Cold Winter Updated Hands-On

Swordfish Studios' gritty spy shooter is nearing the end of its long, cold development, and we recently got to try out a new build.

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Cold Winter, the upcoming spy-thriller first-person shooter that's scheduled for an April 2005 release, is nearing the home stretch of its development cycle, and we got to see an updated version of the game recently to see how it's shaping up. Though the up-and-coming developer Swordfish Studios doesn't have a lot of finished titles under its belt, the game looks like it has a solid core-shooting model and will bring some fairly unique new features to the genre as well.

Andrew Sterling isn't your typical martini-sipping, tuxedo-wearing MI6 agent.
Andrew Sterling isn't your typical martini-sipping, tuxedo-wearing MI6 agent.

It's been a while since we've seen Cold Winter in action, so in the interest of providing a primer: You'll play as no-nonsense MI6 agent Andrew Sterling, a tough guy who's there to get the job done as efficiently as possible. You could say that Sterling is about the farthest thing from James Bond imaginable, aside from the fact that they're both Brits. Anyway, you'll play as Sterling throughout a variety of locations, from Hong Kong to the Middle East, as you attempt to both thwart evildoers and accomplish your mission objectives. The game's storyline was coauthored by Ultimate Fantastic Four writer Warren Ellis, and the designers at Swordfish have even consulted actual members of Britain's MI6, as well as the British SAS, in the interest of achieving that extra bit of authenticity.

The shooting has a solid feel to it, and you'll be using more than 30 real-world weapons throughout the course of your missions. We got to use plenty of first-person-shooter mainstays, like the AK-47, a combat shotgun, and a 9mm pistol, in addition to the standard frag grenade (which, thanks to the game's physics system, sent enemies flying). We even had to run back and forth between two mounted machine gun emplacements at one point to bring down a pesky attack helicopter that just wouldn't leave us alone.

But you won't just be depending on stock firearms to complete your missions. One of the most interesting aspects of Cold Winter's gameplay is the ability to essentially construct useful new items out of component objects that you'll find in the environment. During each level, you'll be able to view "recipes" for all the new items you can make in that level, and then it's just a matter of finding the right components to put those items together. For instance, we were able to combine a rag, an empty bottle, and a fuel can to make a Molotov cocktail, which we used as a grenade-type weapon to torch enemy guards. However, you won't just be making optional weapons. Some of your made items will be essential for completing given scenarios. For example, you'll have to construct and use a lock pick in the game's first level.

Cold Winter uses the Karma physics system to give its objects and environments an extra touch of realism, and we were impressed to see that the game has one of the most generalized physics implementations this side of Half-Life 2. Like Valve's shooter, Cold Winter lets you pick up any physics-modeled object and carry it around, giving you the option to drop or throw it at will. Even larger objects that you can't actually pick up can still be manipulated in interesting ways. For instance, we saw how a large cart could be overturned and used as makeshift cover in a firefight. The physics system ought to add a lot of extra life to the game's raging battles, what with lights swinging about wildly, crates exploding realistically into splinters, and so on.

Cold Winter is looking good at this late stage of development. It runs on the same RenderWare platform that powers everything from Grand Theft Auto to Burnout 3, but the game still maintains a consistent and unique look. The environments have a lot of life to them, primarily because of the realistic motion provided by the physics system. In fact, we saw items bobbing in the water, a car blown high into the air by an explosion, and more. One of the game features that Vivendi enjoys touting involves the many points of dismemberment available on enemy models (there are 14, to be precise). You can shoot off an enemy's hand, then his forearm, and then his upper arm, for instance. This will let truly sadistic players have plenty of fun with the many dead bodies they'll leave in their wakes.

The game's wide-ranging implementation of Karma physics will have a considerable effect on gameplay.
The game's wide-ranging implementation of Karma physics will have a considerable effect on gameplay.

The audio was still being implemented in the build we tried, but it seems to be heading in a positive direction. One notable feature is that the enemies you'll fight in each area speak in their native languages. Consequently, the soldiers of Hong Kong will yell back and forth in Chinese, while the Middle Easterners will speak Arabic. This is a subtle point, but it does have a nice cumulative effect of immersing you a little more in your surroundings.

Cold Winter's release is still a good four months away, so development seems like it's about ready to move into the polishing phase. Vivendi promises to show off more of the game in the coming weeks, including its previously unmentioned multiplayer modes, so look for more information soon.

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