s worthy of the attention of those keen on the survival horror genre.