Could this hopeful entry from Swordfish Studios and VUG be the answer to PS2's FPS fantasies? Let's find out.
If Cold Winter misses the mark in a couple of areas, it's not for lack of effort on the part of developer Swordfish Studios. As gamers who play perhaps thousands of first-person shooters every week, one thing that's immediately clear about Cold Winter is that a lot of hard work has gone into the development of this game. So then, let's take a closer look...
You play an M16 agent by the name of Andrew Sterling, who's been captured by the Chinese government and denied acknowledgement by his London spy agency. The game starts out with a relatively simple breakout from a Chinese prison; Andrew has been brutally tortured and held captive there for a long time, so naturally it's time to enact revenge on his Chinese captors.
In terms of pacing, weapons and how the gameplay encourages you to progress with a degree of stealth, some of Cold Winter's play mechanics are very reminiscent of GoldenEye 007, and Halo also has had its influences; the game offers a two-slot weapon system along with the gold old melee attack. Unfortunately though, Cold Winter doesn't bring a whole lot else to the table - but what it does, it does with admirable precision.
The many GoldenEye influences stood out to us the most. Mowing down communist guards with a P90, sneaking up behind a guard and planting a silenced shot into the back of his head and creating chaos with the computer security systems - they're all situations that remind us of the Bond classic - and they're perhaps the moments when Cold Winter is at its best.
The campaign storyline holding all the missions together is one of Cold Winter's main attractions. It's a story told between missions using rendered cutscenes that's well thought out, boasting surprisingly good voice acting. Unfortunately the CG cut-scenes use the in-game character models, and in places the CG looks like it's from a 1996 PC game. That aside, a lot of care and attention has gone in to creating a fairly compelling story that has solid direction and complements the gameplay.
While the weapon choices in Cold Winter are a bit un-imaginative, I can't help finding them strangely satisfying. The P90 - a simple pistol, feels powerful. You know, like you feel like you could do some real damage to a man. Similarly, when you have the submachine gun you feel like you don't need anything else, taking out enemies left and right one-man-army stylee is extremely satisfying. Cold Winter's extremely violent death animations are one aspect that probably aids this, shooting an enemy results in chunks of flesh flying off with every bullet impact and the havoc system is as usual the cause for much amusement.
One part of Cold Winter that most sets it apart frim the pack is the rather special AI system. Enemies efficiently knock tables and boxes over for cover, or lean around corners to fire at you. You can also have some impressive gun battles by knocking over or picking up objects for cover, and to spice things up there are also some totally random encounters with enemies where they aggressively attack you and some surprise attacks using smoke grenades. It's AI like this that really cements a beievable experience which is really Cold Winter's overall selling point.
The graphics are a bit hit and miss really; if you look at the screenshots of this game you're likely to be very under-whelmed. However the game does look quite pretty when it's moving; while the models aren't especially well defined poly-wise, particle effects are well done, especially on the PS2 system. There are some areas that really let the visuals down though - not just some of the CG cutscenes, which use the in-game low-poly models - but while admirably interactive, some of the background destruction seems to be slopped on as an afterthought; throw a television at a wall and you get a vague blue explosion.
However, the audio is where things really falter. There's some really well done voice acting and excellent music in Cold Winter, but some poor compression and muffled sound effects let the game down. It's almost a crime that all this effort has gone in to writing a story and recording dialogue for it to be muffled in the noise of some truly awful ambient sounds. Cold Winter's audio would have hugely benefited from more love at presumably the mastering stages.
Multiplayer is in a similar situation to the single player offering; the wealth of options are there, the bots, the arenas and weapons, but it all feels like ground that's been covered before. There's nothing really new here, the maps are fine but not amazingly well designed, and there aren't really any maps up to the standards of certain genre leaders.
And, from our brief time with the online mode, although the experience is undoubtedly done with gratifying competence, the fact that this is all rather trodden ground will be a downer for many multi-console gamers. Having said that, FPS-starved PS2-only gamers will no doubt find quite a lot fo enjoy in this package.
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Official Trailer (640x480 expanded, 1.1Mbps)
Direct feed gameplay (640x480, 1.7Mbps)