Tuesday, March 27, 2012

VGR Cold Fear

Time for another review!

This one's another survival horror, one of these game from the previous gaming generation, and one that mostly got overlooked (is it me or were a ton of really good games ignored last gen, Psychonauts, Jet Set Radio Future, Panzer Dragoon Orta, etc.?)
Mostly ignored in favor of Capcom's Resident Evil 4, this was Capcom's first foreway into the genre...
Was it good, was it that bad? And what was this one about?...

VGR: Cold Fear 
From Darkworks/Ubisoft
Played on PC
Also available on Xbox & PS2

Type Survival Horror
Year 2005

Cold Fear is a survival horror that came on the previous 128-bits systems.
It was developed by Darkworks, an independent French studio based in Paris, already responsible for the well-received Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare.
While Capcom reimagined the genre for that generation with a Resident Evil 4 leaving behind the cinematic camera angles and the slow paced gameplay for a more action-oriented 3rd person "over the shoulder" styée. Cold Fear went ahead with a sort of mix of both gameplays.

The game really feels like the missing link between the old classic survival horrors like the classic Resident Evil games and the modern action ones like 4 and 5.
Cold Fear runs on the RenderWare engine (used in other games such as Ubisoft's Rayman 2 or Sega's Headhunter Redemption and Sonic Heroes), it uses both a behind the character 3rd person gameplay and the classic cinematic overviews.

But what is it actually about?

A biohazard occurence...

The story starts out with Tom Hansen.
Member of the U.S. Coast Guard who is dropped along his team to investigate a mysterious Russian frigate - the Eastern Spirit -  that lost contact with the authorities.
A certain Barnett sends this crew on a rescue mission since nobody's responding.
Quickly the rest of his team disappear one by one or end up brutally murdered near our main protagonist.

What happened on this boat?
As Hansen, you are left alone aboard this ship to find out what is going on.
Hansen will try at first to help the crew and rescue the members that were left behind, but he is quickly met with defensive forces.

Meanwhile, the night is only starting out, and Tom will have to survive a dangerous storm, somewhere in the middle of the ocean.

A resident evil lurks behind each corner...

But don't worry! You won't be alone for long.
Hostile Russian men, who seem to be succumbing to fear and won't recognize a rescue mission, will try to shoot Hansen!
And did I mention those alien creatures?

A strange form of parasites, called Exocells by the scientists, are seemingly using human bodies and other creatures as hosts and to feed themselves.
Like Aliens from the movies, they seem to take over people and use them to expand, survive and reproduce.
The boat is literally invaded by them!

They will attack Hansen either inside these "zombies" or outside hosts.

While investigating this mysterious ship, Tom Hansen will discover that a lethal cargo was being transferred from the ship to an oil platform, the Star of Sakhalin, not far off the boat.
It seems some pretty unethical experiments were being conducted over there. Thanks to a bunch of logs found here and there throughout the game, the full story will be revealed bit by bit.
A certain Dmitri Yusupov from the mafia used that platform as a place for smuggling when the exocells were originally discovered.
He had the Doctor Victor Kamsky brought over to study and try turning these creatures into bioweapons.
Another scientist Pavel Bakharev started working by his own, just in case....when suddenly Viktor went insane, became crazy with those monsters and let them all roam around the platform, infecting everyone voluntary!

Alone in the dark, and standing guard firmly...

Gameplay-wise, the game seems like a natural progression of the survival horror genre.
You "can" sort of choose between a behind the shoulder camera like in Resident Evil 4 or alternate with fixed angles.
Not actually choose, but when aiming, the camera will go over the shoulder for the more action-oriented gameplay. And you can actually move while aiming your weapon, allowing to play whenever you want with that perspective.
Or just let the more moody cinematic angles show you around.
All in all, it does make Cold Fear seem like the missing link between Code Veronica and Resident Evil 4.

Another specific element from Cold Fear to mention, is the conditions of the environment.

