Reviewed: January 22, 2004
Released: August 19, 2003
Cold Zero: New Mercy chronicles the exploits of a disgraced SWAT sniper, John McAffrey. As the game opens, McAffrey learns that disobeying a commanding officer, and killing a hostage, are not rungs on the ladder to success. He is dismissed and he finds himself opening a detective agency.
Through a series of unfortunate events John finds himself the unwilling employee of the Don of the Italian Mafia. John must now help the mob with their own “war on drugs” and his first job is to steal a virus called "Cold Zero" from a Bio-Research lab.
Cold Zero features:
Looking beyond the story, beyond the graphics, we arrive at Cold Zero’s least horrible point, gameplay. Cold Zero is a 3rd person tactical action game. You assume the role of the previously mentioned John McAffrey, former police sniper and all around detective/mercenary.
The game places you in a little burg with an office, pawnshop, gun dealer, etc, everything the do-it-yourself mercenary would need. Your first mission has you trying to rescue someone from the docks adjacent to your “office”.
Completing different tasks allot you different attribute points, points which you can use to somewhat tailor the game to your liking. Quite a bit like Deus Ex actually. Although the changes are rather elementary in the case of Cold Zero.
You can also amass quite the arsenal during your tenure in the dark world of Cold Zero. Whether buying them from the gun shop, or looting them off the dead dregs you shoot, you’ll came across enough weapons to make Schwarzenegger jealous. Weapons come in several flavors, knives, bats, pistols, rifles, and sub-machine guns. Silencers and other accessories can also be equipped if you need that “specialized” touch.
Besides the weapons, the game gives you a variety of options. You can select your posture, running if you’re in a hurry or a couched sneak if you need to be stealthy. Stamina is also a concern, so you can’t run around all the time, not that you should with all the armed enemies lurking about.
The game also restricts the amount of equipment you’re able to carry. It’s by no means hyper realistic, but you can’t lug around five shotguns. You can even hide bodies, though the weight of the body (or weapons and items if you have too many) will decrease your walking speed.
Changing clothes also plays a big role. You can add vests, coats, even change your shirts. Using camouflage, you can even blend in and avoid suspicion. As the game progresses, this trait becomes even more useful. Before the game is done, you’ll visit over ten locations and fight quite a diverse lot of enemies.
The tutorial does quite a good job, monotonous though it may be, of explaining everything to you. I felt completely prepared to enter the harsh urban jungle that is Cold Zero once I had completed the tutorial mode. The only drawback is the neigh robotic droning of the instructor.
There are some hiccups though, the game is a little on the hard side. Some things, quite important things, like telling you what kind of ammunition goes with which gun, are markedly absent. It’s trial and error until you find out for yourself. Also, in 1600X1200 resolution, the font was practically microscopic and forced me to either squint or change the resolution.
By the looks of it, this game could give Quake a run for it’s money. Quite the achievement, if it were 1996. In 2004 the textured polygons in a game like Cold Zero appear completely old hat. We’re all caught up in pixel-by-pixel lighting and bump mapping, games that look like Quake are not going to light the graphical world on fire.
The animation is equally poor. “Turning” in the game world merely moves the model in the appropriate direction at a moments notice. He doesn’t shift his weight or turn his legs; it’s simply click the button and he’s off. This leaves things looking very jerky and generally sloppy.
The levels are populated, often with members of various underworld organizations. Nothing to put GTA3 to shame, but not a ghost town by any means. Word bubbles accompany voice acting. These world bubbles often omit, change, or misspell what the people are saying. Again, I’d imagine running your dialogue through a spell checker before you ship would be a good idea.
The camera is also very strange, it’s configurable, but you’re still kept in an artificial box. Often times it serves quite well, but don’t try changing your view quickly in a firefight. In fairness, the tutorial goes a long way towards teaching you how to wield the camera. After that, it’s only mildly inconvenient.
Other graphical oddities abound, the enemy’s ability to shoot through boxes to rain falling into a fully enclosed build. Stuff like that says things, bad things. For instance, when you’re walking sideways and firing your weapon at a stationary target, the bullets hit at an impossible angle. The developers didn’t fix that, yet have ripples when rain hits puddles? A very skewed set of priorities to have when you’re developing a game.
Generally a well put together area, voice acting aside. Guns sound like they should. Footsteps, grunts, excited yells, all rendered in full digital glory. Not much in the way of ambient noise however, but since the “action” sounds are there, and good, I’m not going to complain.
Then there was the voice acting, or lack thereof. I hesitate to call “reading from a sheet with a minimum of inflection” acting. The tutorial guy is downright awful. I’m talking Resident Evil 1 levels. In the game proper the voice acting is more uneven. Ranging all the way from “competent” to “ robotic.”
Multiplayer is supported for up to 16 players and adds some replay value, but nothing substantial. Since the game is fairly hard to control and play in single player mode playing against others would only enhance the problems. Replaying the story mode is also pretty much pointless. As a strictly single time affair, Cold Zero is pretty enjoyable. I’ll visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
The basic question I often ask myself is whether or not a game is fun to play. The fun factor can make up for almost anything else I may find lacking a title. In Cold Zero’s case, the fun is there, but the general unkempt nature of many parts of the game drown the fun factor with a huge anchor.
If you can look past the word acting, basic premise, finicky camera, and questionable gameplay mechanics, you can find a deep, involving action game. One that gives you a breadth of options in how you complete your missions. A diamond in the rough, but you’ll find yourself having to do the polishing.