Gamestyle Archive Intro: this is an incomplete review but it seems over 75% intact so we’re going with it as it stands in the archive. Cold Fear was an interesting idea on paper with a different setting to the usual scare ’em videogames of the time. Yet the execution let the side down. This review was from JJ and maybe one day we’ll find the complete version.
With umpteen movies released by Hollywood which deal with horrors afloat, it’s bizarre that developers have taken so long to seize upon a workable template. Even for Gamestyle, the mere notion of ‘survival horror at sea’ instils an icy-cold fear of the unknown which has hitherto inhibited us from spending some quality time with the game. The first step in overcoming one’s fears is to confront them… As a coastguard you are dispatched to a Russian merchant vessel that is somehow adrift on the high seas – and despite a heavy pounding by the forces of nature, it refuses to submerge. Unusually, there was no Mayday signal to respond to; rather you are acting on orders from higher up the chain of command. Luckily, these merchant crewmen come adequately trained and armed, because the rescue mission is soon reversed into one of survival.
Cold Fear begins positively, as it aims to confront the player with the predicament of being stranded on a ghost ship in an almighty storm. The screen sways from side to side, and the camera behaves erratically – a brilliant piece of design if it weren’t for the fact that it’s ongoing throughout the game. There is no opening sequence which familiarises your skills and training (nor any convenient link to an operative who might help); you are very much alone – with only a gun and gumption for survival. These opening moments are best compared to Metal Gear Solid 2, but here the ship’s deck feels more dangerous, more alive and far more threatening.
The efficient use of the environment also extends to items within the ship – as light bulbs will go out, bodies will nervously twitch; in fact there is always something happening to divert your attention (and thus raise the fear factor). Wading through a half-flooded corridor is a telling moment: you just know that something is out there, waiting to pop up. This somewhat compensates for the disappointing opponents you will stumble across – beginning with the Russian sailors. There is no means to communicate with the crewmen (who are obviously at their wit’s end); instead gunplay is the only language they’ll understand in Cold Fear. Essentially, this is a missed opportunity, because it dumbs down what could have been an otherwise invigorating situation and/or voyage of discovery. Despite the many locked doors and open cabins, there is no escaping the fact this is a linear adventure. Information and objects are drip-fed as you navigate the crumbling interior of the ship – often at times you’ll be solving puzzles without really knowing it.
Each cabin is in a terrible state: blood and bodily remains are scattered everywhere (ramping up the gore factor), and fire rages wherever the seawater subsides. Opponents line themselves up nicely, with crewmen automatically anchored behind the nearest cover; the infected will quite often throw themselves into your line of fire and quite early you’ll discover the infection can take over corpses that have lain silent for days. This prompts a lot of backtracking – and a series of headshots into those who have already fallen foul of the ultimate coastguard (but feels familiarly like content that is stretched too thin). Meanwhile, Cold Fear certainly impresses with its visual style; the crisp textures are courtesy of the Renderware toolset which again delivers in spades.
The outdoor sections (where the storm is raging) are perfectly-reproduced, with hazardous-to-your-health objects forever dancing in the wind. In fact, there were moments where Gamestyle wanted to reach out and wipe away the drizzle from our television screen (not to mention donning the waterproofs). However, there was no time for such pleasantries, as every minute spent outside weakened our resistance to the elements. The predictable opposition becomes increasingly harder to kill as you make your way through the ship.
Part of the reason for this is the atrocious targeting system (and largely useless camera angles provided in the free-roaming third-person perspective). A halfway measure to correct this is playing the game from an over-the-shoulder viewpoint; this improves accuracy (but not nearly enough to satisfy) and makes fairly good use of the laser sight (along with the handheld torch). Without this option, Cold Fear would have been virtually unplayable. Another horrid piece of direction is evidenced by save points: in the survival horror genre, players are quite accustomed to saving at regular intervals. This acts as a safety mechanism, but in Cold Fear this assurance has been strictly linked to pivotal moments in the storyline. The first save point for instance is too far into proceedings, and unless you are playing on the two easiest difficulty levels, a real pain to reach. Of course, given the premature playing time (and the lack of unlockable extras) this decision was perhaps understandable, but nonetheless frustrating. The omission of frequent saving is not helped by the fact that Cold Fear does not provide a map option – which can prove (review ends)
Gamestyle Score: 6/10