Cold Zero Hands-On Preview

We take a close look at this third-person game that gives you more than 100 real-world weapons and items to use.

We recently had the chance to play a preview build of Cold Zero: The Last Stand, a third-person game from Drago Entertainment and JoWood. In the game, you'll assume the role of John McAffrey, a private investigator who has run into money problems. To try to dig him out of debt, McAffrey's secretary, Jane, sends him out on a job to rescue a man from execution by the mafia. It's riskier than the jobs he's used to doing, but he takes it because he needs the money. Rescuing the man angers a mob boss, who then strong-arms John into doing some mercenary jobs. From there, Cold Zero's plot becomes more complex as John gets into even deeper trouble.

You can see around corners to plan your attacks.

Cold Zero is a real-time strategy game played from a distant third-person perspective, similar to the Commandos series, except that in the missions we played, you go it alone, without a team of backup soldiers. Moving around the map is a matter of simply clicking where you want to move, and you can fire your weapon by right-clicking on a target. The game's 3D engine allows you to rotate your view, zoom in and out, and drop the angle of the camera to give you the best possible view of the action. While the version we played didn't let us zoom out our view quite as much as we'd have liked, we were still able to scroll the camera around independently of John's movement to get a better idea of our surroundings and the location of enemies. Enemies are also clearly marked on your minimap, showing you their movement patterns and which direction they're facing. It doesn't seem as tense as other stealth-based games like Splinter Cell, but the pace of the action and the great number of enemies you'll face in the missions still provide enough challenge to keep things interesting.

You're allowed four different modes of movement--sneaking, cautious walking, regular walking, and running. Since there are stealth elements to the game (enemies will react to suspicious noises or gunfire), the interface has meters to show how much noise you're making and your visibility level. Running on hard surfaces and firing rifles will result in plenty of noise to alert nearby enemies, while sneaking around on softer surfaces like grass will make much less of a ruckus.

Aside from lighting and noise concerns, the environment plays other roles in the gameplay. Enemies can become alarmed if they see dead comrades, so you'll be able to pick up and move bodies to hide them. Bodies can also be searched for useful items like weapons, ammo, or health kits. Certain parts of the environment are destructible, like wooden crates, which disintegrate if they take enough fire. If you choose to hide behind a corner, Cold Zero allows you to step out and fire a few shots, then immediately duck back behind the corner, simply by holding down the shift key as you shoot.

Cold Zero also has role-playing elements that reward you for completing tasks during missions and eliminating enemies. As you gain experience, you'll get skill points that you can use to upgrade various characteristics such as strength, which allows for a larger inventory, or technology, which lets you use special add-ons for your weapons and improves your lock-picking skills. You can also allocate points to various weapon proficiencies such as pistol, submachine gun, shotgun, or rifle.

You can creep up quietly on enemies to get a better shot.

Once a mission is over you'll get a briefing screen that tells you how many enemies you killed, how many you left alive, and how many secrets you found in the level. You get more experience points for leaving enemies alive as opposed to killing them, so the game encourages you to be stealthy. In between missions, you return to your office, where Jane gives you a briefing on the next mission. Before you start it, you'll get a chance to visit the nearby pawn shop to sell off miscellaneous items you may have picked up from dead enemies, like cell phones and jewelry. You can also visit a weapon shop, where you can sell weapons, pick up new ones, or stock up on ammunition and health kits.

More than 100 real-world weapons and items are included in Cold Zero, ranging from Beretta 92F pistols to SPAS12 shotguns to MP5SD silenced submachine guns. Each weapon has a rating for accuracy, damage, range, and sound. Also, the guns can only hold the same number of bullets they would in real-life. The .50 caliber Desert Eagle, for example, has a seven-round magazine, while the less-powerful 9mm Glock 17 handgun can hold 17 rounds. You can also purchase hollow-point rounds, which do more damage than standard bullets but cost significantly more money. Special accessories are also available for the weapons, including silencers, high-capacity magazines, and scopes for increased accuracy. Certain add-ons, such as the silencer, can be swapped between weapons in your inventory, so you only need to buy one silencer even if you like carrying extra pistols.

Considering its huge variety of weapons and items, and the fact that you can play it as a straightforward shoot-'em-up game or beat missions stealthily, Cold Zero may appeal to players who are looking for something a little different. The game is scheduled to ship later this summer in North America.

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