Even this could be forgivable if Cold Fear hadn’t adopted the policy of only allowing saves at key points in the game. It’s quite possible to nearly finish a fiddly half-hour chunk of gameplay, only to die suddenly and find yourself facing it all over again. Sometimes there will be three save points within ten minutes of each other, but at other times they’re few and far between. And never more so than if you’re not clear where you’re going or what you’re trying to find.
Added to this, the game is outrageous enough to mete out the odd casual one-hit death. If there’s anything that’s sure to put off the casual gamer, it’s having twenty minutes of careful exploration ruined when a sudden assault from a flaming figure burns you to a crisp in just one go. I’m sorry, Darkworks, but this isn’t entertaining. Neither is it fun to find yourself under relentless attack the very moment the game emerges from an ‘area loading’ pause. Does it really spoil things to give the player a fighting chance?
If survival is an issue, so is horror. The setting is brilliant, but many of the shocks are so clearly telegraphed that it’s actually more surprising when the thing you expected doesn’t happen. Say there’s a body floating face down in the water – any idea what’s going to happen? Perhaps there’s a gutted whale on a slab lying next to a sparkling, vital item – any guesses as to what will happen should you touch it? This isn’t cold fear, it’s just some sudden shocks that you sort-of knew were coming.
It’s all so sad, because the longer you persist with Cold Fear, the more you notice the things it does right. The plot begins to open up as new characters emerge and new details of the back-story swim into view. You can’t help wondering what awaits you on a secret Russian rig. More effective weapons start appearing, though aiming never ceases to be an issue, and the game begins to exhibit flashes of the brilliance it originally promised – particularly once you learn how to use those rolling seas to your advantage. In addition, it’s graphically quite accomplished (particularly for the PS2) with water and storm effects to die for and some of the best creature designs to emerge from outside Japan. Audio is another strength. The sound effects arguably cause more nervous moments than the visuals, and a decent score adds weight to the more action-packed moments above decks.
Six months ago, we would probably have rated Cold Fear as a decent enough Survival Horror title with a few good ideas, but after Resident Evil 4 our expectations have been raised. The best bits of Cold Fear prove that Darkworks has the guts and inventiveness to create a killer title on that scale, but it needs to get the basics right first. Impressive openings and great ideas are all very well, but when a game frustrates as much as entertains, we find it pretty hard to recommend.
It’s not quite all at sea, but Cold Fear’s superbly-realised oceans don’t cover the fundamental flaws that spoil the game as entertainment. While its eyes are set on the future of horror, Cold Fear’s feet are stuck too firmly in the past.
”’Platforms”’ – PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC – PS2 Version Tested.
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