Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


Cold Fear (PC, 2005, France): Brrrrr…illiantly Scary Fun
May 14, 2011, 3:57 am
Filed under: Cold Fear (PC, 2005, France)

My post regarding “Cold Fear” will be slightly shorter than average for two reasons. One, the game is relatively well-known, widely available, and old. (Yes, yes…it is a six-year-old game, and I am only now getting around to playing it—my common refrain). There are more than two dozen well written reviews on the internets already, so who needs me to blather on about it? Second, the game is so straightforward, it doesn’t require much verbiage to describe or evaluate. That’s right—this game is simple, scary, and fun.

So, two questions: 1) Why play it now? 2) Why bother writing about it? Allow me to address the second question first: My personal opinion is that most reviewers seemed to not give this game its due at the time of release. Most critics simply called “Cold Fear” a competent, but second-rate, “Resident Evil” clone. And while I’d never argue the game isn’t derivative (it offers nothing new to the genre, while borrowing just about everything from every other survival horror title out there), it is truly excellent at what it does. And anyway: Who cares if it’s a “Resident Evil” clone? I don’t. Just look at all the other dreck I play.

To answer the first question: Actually, this game has been sitting on my “shelf o’ shame” (games I’ve collected over the years and have not yet played) for quite some time. My impetus for popping it in was because I owned more than one copy of it—one was a PS2 iteration and the other was the PC port of the game.  When I first bought the used PS2 copy for pennies several years ago, I started playing it right away. But at the time, being immersed in the current-gen of consoles (the 360, the PS3), seeing my little PS2 chugging along with its jaggy graphics left me uninspired. So after 30 minutes or so, I put it on the shelf o’ shame

to be revisited at a later date. (I think I went on to play “Gears of War” or something.)

Later though, I discovered that the game had been ported to the PC, and while it is not always true that PC ports look or play better than the console iterations, I thought I’d give it a try since it was only going to cost me a few more pennies. In this case, the PC version—which can run at a maxed-out 1600×1200 resolution—looked remarkably better than the PS2 version (the native resolution of which was probably something like 640×400). I also had the option to run an iso of the PS2 version through the PCSX2 emulator on the PC. (For more info about PS2 emulator PCSX2, see my trials and tribulations discussed in the “Forbidden Siren 2” post on this blog). And I did compare that approach as well (being the graphics whore I am), but even an upscaled version of the PS2 copy looked shoddy in comparison to the PC port.

And for its time, it is a beautiful game. There’s no question about it, and most reviewers agree on this point. Playing the role of Tom Hansen, a disgraced soldier who is now simply keeping his head down as a United States Coast Guard (the nature of the disgrace is completely avoided narratively), you are sent across the violently stormy Bering strait to investigate a mysterious Russian whaler which is sending out a distress call. A SEAL squad had been sent in previously, and all were wiped out by some unknown force. But when you arrive, you quickly discover what that force was: In addition to hostile Russian forces on board, the ship is harboring “Exocells”—think HalfLife-like headcrabs but with elastic tentacles. Entering through the mouths of downed soldiers, Exocells infect humans and other life forms as hosts, and rather typical zombification ensues. (One nice mechanic: When shooting some infected soldiers in the head [which is the only way to actually terminate them, surprise], the Exocell will sometimes come rolling out of the headless corpse’s neck and then crawl after you. So, you have to shoot it too. Fun for all.)

So, in the traditional survival horror theme, the environs rely almost entirely on Vaseline-thick atmosphere, and “Cold Fear” has the detailed graphics to make it work. Colors are washed out, lighting is muted, a heavy haze hangs in the claustrophobic corridors, everything is wet (especially the half-eaten bodies strewn around the bathrooms and crew quarters). And appropriately, everything is swaying (at least in the first part of the game). Again for its time, the game does a remarkably efficient job of making you feel that the stormy sea—with its walls of water constantly pummeling the ship–could swallow you at any given moment. And actually, it can toss you right off the ship when walking in open areas where the guardrails have been destroyed. As you can imagine, the constant motion can make aiming tricky, but there is a “cling to railing” button that can steady your aim. It’s all perfectly disorienting, which is something you want in a survival horror game.

