Cold War Hands-On
Take Splinter Cell, throw in a little <i>MacGyver</i>, and you get an idea of what this third-person stealth action game is about.
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Cold War is an upcoming third-person stealth game that's clearly inspired by Ubisoft's superlative Splinter Cell series. And like in Splinter Cell, you'll sneak around buildings, dodging guards and security systems while on the trail of an international conspiracy that threatens to wreck the world. However, Cold War is much more than that. This is a game that's got a bit of MacGyver in it as well, as we've discovered by playing around with a preview of the game.
In Cold War, you play as an American journalist working in the old Soviet Union in the midst of, well, you guessed it, the Cold War. This means that the superpower tensions are still on, and the US and the USSR stare at each other across the iron curtain. The story, told through comic-book-like cutscenes, is that shortly after arriving in Moscow, you're stripped of all possessions and tossed into the KGB's infamous Ljubjanka prison. You then escape and now have a limited amount of time to solve the mystery before the agents of the Soviet Union catch up with you again.
Your character is a most unusual protagonist. Rather than having the grim, imposing nature of Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher, you're Carter, a scruffy, bespectacled, T-shirt-and-jeans-wearing journalist, a sort of '80s rebel without a cause. And as a journalist, killing isn't your nature. This makes for an interesting twist in a genre where snapping necks, slitting throats, and popping caps into someone's forehead are all second nature. This means that when you're sneaking around the levels in the game (some based on famous landmarks, such as Lenin's mausoleum), you'll need to knock guards and civilians out. Of course, later on you'll be given the chance to actually rock and roll with a machine gun and other weapons, but those won't be your primary options at first.
The most common way to knock people out is simply to sneak up behind them and knock them out with a punch to the head. You can then pick up the body and deposit it somewhere out of the way and in the dark, as well as search the body for any useful items. However, the MacGyver-like component comes in to play in that you can also create special items out of existing items. For example, you can take the rubber bullets from a guard's gun and add an anesthetic that you find to create knockout bullets. This allows you to shoot people without killing them, which is important if you need to neutralize a civilian safely. And you can do a lot more than create knockout bullets. You can also recover blueprints throughout the game that will show you how to combine other items to create unique items.
The most innovative item in your inventory, though, is your camera, which was somehow modified when you were locked in your cell. Rather than take pictures, the camera now has an X-ray ability that lets you look through walls and other solid objects. You also see human beings as walking skeletons, and you can use it for other purposes, such as detecting radiation. It can also cause electrical systems, such as lights, to overload. Figuring out what happened to your camera, and who did it, is part of the unfolding mystery in the game.
Much of the game involves skulking around levels, much like Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell. Like in that game, you have a light meter of sorts that indicates when you're illuminated and how much. Obviously, standing out under a streetlight will make you highly visible, so it's all about staying in the shadows, sneaking up on guards, and knocking them out. Carter doesn't seem to be anywhere as acrobatic as Sam Fisher (but then again, who among us is?), so there aren't any incredible physical feats that we've seen, such as the ability to scale up walls or to hang upside down from pipes. You will gain allies during the game, so there will be someone talking to you over a radio, and you'll gain the ability to coordinate with others. For example, if you need a distraction, you can signal someone to make a noise to attract guards away from a doorway that you need to get through.
Cold War looks pretty, and it's definitely going for an atmospheric experience. We needed to adjust the contrast on our monitor to get the darks dark and the lights bright, but you do get a sense of hiding in the dark most of the time. The game takes place in many famous settings around Moscow, and there's certainly a grand, though cold, style to Communist architecture. Much of the sound effects and voice-over are still placeholder, and the game still needs tweaking to its animation, though there's still plenty of time for the developer to finish everything up.
At this point, Cold War comes across as a Splinter Cell-style game with some interesting adventure elements. It's certainly different, as well, since you're not playing as an elite commando. You'll still be unwittingly drafted to save the world, though, but in a fish-out-of-water kind of way. Cold War is scheduled to ship for the PC and Xbox this winter.