Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Game Impressions: Cold Fear

At least the first hour of Cold Fear is entirely devoted to setting up anxiety and apprehension as it slowly drip feeds you information on the bad guys.  Although I moved pretty quickly and did manage to encounter the parasitically driven zombies within the first hour, they were still mostly treated as set piece events rather than random encounters as they were always highlighted against the background, perhaps showcased against the human soldiers.  Some of the main points of the plot are also revealed involving experimentation into strange parasitic organisms that can revivify dead corpses to their own ends.

Also, bear in mind, there will be heavy spoilers for the first hour of gameplay.  This is an analysis, after all.

Introductory Clip

  • First clips showing the original soldiers despatched to investigate dying with blurred camera shots of some glowing eyed humanoid.  This is intended to show the dangers that you're up against.
  • The second half of the clip establishes your arrival and your lesser status (rather than a tactical assault team trained for this you're Coast Guard) and the fact that you're separated from your fellow men. 
  • The Storyteller could duplicate this effect by using framing exposition to explain that the last team is MIA and that the new team must go out there and fix things.  This is best used in a briefing, perhaps with camera footage from the last team, although some groups may be happy for you to describe scenes they're characters couldn't hope to have seen.
The ship rocks back and forth, rain beating down on the deck as you first regain control of your character.  As few games attempt this, it really cues you in that environmental hazards are a distinct possibility.  The player is further cued in when he finally gets up onto the main deck and sees a large crate swinging wildly across a deck that is burning in a few places.  Some of the hazards met within the first hour include:
  • Tilting ship can splash waves on you, causing you to gain Fatigue, possibly washing you overboard.
  • Tilting ship can cause you to slide through breaks in the railings.
  • Swinging 'hooks' and swinging crates might hit you and damage you.
  • Flooded corridor - electrocuted if you shoot out the fuse box.
  • Fire on certain parts of the deck - avoid.
  • Fire blocks corridors - wash it out with the sprinkler system.

Other Characters
This game has thus taken care to keep the Russian soldiers from appearing sympathetic which is important in a game where you're expected to kill them all.  The fact that they don't attempt to hail you or work with you against the greater threat also doesn't work to endear you to them.

  • Corpses of soldiers are the main people you'll meet.  Often twitching, jaws moving, which gives a hint that they're not quite as dead as you would like.
  • Scared Russian soldiers assume you're an Exocel and will attack you.  No civilians or whalers yet seen.
  • Lansing is dead on the toilet.  His head falls off when you disturb the corpse by taking something from his pocket so at least you don't need to worry about him reviving.
  • A man crawls toward you, trailing intestines due to his removed lower half.  Zombie?  No, he reaches for you in a plea for help.  Then an Exocel drops behind him and kills him.  This is how you meet your first Exocel.
Russian soldier meet Exocel (off-screen)

Enemies / Difficulty Curve
The game focuses on environmental hazards before moving on to the first couple of actual enemies.  I know there are more kinds of enemies but I only came across two and neither were too difficult which is pretty good for the first hour.

  • Russian soldiers armed with guns who don't take many shots before going down.
  • First Infected soldiers will fall down when you shoot them but require a head shot to take them out.

Scare Moments
This game uses a few twitch 'Wham!' moments but also plenty of slowly building up moments where the player is relied upon to come to their own realisations.  This certainly makes it a whole lot scarier.

  • The moment you realise the corpses are still twitching.
  • Lights going off in one of the rooms.  Nothing happens but still.
  • You take something out of a floating corpse's pockets and when you turn to leave it rises up and smacks you.
  • You turn on the sprinklers and a burning soldier runs through the fire, possibly burning you.
  • The dead monkey in a store room near the empty cages that just lies there.
There aren't many different things you do in this game but that isn't uncommon for this sort of videogame.
  • Killing.
  • Locating objects and using them with things (namely keys).
  • Avoiding death from environmental effects.
  • Exploring rooms.
The moods this game evoke are ones of dread, anticipation, and adrenaline.

Game Expectations
You don't really sense a mystery brewing but you do know that there are going to be shocks and scares aplenty alongside issues of timing, quick reflexes and pinpoint aiming.  Even though this is an action game, it's slower than usual pace builds up the expectation that this is still a horror game and that horror tropes with overshadow action tropes every time.  This means that wasting ammunition, flinging yourself headlong into battle, and otherwise showing off how epic and cool you are might just leave your battered and broken body bleeding on the ground.

This is important because you can imagine how frustrating it would be if it acted like an ordinary shooter and then punished you for responding accordingly.  Since part of the gamer contract is dealt with through self-selection (don't like horror?  you're unlikely to buy it) whereas roleplayer contracts are more inclusive (you like to roleplay in my games so you're here), some element of out of character discussion beforehand can be helpful. 

You're in a better spot you if you're planning to run a new system designed for that type of game as your average D&D players can be easily clued into the fact that Call of Cthulhu runs differently.  Otherwise you may also have to smack the players over the heads with the game style as it's not like they've had a chance to read reviews, view a cover, and watch a trailer to judge your campaign on. 

Still, if you drench your game with enough indicators as this game did within the first hour than you'll end up with a very immersive, slick, and above all defining experience that should help the players set their expectations.  A few hints about ammunition conservation and high damage outputs also wouldn't go astray if your players are used to unlimited ammo and low damage-to-hit-point ratios.

If you want to read most Game Impressions, you can find them here.

If you want to read the Cold Fear Game Translation, you can find it here.

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