Gameplay begins with some rather tepid fetch quests (go here get electronic key, go there unlock door, go here and turn on a radio beacon, go there and rescue a Russian scientist chick) broken up by some nice jump scares as infected soldiers drop from the ceiling or jump from behind shipping crates and bumrush you. (And I’ll add here that the enemy AI exhibited pretty good variety overall—some zombified soldiers will lurk about menacingly, while others will suddenly launch at you full speed, melee weapon raised overhead—a pretty daunting vision.) But within an hour of gameplay, I started to think to myself: Is this it? Does this whole game take place on board this ship? I’m basically a landlubber, but as it turns out I’ve played quite a few horror games that take place on board isolated ships, and I’ve liked most of them. (I keep meaning to add “Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason” to this blog, however it has been a while since I played it—before I started the blog actually—but it is one of my all-time faves). But unlike that game, where the ship feels large and labyrinthine, the whaler in “Cold Fear” is pretty small. The well-developed murky atmosphere and claustrophobic crew quarters, bathrooms, and galley notwithstanding, I very quickly started to feel as though I had traversed the entirety of it and was beginning to get some serious déjà vu.

 

But precisely at the right moment, the game changes location. (This was evidence to me that the developers knew exactly what they were doing.) Up until that point, the source of the little headcrab creatures remains a mystery, but the next thing that happens, you (assisted by the scientist chick) crash the ship into a nearby oil rig (which the converted whaler was initially trying to escape). While the gameplay doesn’t change at this point, the new location breathes life into the game at just the right moment mostly because the narrative expands, as well as the all new dreadful environments to explore. It seems the rig, the Star of Sakhalin, has drilled down and accidentally discovered this new lifeform. As you find out, Dmitri Yusupov, a member of the Russian Mafia, bought the rig at a rock bottom price, and after discovering the Exocells, he hired Doctor Kamsky to produce biological weapons using the Exocells, while raking in some serious profits. As usual, due to internal wrangling, personality conflicts, and some mismanagement, everything aboard the oil rig went to hell, and what you find is a mess of wrecked corridors, bloody heaps of scientists and soldiers, malfunctioning labs, and overgrown Exocells of several varieties. From there your mission is to generally destroy the rig to stop the infection so it cannot reach land.

Nothing new. But visually and atmospherically—with some smart pacing added for good measure—the game simply works, with emphasis on the word “simply.” The narrative is straightforward, the guns are easy to use and effective (although ammo is purposely scarce), and the missions are up-front with a little bit of requisite backtracking (just enough so you become familiar with getting around efficiently). Unfortunately, the characters only barely rise above cardboard cutout status, but I jumped out of my chair a handful of times at some surprise attacks, so I’m willing to forgive just about anything.

Well…except two items. There are a few confusing points in some of the maps where, without warning, the wall gives way and you end up someplace else. It’s as if you are traveling through a doorway and a new map loads. But in these cases, there’s no door but just a wall! There are a few of these places on the oil rig, and while they are disorienting, they don’t ruin the game. It’s just a surprisingly “unfinished” aspect of the game in an otherwise carefully crafted piece of software. Last, there are a few “convenient” points in the narrative where your character faints in order for the story to be pushed further.  Some of these are nonsensical and are glaring plot holes, but I’ve seen worse. The effect was me shaking my head and giggling, but it didn’t ruin the game either.

The upshot: Pick this up for practically nothing (my suggestion, the PC version), play it at full-tilt resolution, and give yourself a cheap reminder that games like “Dead Space” were done (even in embryonic form) long before “Dead Space” ever existed. One play tip: In “Resident Evil” clone fashion, the game is meant to be played in third-person perspective, with forced camera angles. But if you, like me, prefer first-person shooters, you can almost achieve an FPS effect with a simple, low-tech solution. The game offers players a “second-person point of view” (not a term I was familiar with), which is basically an over-the-shoulder perspective, used exclusively for precision aiming. (When in use, it almost looks like the position and size-of-character Isaac in “Dead Space.”) The only problem is that this perspective, while assigned to a button of your choice in the controller configuration menu (on the PC version), it is not toggled (it doesn’t stick). So, in order to keep this perspective active, you’ve got to continually hold the assigned button down (which is a pain in the ass). Of course, a small weighted object (like a lead fishing weight or something) placed on the appropriate key on your keyboard will do nicely. While I don’t think the developers expected players to use this perspective constantly, I found that playing the game from this close-to-FPS perspective was infinitely more enjoyable, while offering me much more control over the character’s movement, as well as the movement of the camera. The screen shots here show that perspective. Also, if you find the walk speed too slow using this perspective, you can open the “heroes.cfg” file in the game directory (look in the folder titled “Conf”) and tweak the “strafing” speed by increasing it. Good luck!

