Cold Winter Impressions

We took a guided tour of this upcoming console first-person action game from Swordfish Studios.

We were graciously escorted though the first few levels of Swordfish Studios' upcoming modern-day action game Cold Winter for the PS2 and Xbox at E3 2003. The first-person shooter will let you play as a British secret agent who was captured while attempting to infiltrate enemy headquarters in communist China. The British government has since disavowed all knowledge of your existence, leaving you to rot in prison, though you'll be rescued by a mysterious agent out of Hong Kong and embark on a globe-trotting adventure that will branch into three different paths, each of which will require about six hours of gameplay apiece to finish. Though you'll be treated to a full-featured cinematic ending sequence if you complete any of these branching story paths, you'll uncover the game's entire storyline only by completing all three.

Though Cold Winter will be a first-person shooter designed specifically for consoles, the game seemed to have surprisingly high production values--the kind you might associate with a polished PC shooter. The game will feature a realistic physics model that will cause environmental objects to react realistically depending on their size and weight, and the game will also use real-time stencil-shaded shadows for its characters and objects. Cold Winter will also feature facial motion-capture (to help characters realistically articulate their spoken lines), location-based damage (shooting an enemy in the leg will be far less damaging than a clean headshot, which will usually kill enemies outright), full rag-doll physics (and a wide variety of different death animations), and even dismemberment when you attack your enemies with powerful weapons like the sawed-off shotgun. Cold Winter will feature about 30 different weapons, 10 of which will be accessible in the regular game, though the other 20 will be hidden in various parts of the single-player game and may be discovered or unlocked as you play.

Cold Winter will also feature surprisingly complex enemy AI; we watched as an enemy guard who detected our approach kicked over the table he was sitting at and crouched behind it for cover. Enemies will automatically seek any nearby cover, and groups of enemies will lay suppressive fire so that their comrades can advance on you. Though you'll have to go it alone, you'll have several items and spy gadgets at your disposal that you'll be able to combine to create useful tools. For instance, you'll be able to combine a bottle of booze, a rag, and a lighter to create a Molotov cocktail. You'll also be able to make some unusual combinations, such as contact poison and business cards, which you can use to silently dispatch unsuspecting enemies after you've disguised yourself. You'll also always be equipped with a kit that includes an unlimited adrenaline stimpack that fills your adrenaline meter (though you'll be unable to move or defend yourself while using it). Once your adrenaline meter is full, it will deplete and refill your health meter to full. However, you'll also be able to fill up your adrenaline meter by cleanly killing off your enemies; as it was described to us, the developers decided on this mechanic to reward skillful and aggressive play and also in the hopes that you'll feel encouraged to make one last heroic attempt to clear out your enemies, even if you're severely wounded, because if you can dispatch enough of them to fill up your adrenaline meter, you'll be able to recover. Cold Winter is currently scheduled for release late next year.

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