RETRO – Cold Fear, at first, might sound like medicine, but, in reality, it refers to the icy nightmare that grips the heart of man, as he tries to escape from zombies on a ship on a stormy ocean. Get your shotguns ready, baits, and report to the captain’s deck.
Darkworks development team did not do much for the past years, up until Cold Fear’s first pictures were released. After the Blair Witch Projects became less than memorable games, the genre has been ruled by two horror giants: Resident Evil, and Silent Hill. While the later was full of guts and gore with non-stop action, Konami’s series was mostly a psychological horror game with original ideas, stories, and nail-biting tension. The good news is that Cold Fear is somewhere between those two games.
Mother Russia reaches all
The story is infinitely more detailed than say in a Resident Evil game but has an entirely different ambience than the Silent Hill games. For example, the main character is not that interesting: Hansen is the usual heroic guy though he is much more sympathetic than the Manga Superheroes which Resident Evil shoves down our throat. The blonde good looking Norwegian man has been patrolling the waters all his life: Saving anyone in trouble among the stormy seas. He even did police work for a while: Searched for drug traffickers on the sea. Of course, this line work is a thing of the past, and the game’s writer probably decided to add this so that our main guy is not a simple coast guard. Regardless, our hero, this time, is searching for a Russian whaler ship by the order of the CIA.
The ship becomes a target for the American secret service, as it docks at oil drilling stations (what would a Whaler ship do at an oil platform). The Star of Sakhalin, which was built in 2002 on the Bering Sea, does not drill for oil, but secret military equipment and units were transported there. Of course, Hansen and his team have to search the ship, as at first they know nothing, and why would the CIA bother telling them anything useful. The operation starts off rocky mostly due to the storm limiting the visibility of the helicopter, and they barely find it on the sea. It seems at first that the ship is abandoned, but Russian commandos appear and kill almost everyone besides Hansen. However, this is only the beginning
Fishermen’s dead friend
The crazy Russian commandos are soon taken care off by the real enemies: mutant undead infected by aliens. I do not think that it will come to anyone’s surprise that Cold Fear is stealing elements of plot and ideas gleefully from The Thing. The body snatcher thing is a bit old by now, but it is true that Darkworks can handle the theme and style with great care. There is much cinematics in the game, which shows all kinds of scary monsters. Also speaking of monsters, the developers did not want the gaming journalist to compare Cold Fear to Resident Evil, or even compare the monsters to Capcom’s series. While they do look undead as possible, their animation and movement are not reminiscent of RE’s step one then growl at the player two times while they are rotting slowly and moving towards the player.
The mutants of Cold Fear are truly nerve-racking because their attack pattern is a bit unpredictable: they approach us in a slow zombie way, and then suddenly bum-rush our hero with their knives or other weapons. As they are the undead we should not expect too much from the AI: they won’t go to cover and open fire from hiding places. While the Russian Commandos are more tactical, even their AI is not that much of a thing compared to other games such as Resident Evil.
Besides the Russians and mutants, we have our unique versions of these horrific beasts that plague our life in Cold Fear. The most common monster that attacks us is a small slimy creature with tentacles that will try to suck our blood out. Although these monsters are not famous for their combat tactics, they are still difficult to hit as due to their small nature, and quick movement they can easily get to us. Plus they love crawling into corpse mouths and possess them.
Alone on the Boat
The AI did not bother me too much, as the action is mixed in with a lot of great adventure, and puzzle sections. The Darkworks team decided to take the middle road between Resident Evil, and Silent Hill for this part: the puzzles are not too primitive (Unlike in RE), but they are much clearer and can be solved easier than in Silent Hill 2. The gameplay reminded me of the good old Alone in the Dark 4, as we will only have two locations in the game the Whaler, and the Oil Platform. Although both have their ambience and chills, Silent Hill games had much more variety which is why I felt that two locations are not enough.
Faint of heart beware
Regarding graphics, the game shines in style instead of technical achievement. While the protagonist and the more important characters are well designed still it would have been great for Hansen’s hair to be less blocky ( it looks as if his head was put in a giant hair gel can). The zombies and aliens are generic: they are disgusting, but after Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 the game can barely keep its head up. The environments are also not the best regarding textures, but the oil platform and the ship’s sections have real care put into them by Darkworks developers.
The cabins and rooms look just like in a real-world ship, and contain items that every whale hunter would have: crates tied together, storage room full of bloody animal corpses, where we even find a dead orca, and, of course, there is a harpoon gun at the front
The cherry on the top is the storm and the raging sea which also moves the camera around a bit as the old ship is „resting” on the sea. (On a side note those that have seasickness should avoid the game a bit, or, at least, have a doggy bag in front of them to avoid any problems). The developers even went so far that the raindrops even fall on the camera when our hero is fighting against the elements.
Beyond the raindrops, Darkworks decided to enhance the horror elements by making the blood appear on our screen when blowing an enemy to smithereens. Of course, it is a noteworthy effort to try and make our stomach lurch (heh), but the problem with this is that the depiction of blood is rather amateurish, so the „unbelievable brutality” is humorous at times instead of being scary.
Since we are speaking about a horror game, I think it is not too surprising that we get a fix camera angle. Well, it is fixed as much as the roaring sea lets us be still, but we cannot rotate the camera unlike in regular TPS games. Although it is an old method but not a nuisance since it will not cause too many problems. The real issue is the lack of lighting which sometimes goes into full darkness and due to this, we might not find a door or an important object. Of course, this is common in a horror game it would not be the same without these „issues”, it would be like James Bond without women, so at this point, it would be pretty pointless to blame the developers…
Things that cannot be saved
Not everything is fine and dandy in Cold Fear either. The developers have created an abysmal save system that almost sucked the fun out of me from playing this game. Ok, it is an acceptable idea that I cannot save at every turn – we are used to this in horror games. However who was the idiot who thought that it is okay for the game to ask us at random sections if we want to save?! There are no fixed save points, and you’ll have to pray for the game to give you a save point somewhere down the line.
A twilight of a genre?
It is apparent that the survival horror genre is obsolete at this point in the video game industry, and there needs to be a revolutionary game to uplift it from the muddiness. Cold Fear tried to be that, as aiming from behind was a great idea, and I would miss it from future horror shooters. Unfortunately, the developers did not remove the fixed angle, yet Resident Evil was able to get with the times: We can rotate the camera anyway we want to in the fourth game.
+ Excellent ambience
+ Unique locations
+ Shoulder view aiming
– Retarded save system
– Obsolete fixed camera angle
Relase date: 2005