Cold Fear was developed by French studio Darkworks and published by Ubisoft. It is a 3rd person action/shooter/horror game. Darkworks is the developer of the very successful Alone in the Dark but took a hiatus after that series presumably to begin work on this one.
The story of Cold Fear is thin at best and stupidly clichéd at worst. A Russian ship has been found at sea and the Ops team that goes in to investigate is killed off in swift violent attacks. You are Tom Hansen of the Coast Guard and are sent in because as we all know, the Coast Guard is a bunch of elite killing machines. Yes that's sarcasm because that is the first of several plot points that make absolutely no sense. The story continues in a way that leads Tom all across the ship to face various monsters having something to do with experiments and mysterious goings on on the ship. As always, I leave it to the player to discover the rest of the story. However, I can safely say that the story becomes secondary to blowing off zombie heads.
Lameness Alert: Throughout the story, you will pick up various pieces of paper. Some of them yield instructions and some yield back story. However, I ran into some pieces of paper that were pages and pages long giving more exposition that any games should. As opposed to having a real narrative structure, they force the player to read everything. Kind of lame.
As mentioned earlier, Cold Fear is a 3rd person shooter. The controls are basically the same as every other game in this genre: Move with the right thumbstick, shoot with the right trigger. Click the left trigger to enter aim mode which switches your perspective to an over-the-shoulder view. It's in this mode and only this mode, that you can control the camera. Yes that's right. Lameness Alert: When in regular mode, you have no control of the camera. I couldn't believe it. In every other game of this type, you have the ability to control the camera view. Without that control, you are at the mercy of the game's idea of where you should be looking. As a result, I would often get blindsided by something I had no chance of seeing. I often got boxed into a corner, which made the camera clip inside my character giving me no view of what I was fighting. I found myself running around holding the left trigger so that I had the level of control I needed. This lack of camera control was the single worst part of the game. It made it unnecessarily difficult. Like throw-the-controller difficult.
The core gameplay consists of running around grabbing clues and shooting mutant monsters. In addition the game offers some relatively cool things, but they are all planned and scripted. For example, you can shoot specific valves and have them leak and catch fire giving you a makeshift flamethrower. But is it coincidence that these are strategically placed in areas most convenient for the player? Probably not.
The guns in Cold Fear are not extensive and not too original. We have the stock handgun, AK-47, grenade launchers etc. There is also a convenient armory of the ammo gets too low. Same with a med lab which seemingly never runs out of health powerups. Most guns come with a laser sighting which makes shooting at the awkward over-the-shoulder view a little easier, but still some trial and error until you get the hang of it.
The big feature of the game turns out to be an annoying gimmick after a while. Since you're on a boat in the Bering Sea during a storm, the ship rocks back and forth making your character difficult to control. He slides and sways and you can feel the pull of gravity change. Also, cranes and other dangly things can knock into you causing a decrease in health. This was cool at first, but if I'm running around killing zombies, I don't want to have to deal with not falling off the boat. Not only that, you often get blindsided by giant waves which knock you across or even off the boat. I realize they were shooting for realism, and I have no doubt that if I was shooting zombies on a deserted ship in the Bering Sea during a storm, I would probably need to be aware of the waves and such. But just because it is realistic doesn't mean it makes good gameplay.
the actual fighting in the game is standard for the genre. Shoot the zombies. Of course they will keep getting up until you blow their heads off. And their lifeless bodies might still take a few swipes before going down. This offered a bit of ridiculous gory fun. And lighting zombies on fire is always fun too. If a zombie got to close, it would initiate a grapple. If you hit the X button fast enough, you can break away and shoot the zombie. Kind of a cool feature, but not monumental.
One of the big complaints I have with the game is the level design. Since the game has a whopping 2 locations, the designers employed a maddening amount of backtracking. Been in this room? Good, get used to it because you'll be back for something else in an hour. This is a cheap way to reduce the amount of art assets and levels needed. Plus it got very tedious and boring.
Lameness Alert: Most directions are given in ship terms such as port and stern, fore and aft. Being a land lubber, I have no clue what those mean. again, Realism <> fun.
Lameness Alert: The load times are atrocious. There is a load screen every time you go into even the smallest room. So if you go into the wrong room (and you will) you'll have to wait while the previous location reloads. It absolutely takes the user out of the experience.
The real problem with the game is that it just isn't scary. It's spooky and when things jump out, it's startling. But like in movies, I find this the cheapest of ways to scare the audience. It isn't really fear, its proof that the player has a central nervous system.
The graphics of Cold Fear are good but not great which is typical of a multi-platform title. The waves and storm effects are impressive. Water sprays on the lens of the camera and the waves come crashing effectively on the ship. Since the game supports true hi-def at 720p, I'm sure it will look great on a hi-def TV. The zombies are appropriately detailed and the gore will please those fans. The animations are smooth and varied. It's cool to see your character struggle against the wind when on deck. Although the gameplay of that feature is annoying, it is well executed.
The ship is appropriately detailed, though it's not a huge environment. The textures and objects are suitably detailed. Unfortunately, the textures, objects and environment of the oil rig in itself do not show much variation from the ship. It's unfortunate as that would have been a good break from the monotony of the ship.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and the storm effects really shine in this regard. The player gets a good sense of being in the storm as wind and rain effects surround the player. On lower decks, the creaks and rattles of the ships are prominent and give a good spooky atmosphere.
The music is a problem. It is an electronic/metal/industrial type that is a little too prevalent. Strangely, the music kicks up a notch when the player goes back out on deck. As if the main deck has a loudspeakers or something. It sounds odd. It also doesn't contribute to the game being scary. The designers should have studied horror movies and created mood music as opposed to action music.
And the voice work, ugh. The designers obviously took a French actor and gave him very American dialogue. Unfortunately the French accent creeps in and the actor does not know how to deliver slang lines in a realistic American accent. "This door ain't openin'" is precisely enunciated. It's laughably bad at times.
There is no Multiplayer support. The game is not even Xbox Live aware.
For fans of the horror/survival genre who have been patiently awaiting their franchise will have to keep waiting. It isn't scary, the gameplay is repepetive and the controls stifle the fun. Not recommended.
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