Cold War (Xbox) review
"The line between reality and fantasy blur, the seams come apart, and some small, childish part of your mind actually believes that you’re in real danger, actually thinks that real death might be around the corner. "
What were you doing in 1986? Losing quarters at the arcade? Watching Fist of the North Star? Transformers? Doing the Safety Dance?
Me, I spent one half of 1986 as a fetus, the other half rocking in a crib and sucking the plastic off a pacifier. Matt Carter, he was busy having the worst time of his life.
America and Russia are in a Cold War, and there are certain parties-parties with Mario-esque mustaches and potbellies-that would like things to stay as chilly as possible. So, to that end, they come up with a plot to make Matt look like a bad guy, make them look like good guys, and make the United States look like the bunch of jerks the rest of the world often perceives us to be.
Matthew Carter is a photographer who’s been snooping around Russia for a story; so they decide to take advantage of that, push it to the fullest. Their plan pans out like this:
Step 1-Give Matthew a hot tip on a secret meeting that the Russian president is having at a museum.
Step 2-Switch Matthew’s camera with an X-Ray device that looks like a camera.
Step 3-Bust Matthew when he takes a picture of the president with said X-Ray device, claiming that he’s a CIA assassin hired by the people the president went to meet and that the X-Ray device is lethal (even though it’s really not; it just gives you X-Ray vision and knocks people out when you point it at their head and take a picture. Probably gives them a tumor, too)
It sounds like a solid enough plan, real black ops stuff, Ian Fleming would be impressed. Unless…you stop and think about the problems:
Problem 1-They’re assuming that Matthew has the balls to sneak into a highly secured facility, the courage to take on armed guards, and the wherewithal to not get killed in the process.
Problem 2-They’re assuming that Matthew has a flagrant enough disregard for authority that he would try such a thing in the first place, knowing full well that if he gets caught and sent to a Russian prison, the chances of him ever seeing home again are nonexistent.
Problem 3-They’re assuming that Matthew wouldn’t check his camera before going off for a shoot, which is something photographers are often wont to do. If he’d done so, he might notice that his usual camera has been switched with an X-Raying, tumor-inducing lookalike, and he would, at the very least, get a new one.
So the plan doesn’t just require Matthew to be a dumbass, he has to be a dumbass with super-stealth knowledge. Sam Fisher with idiot-savant disabilities.
Yeah…that’s Matt Carter in a nutshell. Fortunately, the dumb plot and even dumber protagonist have a strong game backing them up.
Now, I’m hardly a fan of the stealth genre; my entire experience with it adds up to an hour of Metal Gear Solid 2 at my cousin’s house. But I get the general gist: You sneak around, you knock people out, you sneak around some more and you don’t get caught.
Cold War has a heavy emphasis on the covert stuff; you’ll spend the bulk of your time hiding in blind spots, peeking around corners, disabling traps and working out gray matter…the standard stuff. But don’t start thinking this is just another cash-in; Cold War isn’t riding on Splinter Cell’s coattails. It’s got a flavor all it’s own.
Take the environment.
Russia’s thought of as a cold place, a dark place, and Cold War reflects that. You walk through the freezing rain, taking small steps, your only noise coming from the subtle sound of your sneakers meeting the wet streets. Lightning flickers in random bursts, illuminating the path and taking away your cover for mere seconds. Voices echo through the halls, flickering lights make flickering shadows out of every object, mice scamper across the floor and a faint fog adds to the gloom. When your sneaking through the corridors of a Russian prison, you can hear the screams of torture all around you, screams that only end with a resonant gunshot…it’s a harmonic hell with devilish details.
Everything adds to atmosphere, creating a world ripe with tension: you actually feel like your life is on the line. The line between reality and fantasy blur, the seams come apart, and some small, childish part of your mind actually believes that you’re in real danger, actually thinks that real death might be around the corner.
As much as you might want, you can’t tell that part of you to shut up.
The atmosphere’s not the only thing adding the experience, either; it teams with the gameplay and heightens the effect. Matt may have the skills, but he doesn’t have the tools. He’s doesn’t have stun guns or knockout gas grenades or tranquilizer darts. All he’s got is his gun, his camera, and some standard supplies, nothing more than an average reporter would bring for an average day in average Russia.
Fortunately, Matt can be a clever scamp when he wants to be (a fact that he’ll never let you forget. He pats himself on the back way too often) He’s got a black belt in improvisation, and you can put it to good use.
Matt needs rubber bullets to knock out the guards, but he doesn’t have rubber bullets. What does he do? Takes out his water bottle, empties the water, molds the bottle into the right shapes, and winds up with some non-lethal ammo for a lethal weapon.
The entire game plays out like that, requiring you to think a little, adapt a little, guess a little. Anything and everything Matt finds is a weapon waiting to happen. The more you make, the more you’re allowed to make; experimenting with the system gives you access to newer and nastier toys to play with.
But don’t think that the right tools are all you need to get by; you’ve got to use them with a strong dose of cunning. The enemies aren’t morons with low visibility and poor hearing. Move in front of them, they can see you. Leave a trail behind, they can track you. A careless step on the floor a large, quiet room can make a resounding noise…they can hear you, too. They’ll investigate, follow you, check in the places you don’t want them to check.
Of course, having an X-Ray camera comes in handy for things like this. It can only see so far-looking into the next room, looking down at the next floor-and you can only do it so long before it has to recharge. But its inclusion adds a new dynamic to the whole scene; it’s more than just a treat for the eyes. You’ll need it to get past certain parts, you’ll want it to make the process all the easier.
You can’t use it to do a Superman-styled peek under some women’s dress, though. But none of the women in this game are all that hot, anyway, so no big loss. Pity, though.
Like I said before, I’m not a fan of the genre. But if I was, there’d be one major thing I’d expect from a stealth game: Suspense. Cold War’s involving environment captures that feeling to perfection, meeting and beating expectations. Not only that, but it brings new concepts, making sure that even the experienced have something to learn. Good stuff, overall.
Now, if they could’ve just fixed the laugh-worthy plot and thrown in some gypsy catfighting, like in that James Bond movie…perfect.
Staff review by Zack Little (November 07, 2005)
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