The survival horror genre has gathered quite a reputation and fan base over the past few years, in no small thanks to Resident Evil and the Silent Hill series. However, along with eager fans willing to cleave themselves from hard-earned money for the newest title in their favorite series has come a dreary lack of invention. It seems all too familiar that the ?undead’ have once again been created by – insert well-known villainous corporation here – or a borderline amnesiac protagonist finds him/herself trapped in – insert deserted and foggy town here! While sales have remained strong for several survival horror titles, the genre has recently seen something of a renaissance. The shambling zombie has given way to a new, faster, ?less dead’ kind of enemy, and dispatching them with heavy weaponry has given way to shooting?with a camera. Many advancements and refinements have been seen in the last couple of years and, with this in mind, Ubisoft, along with developer Darkworks have unleashed their new spin on the genre: Cold Fear.
First impressions will generally depend on an individual gamer’s affinity (or lack thereof) for the survival horror genre. The intro movie is short, yet intriguingly atmospheric, and helps se t the scene well for the game to come. A special-ops unit is despatched to a ?seemingly’ abandoned Russian whaling ship to investigate what is transpiring onboard. Shortly after setting foot on deck, the whole unit is annihilated by a monstrously violent foe. After communication with this team is severed, a coast guard unit working in the area is summoned to the site, and Tom Hansen and his crew are left to find out for themselves what happened to the previous team, and whether the enemy aboard is human – or something altogether more sinister.
Gameplay in Cold Fear is rather reminiscent of the ?classic’ survival horror games. Movement can sometimes prove a little awkward, as anybody who is familiar with the genre can already attest. The camera angles are fixed for dramatic purposes, and if a player is holding ?up’ to move Tom into the screen, a camera switch can change the meaning of that command input and send him running in a different direction. While this can be disconcerting initially, connoisseurs of this type of game may be so accustomed to this system that it never adversely affects them. While most games of this type have a fair balance of combat and puzzle solving, Cold Fear is definitely preoccupied with the former. In fact, the game employs a very nice shooting mechanic wherein the camera view can be locked-in slightly above the main protagonist’s shoulder, to allow for better aiming. If so inclined, the camera can remain locked in this position by the gamer until an area is exited or entered, thus removing the more traditional third-person viewpoint.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game involves the environment. The whaling ship spends all of its time being violently thrown around at the mercy of the high seas. This offers some undeniably interesting, if under utilized, features. When running around the ship, the player must take great care when wandering on deck, as there is a very real chance of either becoming washed overboard, or hurt by loose, swinging rigging. Tension is evident when crossing from one side of the boat to the other, especially as you realize Tom is slowing down, and struggling to walk – then it suddenly occurs to you that he’s attempting to walk up a rain sodden, almost vertical surface. Seeing Tom desperately trying to gain a hold of something – anything – as gravity drags him toward the murderous seas certainly helps lend a clammy hand of tension to Cold Fear. That simple atmospheric anxiety is something few games can claim to achieve through just their environments. One element of the game that does seem ill thought out, though, is the absence of an in-game map (though a map of the ship is available inside the instruction manual). While this is not an unforgivable omission, it is an unfortunate oversight, and one possibly tolerated due to the fairly short gameplay time of the title, which is approximately seven hours at the default difficulty setting.
Graphically, Cold Fear is a solid looking game. The character models and animation are all well rendered, and everything shares a cohesive feel that helps solidify the style of the game, which is typically dreary and foreboding. However, the definite scene-stealing star of the show has to be the boat itself. Much has been made in the gaming press regarding the ?ship amid a ferocious storm’ aspect of Cold Fear – and it’s all well founded and well deserved. The representation of the storm has been expertly handled. Rain sheets down relentlessly and distorts the on-screen visuals, while pounding waves crash against the boat and rock it with merciless violence. Everything the developers have done here will immerse a player within their surroundings. Unfortunately, Dramamine is not included in the package, and gamers with a sensitivity to motion sickness should certainly approach with caution.
Sound is fairly typical for the genre, largely consisting of suitably dramatic, sometimes creepy, orchestral pieces mixed with a surprising amount of rock, which has a tendency to insert itself over some of the more frenetic combat sequences. As with all survival horror games, there are times of uncomfortable quiet and, during these, the sound effects do not disappoint either. Frenetic gunfire, blood curdling screams, the fury of the rain, and the groaning of a ship under siege from the elements, all contribute to a fittingly unnerving soundtrack. Voice acting, though generally good, is perhaps one of the weaker aspects of the sound. The principal characters are all characterized with a certain ?B- movie’ flair, but the supporting cast often sound somewhat limp and uninspired.
Replay value is perhaps the one area where Cold Fear suffers quite badly. With the exception of one unlockable difficulty mode (Extreme), there is only an art gallery to keep a player occupied, and even this can be fully opened in one walkthrough. The art gallery is interesting to look through as it gives an insight into the origins of certain characters, and contains some very cool, but ultimately scrapped, creature designs.
Overall Cold Fear definitely has the potential to become an exciting new franchise. Perhaps its biggest failing has little to do with the game itself, but more the timing of its release. In a period when Resident Evil 4 has arguably raised the quality bar for games of this genre, it is hard to look upon a game like Cold Fear and wonder if it would have received more critical acclaim had it been released first. Although it rigidly adheres to the gameplay mechanics of its spiritual forebears, it does successfully weave an interesting story, in an unusual and graphically lush setting. Fans of the genre could do far worse than check out Cold Fear for some good, old fashioned, gaming shocks.