Cold Winter First Look

We get an exclusive look at Vivendi Universal and Swordfish Studios' upcoming first-person shooter.

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Cold Winter is the upcoming first-person shooter from UK-based developer Swordfish Studios and publisher Vivendi Universal. When we saw the game at this year's E3 in August, it was slated for release on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. However, the ensuing months have seen development on the title change focus, as Swordfish and Vivendi have now opted to make the game a PlayStation 2 exclusive and will focus their efforts on crafting a polished first-person shooter. We recently had the opportunity to pick up a work-in-progress demo version of the game and even got to try our hand at an early incarnation of it to see how Swordfish Studios is faring with the ambitious game.

For those who are unfamiliar with its backstory, Cold Winter is set in the late '50s and focuses on Andrew Sterling, a British MI-6 operative in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, while Ian Fleming's tales of James Bond's glamorous spy adventures would lead you to believe that Andrew is a lady-killing stud who enjoys a rich life of casual encounters and spying, the spy lifestyle isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. While we're fairly certain Andrew would be living a hedonistic lifestyle, that balanced work and play, if he could, when the game opens, work has clearly dominated old Andy's life. It appears he's been captured by the Chinese and is being sent to prison--with nary a lady or four-star accommodations in sight--to await execution. Fortunately, before Andy's "big day," he's rescued by a mysterious--but deadly--woman named Kim. The catch is that you don't know much more than what the game's opening sequence shows you. The rest of the story unfolds as you progress through the game. The structure is a bit unconventional in that it splinters off into three seemingly distinct arcs that are spread over 15 levels. However, they all paint a complete picture as to what's happened to Andrew and why the world will never be the same if he fails in his mission.

You'll be doing a lot of killing in Cold Winter.
You'll be doing a lot of killing in Cold Winter.

The game's structure is pretty straightforward. You work your way through levels, dispatching of enemies as you go. You have a core group of objectives to complete in every level, in addition to bonus objectives. While getting through to the end of a level is obviously your main goal, the game rewards you for being nosy by offering you some useful items that are outside of the core path. Some levels also require you to work with NPCs (nonplayer characters), and you may even have to make your way through a level while keeping Kim relatively unharmed.

The environments in the game are set throughout the world.
The environments in the game are set throughout the world.

The gameplay in Cold Winter is a mix of the conventional first-person shooter elements you'd expect, along with some stealth elements and some MacGyver-like elements thrown in for good measure. You go through the game in a first-person perspective, and you're able to jump and crouch to get through obstacles. The X button serves as an all-purpose action button that lets you open doors and searches the corpses of downed enemies, which often hold weapons or keys that let you progress deeper into a level. The game's first level, which picks up just after Kim rescues you, is a Halo-style intro level that incorporates a tutorial into the action. Here you're able to set some of your options, as Kim makes a few quick health checks on Andrew. Once you're done, the pair of you make your way out of the jail. The game handles pretty well right now, despite its early state. The controls are responsive, and the layout seems pretty intuitive, especially if you play a lot of first-person shooters on the PS2.

The jail level also shows the obvious benefits of stealth, as you stick to the shadows and crouch behind objects and hide from the game's ambitious AI. Swordfish is aiming for enemies to react to various stimuli in the game, both directly and indirectly. As a result, your foes will react appropriately when they see you or if they're nearby and hear your gunfire. This can have a nasty domino effect if you're not careful, and it can lead to an untimely death. Swordfish is implementing a generous system of checkpoints in the game to replace the traditional manual save system. Therefore you should respawn near where you need to be. Another slick element in the game is the health system, which, in a nod to the era, relies heavily on sweet morphine. Basically, you use your health kit for a morphine hit that restores your health and increases Andrew's adrenaline meter, which temporarily enhances his performance in the game. As the adrenaline meter empties, Andrew's health receives a final boost as well. This unique system ensures that you won't be scouring the halls for multiple health pickups so that you can fully restore your health.

Not even death or 'quality time' will spare your foes
Not even death or 'quality time' will spare your foes

Another unique aspect of Cold Winter's gameplay is the item combination system that lets you fashion various items into weapons, traps, and tools in MacGyver-esque fashion. While we haven't seen anything as esoteric as Andrew creating a bomb out of gum, foil, and paper clips, it will be possible to make a Molotov cocktail out of a liquor bottle, rags, and a lighter. However, the item combination system is just gravy for the game's arsenal of 30 weapons and gadgets, which run the gamut from standard rifles and pistols to poison and wiretaps.

The graphics, though not yet complete, are looking quite good. Swordfish Studios is relying on Renderware to help create the game's visuals and is making impressive use of what the tool has to offer. The character models look pretty solid, although they vary in quality right now. For example, your savior, Kim, looks quite good, but some of the common grunts you encounter look a bit bland. The environments are detailed and feature some very impressive lighting effects that add quite a bit to the game's atmosphere. You'll find eight different locales in the game, like Andy's prison digs in China, as well as areas in Cairo, North Korea, Hong Kong, and India, to name just a few. One of the nice touches about the areas you'll explore are the physics on display. Cold Winter features a realistic physics model that causes environmental objects to react realistically, depending on their sizes and weights. You're able to pick up most objects and can toss them around, which can definitely come in handy during gameplay. The level of polish also extends to the animation, which, while still coming together, is looking quite good, thanks to the use of rag-doll physics and a host of animations for enemy movements and deaths. You'll actually see your foes duck for cover, or, if there's none handy, they'll make their own by overturning tables. The game's frame rate, which was fairly stable during our time with the game, is expected to be locked at 30 frames per second, in spite of the onscreen carnage. Swordfish is pretty close to that right now, although there's quite a bit of inconsistency when enemies flood the screen--which can be a regular occurrence if you underestimate the AI.

Vehicles will be incorporated into your adventures and add variety to the gameplay.
Vehicles will be incorporated into your adventures and add variety to the gameplay.

Sound is the most incomplete aspect of the game right now, as most of the audio in the version we played was of the placeholder type. The final game is expected to feature varied in-game music, voice, and sound effects for the different things you'll encounter. At present, the plan is to offer Dolby Pro Logic II support to provide as immersive an experience as possible.

Based on what we've seen so far, Cold Winter certainly has a lot of promise. The story structure is interesting, the graphics are looking good, and the gameplay has quite a few interesting twists to it that should be pretty cool--once everything is polished up. We're anxious to see exactly what kind of multiplayer features are going to end up in the game, as, at the moment, reps will only say that it will support several different types, which should be a key component of its appeal. Cold Winter is currently slated to ship next fall exclusively for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on it in the coming months.

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