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Collapse: Devastated World (PC, 2008, Ukraine): Come Visit Kiev’s Big Sinkhole
May 2, 2011, 4:39 pm
Filed under: Collapse: Devastated World (PC, 2008, Ukraine)

(NOTE: This game, only a handful of years after I wrote this post, is now apparently available on Steam. The voicing is still in the original language as I understand it, but all text and subs have been translated properly. All told, this is probably the best way to play the game in English–in other words, pony up the cash for the English Steam version and don’t fiddle with my translation materials, which are incomplete anyway.)

Maybe I’m getting old (check, I am getting old), and my snarkiness is softening, but “Collapse: Devastated World” (2008, Ukraine) is a beautiful game. You should play it. It brings nothing new to the table, but if you like a straight-up, third-person-almost-over-the-shoulder action game with varied environments (from nicely detailed sewers, to abandoned labs, to wrecked and uninhabited cities, to LSD-inspired alternate realities), varied opponents (humans and monsters alike), an interesting half-decent apocalyptic story with relatively well-drawn characters who have complex-enough relationships, you should play this game. Of course, things are usually easier said than done.

“Collapse” went from a game I initially didn’t bother with to a game that, to date, I have spent the most amount of time (ever in my life) just preparing to play. I’ll explain momentarily. Up front, there was a lot about the game that clicked with my Chernobyl-inspired sensibilities: It takes place in the far-enough future of 2096, in the city of Kiev that has been sitting there destroyed and generally uninhabited for the last 100 years. Gameplay-wise, that meant roaming around decrepit, crumbling apartment complexes; jogging through alleys strewn with rusting hulks of cars and equipment; marveling at overgrown city streets and sidewalks; climbing piles of cracked pavement; slogging through sewer pipe; and fending off swarms of troublesome monsters and human riff-raff in underground laboratories. This game has all that. I mean, read the title—‘nuff said. Also, I seemed to have developed a tolerance for the shortcomings often inherent in these eastern European games (having played a handful of them at this point—my expectations are low…err, I mean, realistic.)

But the reason I initially took a pass on the game is also one of its selling points. Upon its release, Creoteam, the Ukrainian devs, touted the game as a “third-person hack-n-slash-n-shooter hybrid.” Your character, Rodan, runs around slicing and dicing nearby opponents with a telescoping blade attached to his forearm (the primary weapon), but on the fly he can whip out a pistol / assault rifle / shotgun / sniper / heavy gun and blow the heads off distant, gun-toting enemies as well. In a way, it kind of makes a lot of sense to combine the two distinct attacks (I know it’s not the first game to do so), simply to provide players with options and variety.

And, conversely, attempting to combine these two elements is potentially problematic for one obvious reason: I may be unfairly generalizing here, but I suspect that lots of gamers consider themselves to belong in only one of those two camps (or at least primarily in one), not both. One kind of gameplay sounds great, and the other one not so much. Example: I’m firmly rooted in the shooter category. I’m the guy who initially thumbed my nose at “Collapse: Devastated World” saying, “Why did they have to ruin that cool game by including button-mashing swordplay? Blech. Who cares?” And of course, on a forum, I saw someone complaining by saying the exact opposite: “That sword is sweet! Why the hell did they bother with the dumb, generic guns?” And the way the game actually plays, you are required to use both weapons on the fly—this is not an “either or” situation. (Sword-wielding opponents are heavily armored, and it can take a lot of bullets to kill one, so the sword is more effective. Contrarily, if you try sword-rushing opponents who are shooting at you from a distance, you are long dead before you reach them, so you have to use your guns instead.) But considering my “shooter freaks vs. hack-n-slash freaks” theory, this may be one reason why the very element of the game that makes it unique may have also been the reason why it never really rose off the bottom shelf. (Why this was never released in the west is an utter mystery to me though. At the same time I was slogging through this, I also played and finished “MorphX”—see the post here—and I am completely boggled as to why some [generally cruddy, low-brow] eastern European games are released in the west and others [which are far superior] simply fall off the map.)

