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Resident Evil at Sea!
on April 26, 2005
Cold Fear has been touted as the PS2's "filler" until the arrival of Resident Evil 4, but is it worth playing? Well, it is, but it's not always fun.
Cold Fear is basically "Resident Evil" set on a boat, with a sprinkling of "The Thing". You play as lifeguard Tom Hanson, who boards the ship after a mysterious disaster has befallen the crew, only to find the place overrun with mutated victims and weird creatures. It has great graphics and boasts a range of cool weapons and monsters, but there are some drawbacks, which I will get to shortly.
When I picked up a copy of this game I was intrigued by the idea of being on a storm lashed boat, and this aspect has certainly been well implemented. The stormy weather and raging sea effects look brilliant, and you can almost feel the wind throwing you off your feet as the boat rocks widly from side to side. Each time you are out on an open deck, this game really shines, and you'll need to be very careful not to get knocked off your feet, or worse still, overboard! As for action below deck, you'll still find that the scenery tilts constantly from side to side, although to a far lesser degree, so you'll never forget you are on a boat. The scenery of the whaler itself looks pretty realistic, which unfortunately makes for rather ugly backgrounds, as there is no let up from grimy cabins and corridors, with metal rivetts and girders everywhere. The action takes place in third person view from fixed viewpoints, but you can switch to an over the shoulder perspective at any time, which makes manouvering around far easier, as well as combat (you can engage in combat in the third person view if you want to, but I never did). This shoulder viewpoint (as in RE4) is one of the best aspects of the game, and you'll be switching to it frequently, especially when entering a new room, as you'll more than likely want to put Tom into a ready position for any enemies that may be leaping out at you. And they really do come at you in this game, the human "zombies" (not really zombies, but you can play the game to find out what they are) are not shuffling moaners, but aggressive foes that can run headlong towards you waving hatchets and knives! You'll need great reflexes to come through unscathed, as aiming has to be done manually, and only a headshot will put these guys down for good. Plus, remember that the boat is constantly rocking... It's tough, but also a great challenge for gamers who want to feel that they are actually able to use some skill in defeating foes, rather than be hand-held by the auto-aim of other games.
There are also other enemies of various shape and form, plus some unfriendly human opponents who all train their guns on you, so there's plenty to look out for. Luckily you'll find an impressive arsenal of weapons (although once I had the shotgun, I didn't want to use anything else!), and there are plenty of interactive objects in the environment that you can use to your advantage like fire extinguishers, steam valves and oil barrels which cause damage to any nearby enemies when shot. So combat is varied and challenging, and yes it's also fairly hard, especially in some rooms that are chock-full 'o monsters (remembering the rig showers - shudder). This wouldn't be so bad if you could use a healing item if things got tough - but you can't. In a warped change from the norm, healing items can't be picked up and carried around for use when needed - if you come across one on a shelf or bench, you either have to use it right there and then, or leave it where it is. Which is really mean. You might come across one when you don't need it, so you just leave it, and later, when you are limpingly close to death, you'll have to make it all the way back to where it sits to actually heal yourself. I can't really understand this idea - if Tom can carry around 10 heavy dury firearms, surely he can slip the odd medical kit in a pocket somewhere. Right that's my first complaint, might as well offload all the others while I'm at it....next comes loading.
Loading, loading, loading. You'd think in 2005 games could have this minimised this a bit, but not this one. Most opening of doors or re-starting from a save will frustrate you with an excrutiating amount of dead time, which really kills the atmosphere. If you feel your progress is going badly and wish to re-start from your last save, the process to actually do it is soooo slow. Booting the game up from scratch also takes a fair old time, and you can almost feel the disc straining to keep up with your impatient fingers (even the intro music judders and skips on my PS2 during opening loading selections!). So that may destroy the experience for an impatient gamer - be warned. Also at fault is the save system. You can't save at specific locations or anywhere or anytime, but only when you are told to. All saving is done at checkpoints which just crop up arbitrarily after certain objectives are reached. It's not really fair, as you may wish to backtrack first to mop up extra ammo or pick up items if you know where the save point is, but they come without warning, and if you say no to saving when prompted, that's it - you don't get asked a second time, and you have to carry on unsaved until the next one. Mean! It makes the game unnecessarily harder still, and on a few occasions I felt like discarding the whole thing. But I didn't, and even though at times the progress was gruelling, I felt a certain relief in arriving at save points with full clips of bullets and full health and sometimes, I even predicted them and prepared myself (eventually you can kind of pre guess when a save is likely to be coming up - usually when you leave a room after an important event - but it takes a lot of practise, and thats not really where you should be concentrating your efforts during a game!).
So those are the drawbacks I would bear in mind if you like the look of this game. It's a shame, because it's otherwise an effective and slickly produced horror adventure. However it's not that long and has no puzzles and only two locations - the ship and an offshore rig - which don't make for attractive scenery. Plus - there's no map!! You get a serviceable layout of the ship in the manual, so don't lose this, but there's nothing at all for the rig, and I got lost loads of times. The general story and mode of play are also nothing new - survival horror veterans will have seen it all before. The treacherous sea-bound locations are the novelty here, and they just about make up for the other shortcomings. I never tired of those crashing waves and driving rain - but this may not be enough to make you forget the faults that lie elsewhere.