Alongside the health bar on the HUD menu, Tom Hansen also has a stamina bar that depends on the actions.
Like running, which will take a bit of stamina out. Hansen needs to rest to replenish it.
The conditions on the deck of the ship will affect the character.
A huge part of the engine was used to play with the environment and make these conditions part of the gameplay.
The ocean and storm can affect AND harm Hansen.
The movements of the ship might throw him out overboard, you will need some stamina and/or to grab something to not fall over.
It will also provide other sources of danger, like throwing you off while aiming or just being hit by cargo and other environmental hazards (like electric wires or crates hanging, etc.).

It's like an house of the dead abord the ship!

You won't be truly alone all the time though.
Hansen will find a woman, Anna, who will tag along, much like other characters did previously in the classic Resident Evil games. (Sherri comes to mind)
She won't fight alongside Tom Hansen, and is one of those that needs helps and being protected to stay alive. Thankfully, she doesn't throw herself into danger and usually manage to keep her health intact by avoiding enemies. Also, these segments are usually short and dispersed enough.

Cold Fear is quite an atmospheric survival horror, where the inhospitable boat really make this experience a true "survival" "horror".

There's a lot of "monsters jumping out of closets" moments. The very well done storm is realistic, there's rain and wind and all. Perfectly rendered.

The various realistic weapons only contribute to the experience. A handgun, an AK, a speargun, a shotgun, grenades. You will also get a flamethrower and a little "surprise" later.

The savegame can be annoying, specially if you're new to the genre.
It's a "survival horror"-style difficult save system to manage, like in Resident Evil 1.
Here, you will get automatic checkpoints after each mission objective completed, most of the time in rooms you need to reach, people you need to find or before bosses/difficult situations. It's alright if you're ok with replaying little segments when you die. I, personally, never had a problem with it. You only need to assure you have enough ammo/manage well your weapons/health when you reach a save. (you also get various saveslots)

The thing will kill you!

Anyway, it's a fun, entertaining and long enough game for the genre.

Let's also mention the flaws, which can't be ignored.
It's a pretty classic plot and game.
You unlock bonus martial in the form of art, screens and concepts, but no other mode. So the experience feels a bit lacking at the end of the day. You can just replay harder settings if you want.

The game got a fun marketing viral at the time in the form of fake scientific websites and news report, which ended up doing more negative damage for the game than selling copies. Some people still think those are actual real pictures.

It's still a great art direction anyway.
The beautiful cover art of the game is just proof of that, the lead art, concepts and characters were the work of Aleksi Briclot.
The fantastic score is quite epic. The great main theme will haunt you, and you'll hear lots of it and its variations throughout the game.
Finally it gives the whole experience a sort of serious B-movie tone.
Like a big budget 80s horror film. The Russian villains go a bit over-the-top to me, and almost ruin the dark and gritty mood sometimes though.

Overall, it's a great looking game.
A memorable experience, and easily one of the best of its time honestly. Visually, it's only missing some "next gen" effects like high definition and blut. But the textures are good, the models well animated.
Gameplay wise, it's perfect!
The survival horror I always dreamt of playing!

The learning curve is easy to get your hands on, soon you'll be taking headshots like no tomorrow!

A great atmosphere built upon a great design and sountrack.
The exomutants are quite reminiscent of Carpenter's The Thing.

I also tried it on Xbox (until I had some problems with my own console...so I only played the beginning).
But even so, the PC version is vastly superior to the console one, hands down.
The graphics are a lot more crisp and clean on the computer port. On console it was a bit slower and blurry...which just goes to show how great the game was for its time.
The gameplay's a bit more fun on keyboard too, with this kind of cinematic-3rd person switchable view.

A real sgane this one got overlooked for RE4. I honestly preferred Cold Fear as a truer Resident Evil. I just wish Capcom had went this way back then...
Oh well..
A great gameplay that really captures the tension of the old survival horror genre with a mix action.

(Darkworks was the studio that was originally working on Ubisoft's recent I Am Alive...until they shut down and the production was carried over at Ubisoft Shanghai and the game changed from an actual full retail release feature to a simpler digital arcade title)

I give it:
 2.5 / 3 Quacks!

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