In Cold Blood Preview

Think spy gameplay similar to Metal Gear Solid's on pre-rendered backgrounds similar to Final Fantasy's, and you might just have In Cold Blood.


UK developer Revolution Software is well known for games that focus on a well-told story. One of the major goals of managing director Charles Cecil is to provide games with a very strong narrative component. This strength, accompanied by Revolution's track record, is why signs point to In Cold Blood, the company's latest game in development, as possibly being the most intriguing espionage game since Metal Gear Solid.

The story is set in the former Soviet Union and particularly in a fictional Russian state named Volgia. It's a state that is very ethnically diverse, and racial conflicts are common. Several years before the game actually begins, a military coup overthrew the local government, and Volgia declared independence from the Soviet Union. While the details of the coup are purposely kept secret at the beginning of the game, the storyline implies that the head of intelligence/security, a man named Dmitri Nagarov, is mainly responsible. Nagarov has gained popularity in the region, and he is a bigoted, intolerant man who ruthlessly suppresses Volgian minorities. It's Nagarov's plan to rule the world, and he is infiltrating Volgia's neighbor-states, as the Nazi regime had done in Germany in the early '40s.

But why does the story take place in Volgia? When Nagarov worked for the Russian state, his scientists discovered a mysterious compound named Blue Nephiline. While the full capabilities of the compound have yet to be discovered, it is at least supposed to make superconductivity possible, and therefore it would put Nagarov's weapons and computers a good jump ahead of Western technology. What Nagarov doesn't know is there's a resistance movement in Volgia, the VVF (Volgia Freedom Fighters), which is run by a man named Gregor Kostov. Gregor is in contact with the Americans, who covertly finance his operation. Kostov leaks information about Blue Nephiline to the US, which, of course, responds.

The US sends an agent named Kiefer to Russia to find out whether Blue Nephiline actually exists. However, Kiefer never returns from his mission, so the Americans ask the British for help. You're John Cord, a British agent who is sent to Russia to complete Kiefer's mission. Although the British agency assures you this is a routine mission, as the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together, you'll find that In Cold Blood is anything but routine.

The story is told in flashbacks. As the game starts, you are being tortured in a cell, but you don't know what how you got there. The story will unfold bit by bit, and as it progresses you'll gather more and more information about how and why you got into the cell and why you're being tortured. The flashbacks will form seven of the nine total missions in the game. As Charles Cecil, managing director of development for Revolution Software explains, "The player is first introduced to his character, John Cord, two thirds of the way through the game, when Cord reveals he was betrayed. We then jump backward and forward in time through seven of the missions, until time catches up with itself."The story itself is complex, and the way it's revealed to you can be confusing, but it highlights one of the biggest draws of interactive entertainment - storytelling. "It is essential that the story is written in such a manner that it fits an interactive environment," explains Cecil. "For this reason, the internal team needed to keep overall control of the narrative with the external script editor ensuring that plot development and character motivation was maximized within the game environment. Once the gameplay relating to interactive narrative had been completed, the script writer then edited any existing dialogue and added dialogue for character development."

Just like in Metal Gear Solid, In Cold Blood is all about stealth and espionage. You're better off avoiding guards than fighting them, and you will also have to keep an eye out for cameras, security systems, robots, and things of that nature. But what makes In Cold Blood different from other games like it is ICB's advanced AI system. All the computer-controlled characters in the game will react realistically to the situation. If a guard spots you he may ask you to identify yourself. But if the guard had heard gunfire previously, he might decide to shoot you on sight. Additionally, line of sight, angle of vision, and areas of light and darkness will affect whether the player will be seen by guards. You can also sneak up behind guards and incapacitate them with your secret-agent killing techniques, which is handy both for saving ammo and for avoiding firefights.

Cord also is equipped with a device called the REMORA (Remote Entry Mainframe Override and Recall Assistant). It's a computer gadget that lets you log on to enemy computer systems so that you can control certain items or access information from the database. It also lets you upload newly gathered information to your headquarters. One of the more handy features of the REMORA is its ability to scan rooms for the presence of guards. You will see on the display how many guards are in a room and where they are placed.

Because the game jumps around through different flashbacks, the question of balancing the difficulty of the missions came up. Charles Cecil reflects: "This is the beauty of combining action with narrative. As the player progresses, we can introduce tougher situations and harder adversaries. Initially, the player must overcome the guards, but then robot guards are introduced, and then worse still. This is much easier than in an adventure where it is difficult to vary the difficulty through the game."

Definitely, the story and the missions took a lot of in-depth planning. "When we set out to write In Cold Blood, we wanted to create a game with a unique feeling. Video games often rely on clichéd plotlines and characterization or simply mimic what has gone before. We wanted to break away from the constraints and so we looked to the film industry for inspiration. We wanted our creation to feel like a movie and play like a game," explains Cecil. "The idea of creating a dynamic story structure by jumping around in time was inspired by two excellent films that came in close succession - Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects. It quickly became clear that by using this narrative technique, we could write a much more game-driven narrative. The story idea for In Cold Blood was triggered by reading an article which highlighted the extraordinary potential of a compound called Schungite, which has unique properties, including superconductivity. When Russian scientists first discovered the potential of Schungite, they maintained complete secrecy, believing that it could provide the technical leap that they needed to overtake the Americans in the arms race. Since deposits are found only in the Russian state of Karelia, we believed that it would be a fascinating scenario if a rebellious province of Russia found itself having a monopolistic control of such an important compound. We then considered how the other major nations would react. And In Cold Blood was born." The game is set in the near future. It is intended to take what is happening today in Russia and combine that with what might have happened if Shungite had proved as valuable as the Russians had hoped.

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