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Matt Keller
18 Oct, 2005

Cold War Review

PC Review | War, conspiracy, and all that nonsense done in the most boring way possible.
The stealth/espionage genre has never been more popular, with big hitters Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, Syphon Filter, Thief and Deus Ex being released in the last five years to both critical acclaim and retail success. Surprisingly, there hasn’t been a large number of imitators (only Rogue Ops comes to mind), with most developers opting to include the much despised “stealth bit” in games that don’t need it. Newcomer Mindware Studios are hoping to get their foot in the door with their debut title Cold War, which serves up stealth and espionage in spades. Now Cold War didn’t look quite so good when we went hands on with it earlier this year - but a good four months have passed since that build was sent out, so is Mindware Studios ready to join the likes of Kojima Productions and Ubisoft Montreal, or destined to be lumped into the me-too category with Bits Studios?

Matthew Carter is the name of the protagonist in Cold War – with the way his name is bandied around, you’d think they’re trying to push for this title to spawn a franchise. Matthew is a freelance journalist – a rather good one, just having uncovered a rather large conspiracy in Berlin. Unfortunately, Matthew messed with the wrong people. After receiving a tip on a story which he believes could net him the coveted Pulitzer Prize, Matthew heads to Moscow. One of the evil fellows that Matthew messed with in Berlin has a rather fancy camera planted on our hero’s luggage, setting him up for what appears to be an assassination attempt – when Carter tries to snap a photo of the President meeting with a few of his loyal underlings, the camera instead melts a nearby fire extinguisher. He is captured and beaten to a pulp by KGB agents, stripping him of all his gear. As Matthew, you must escape from the prison, evade your captors and uncover the truth behind this conspiracy to free your name.

Rather than using his fist to knock the guard out, Carter just told him about the plot of this game

Rather than using his fist to knock the guard out, Carter just told him about the plot of this game
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Arguably the most important parts of a stealth/espionage game are the story and the stealth mechanics. Unfortunately, Cold War botches both of these in spectacularly dull fashion. Rather than having the plot revealed piece by piece by the player through discoveries made in each mission, the developer has decided to blow any chance of a thrilling story out by having everything laid out in front of the player at the beginning. The thing that makes this worse is the fact that the plot is never interesting at any point throughout the game - the writers of Neighbours and Home and Away have come up with better storylines than this! Harold Bishop’s exploits aside, we can’t say we’ve experienced such a boring storyline in any title we’ve reviewed this year.

Controlling Matthew is actually a pretty easy exercise – the usual WASD movement method is employed, with the mouse controlling your vision. The mouse wheel will control the speed at which Carter moves; push it up and he moves faster, but will be easily spotted, push it down and he will be invisible, provided the conditions are right. Now, the control mechanics are pretty solid, with the exception of Matthew’s excruciatingly slow movement speed, but Cold War’s way of dealing with stealth is a little nauseating. Carter’s level of cover is indicated by a bar at the bottom of the screen as seen in many other stealth titles, but the bar seems quite useless – the guards have the detection ability of Professor X from the X-Men. Given the number of the guards in any one level, the fact that they’re so quick and have a sharp eye and aiming ability, Carter really has no chance of competing against them, especially when you take into account the fact he can’t move very fast and has an extremely limited amount of health. With the stealth heavy focus of Cold War, a bad mechanic like this causes a huge amount of frustration which eventually leads into a desire to uninstall the game.

You could swear that some guards have eyes in the back of their heads

You could swear that some guards have eyes in the back of their heads
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The only highlights of Cold War’s drab campaign are the gadgets that Matthew can construct and use. The camera that Carter acquires at the start of the game isn’t just used for taking happy snaps of his drunken mates on a Saturday – the camera’s primary function is X-Ray vision, which will allow you to see through walls into the next room to see what’s in store for our hero, and plan an attack accordingly. The camera also has an offensive function which can be used to disable cameras and stun guards. Matthew is also capable of MacGuyverian style feats of improvisational science, being able to conjure up items for his inventory for simple household items – a plastic bottle can be combined with bullets to make non-lethal shells, while an alarm clock, some random parts and some ether can be combined together to make a knockout mine. Finding blueprints scattered about the levels will lead to Matthew being able to construct new gadgets, and eventually increase his range into more complex tools.

If you wish to see Cold War through to the end, you’ll only need to part with about 8-10 hours of your life. The game has multiple difficulty levels, but even the easiest mode gives the AI superhuman vision and hearing. Once you’ve completed the game, there are optional mini-games, which are basically working your way through the original game with various stipulations, i.e. you can’t kill anyone or you can’t be spotted.

At least some parts of the game are easy on the eyes

At least some parts of the game are easy on the eyes
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Cold War does look nice in parts – the character models are a highlight, featuring lots of detail, but the animation is really rigid, with characters having stiff movement with no hint of natural flow. Lighting and fog effects are pretty, but we’ve seen better in recent times. The environments featured in the game are pretty bland, a real contrast to otherwise nice looking graphics. The game doesn’t really place a high demand on one’s PC, with our main reviewing rig being able to run the game on full detail and not drop a single frame. Cold War’s musical score is passable, though some tunes seem to be based on campy spy themes, and these take away from the serious nature of the game. Sound effects are unremarkable, but enhanced by Creative EAX, for those with compatible cards. Voice acting is pretty bad, with plenty of guys with thick Russian accents who speak perfectly fluent English, and a smarmy main character.

Cold War’s poorly functioning stealth system, lack of a solid narrative and lack of replay really seal its fate as that of another poor imitation in what has become a highly competitive genre. There’s nothing that could really have saved the title without a major reconstruction of the narrative and the way it is told, and a major toning down of the AI’s abilities, especially on the easier difficulties. Cold War will suffer the fate of many games this holiday season; sitting on the shelf of the store unwanted, before making its way into the bargain bin. It deserves it.
The Score
Cold War seems to lack the two main components that are crucial to a stealth/espionage game - a solid narrative and a competent stealth system. Combine that with a short overall length, and you've got no real reason to play it. 4
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Cold War Content

Cold War Preview
07 Aug, 2005 PALGN dons its trenchcoat and goes undercover in a hands-on preview.
LGC 07: Empire: Total War announced
22 Aug, 2007 It's time to go to War again.
God of War Review
23 Jun, 2005 We review one of the hottest PS2 games of the year.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Dreamcatcher Interactive
Developer:
  Mindware Studios
Players:
  1

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