Letís not beat around the bush; Capcom recently revolutionized fear, tension, and the scare factor in videogames with Resident Evil 4. It was recently awarded ten out of ten on this very website, and if you go and take a look on other gaming sites and look through magazines youíll see a pretty consistent review score being given out. So as Capcom started the survival horror genre on console, and have now stepped it up beyond what everyone expected, you have got to be pretty brave to step into the genre yourself.
It seems, however, that another survival horror game was being developed at the same time as Resident Evil 4. Previously behind the 4th game in the Alone in the Dark series, Darkworks have been very busy working on their latest action-adventure-horror game, Cold Fear.
You play Tom Hansen, a blonde haired, gnarly looking dude who is a US Coast Guard. Heís got a distress call from a huge Russian Whaler vessel that has got a problem whilst at sea. There is a furious storm out at sea too to make matters worse, and there is something up with the residents (sorry) of the ship.
You begin playing on the deck of a ship, and you must investigate what is going on. The storm is causing the ship to roll incredibly, with crashing waves hitting the sides, and spilling over onto the deck. The rain is insanely hard, meaning very low visibility. At any point in the game, you can switch between 3rd and 1st person viewpoint, which is very handy when searching the dark rooms of the game. You can, of course, shoot enemies in either view point too, and walk in both modes too Ė a fantastic feature. To go into 1st person mode, you press and hold the Left Shoulder trigger. The mode looks almost identical to the aiming in RE4; the camera sits behind Tomís right shoulder and you have a laser pointer to assist aiming. It worked superbly in RE4 and it works just as well here too. To shoot you press the right shoulder trigger, and reloading is done via ĎXí. One nice feature Cold Fear has over RE4 is that you can cycle through weapons on the fly, using the D-pad. This works well, and saves having to go into inventory menus all the time. An interaction button performs all the action features in the game, like searching enemies for ammo, or opening doors etc. The button lights up on screen when the feature can be used.
Cold Fear plays similar to many other survival horror games, as you go into different rooms and find documents with information on, keys, electronic codes, and new weaponry too. The first main objective is to find out exactly what is going on the ship, and you must find a character who has codes to get into certain rooms on the ship. At this point, you come across the enemies in the game, and they are a very strange bunch. You could call them possessed or zombified and that would be a rather good description of them. Shoot them a few times and you will knock them to the floor, but unless you destroy their head by either shooting it off or stomping on it (which results with a splash of blood on the camera), they get up and come back for you. Standing on their heads can be really fiddly at times, as you have to get the position exactly right when standing above them, so the interaction button lights up and you can stand on them. If you arenít quick enough theyíll get back up on their feet again. If you drop them when they are near a wall or staircase, itís very hard to stand on their head, and sometimes shooting them in the face doesnít always result in a hit either. This gets frustrating if enemies surround you, and ammo is tight, as you have to use more if they are standing up again after not being finished off.
Graphically Cold Fear is fantastic. The environments look incredible Ė the swaying boat in the storm is awesome, with lashing rain and huge waves rolling out to sea. The Xbox version has slightly improved rain effects. It really looks special. Texturing is nicely detailed too, and the game has a lovely industrial feel to it, perhaps with a hint of Metal Gear Solid 2ís palette from the Tanker level. Darkworks have made an extremely convincing game world here and the movement restrictions for Tom as he struggles against the weather work incredibly well and more importantly, feel right. Inside the ship, everything looks great too, with nicely detailed rooms and corridors, and the slow camera movement giving the sensation of the ship rolling in the ocean is done very well. You really do feel like youíre in a hardcore storm at sea. Later the quality continues as you reach a new area in the game. Lighting and water effects are excellent too, and some weapons have torches attached to them, so you can search the dark areas of the game in relative safety. The Xbox version is improved here, with more realistic looking water, and a nicer lighting effect off of the torch.
Cold Fear is quite fast-paced, with lots of attacks from many enemies at once, but Tomís movement feels slow. He doesnít run very fast, and after about ten seconds heís run out of energy and must walk again (a resistance gauge fills up on screen). I would have thought US Coast Guards had more stamina than that, but there you go. I can understand the idea behind it, with a rolling ship and very windy conditions outside, but it gets rather frustrating when youíre trying to escape enemies, or run through the various rooms during backtracking sections. Aiming also feels slow, and the game in general is rather sluggish too. Going back to RE4 after playing this feels so much quicker, with rapid aiming, and extremely smooth movement. Having a smoother frame rate would have helped Cold Fear feel much quicker than it does.
The only thing for me that let the game down slightly was the lack of variation in the characters, and I think they could have looked better. The other presentational aspect, which isnít great, is the door loading. Now I should say at this point, that I never had a major problem with it during the previous Resident Evil games, but after playing the latest game, with the majority of the doors opening instantly, you expect it to be the same for all games. Itís only ever a few seconds, but it is a bit annoying at times. The gameís music sets the atmosphere perfectly and suits the game really well.
Cold Fear is a really short game. I had it licked within about 6 hours of play the first time, and it doesnít really offer any reason to play through again. You unlock concept art as you progress through the game, and a new difficulty mode, but apart from that, once you have completed it, youíve seen everything Cold Fear has to offer. There are some really nice features in this game, like the 1st and 3rd person modes, showing to the world again they can both work well in games. The Flamethrower weapon is brilliant too Ė all games should have one as toasting enemies with the slight risk of you catching fire if they run toward you is great fun. Overall I enjoyed playing through the game. However, control does feel sluggish at times, and has a few niggles like collision detection when finishing off enemies, and its also way too short. Its worth picking up if you donít have a GAMECUBE, or if you fancy a new adventure after the latest Resident Evil, but I have to say Capcom raised the bar to such a height with ĎRE4, the competition really does have to go back to the drawing board to see what they can do, and that includes Cold Fear too.