So, the sword vs. gun binary ends up making sense within the game itself, whose story is nestled firmly in the wreckage of contemporary Kiev. No, it’s not a nuclear disaster, nor is it a nuclear war. It’s not nuclear at all. (Although, I’ve got to ask: Will I ever play one of these Ukrainian games that doesn’t have Chernobyl scrawled all over it, ever?) The actual problem is that Kiev–and eventually more than half of Europe–has been rendered (mostly) uninhabitable by a large hole. Yup, a hole. As the backstory says (from the game manual that I painstakingly translated), they call it “The Hole”—pretty convenient nickname, I’d say.

Here’s how it went down: In the year 2013, much of western Europe was subsumed into a very large anomalous zone, a massive sinkhole (probably best to call it a crater) of unknown origins, composed of a black material that basically dissolved anything (and anyone) coming into contact with it. Oddly, the anomaly could not be viewed by satellite, and any attempt to study it provided only scant results (since taking a sample was nearly impossible). For the first ten years after the appearance of the anomaly, things were quiet. But then, the anomaly began to grow rapidly—an event that is referred to in-game as “The First Aggression.” This expansion consumed most of the European territories. Countless bloodthirsty, alien creatures of several varieties erupt from the anomaly and shred thousands of human beings to ribbons (although the game interestingly conjectures that their purpose may be to protect the anomaly from us, rather than roam about hunting us). Of course, havoc ensues. A massive quarantine was announced by many governments. A weaponized barricade of automatic turrets was erected around the perimeter of the anomaly, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the world. Although most were evacuated, some people were trapped inside the quarantine zone and left for dead, and since they were stuck (and not actually dead), they banned together and opted to make the best of it. Years passed, and the creatures mostly stayed close to the crater. Small settlements were eventually established. After a while, it was considered to be relatively quiet…even homey, in an apocalyptic kinda way. Then, the first clans began to develop. But all that changed in 2096, when the anomaly became active again (a “Second Aggression”) by producing more dangerous creatures which are slowly dismantling the clans. (As a clan leader, your character is at the center of the mess, trying to figure out what is going on while maybe trying to permanently seal the anomaly for good—oh, also with some political intrigue thrown in for good measure. Oh and you also might be undead. Or maybe not. Or you might be living in an altered reality. Maybe. You see, early on in the game, you realize that you keep dying, but you keep reappearing…somehow…but I won’t give it away…)

OK, so this is yet another Ukrainian game, right? Well, I should have known better than to fiddle with this title as soon as I began Googling “Collapse English Patch” and coming up with a bunch of nonsense links. As far as I can tell, there is no English translation for the game (even fan made)…anywhere. Now three years after its release, it’s probably safe to say that no one is planning on releasing an English patch either.  And the game’s narrative is so dense that without an English translation, it is arguably impenetrable for we English-centric types. Nevertheless, for me, this is well-trodden territory; time for me to get out my Russian-to-English dictionary and get to work. Only with this game, it didn’t work that way…not even close. In the few games I’ve managed to translate so far (just for myself—see “Neuro,” and “Inhabited Island: Prisoner of Power” on this blog), I’ve been able to crack open the game’s text files—which are usually in Cyrillic—copy and paste the text into something like Google Translator, and slowly make my way through the text replacing it with something approaching English and reinsert the files into the game. Three weeks later, I have an English-playing version of the game, menus and all.

BUT to my dismay “Collapse: Devastated World” refused to cooperate. Most of the game’s text was bound up in the game’s programming code, which I don’t have the skill to tackle (though, trust me, I tried, even with an advanced text editor, but no go). So my translation options were severely limited. Thankfully, I was able to overlay English subtitles on all the in-game full-motion videos and some of the interactive information screens. But the bad news: Most of the game’s menus remain in Russian Cyrillic characters, boo hoo. So, the best I could do was take in-game screenshots of menus, and then overlay a translation on the jpg for myself and print it out so I could refer to it later if I needed to. A decidedly old-school approach, but it worked! This (botched?) process took over two months. (At this point, you are probably assuming I am a shut-in without a real job, which is sort of true—I’m a university professor.) Anyway, a link to the various “translation materials” (that’s what I’ve decided to call them) is located at the end of this post and will also be available on 3d Shooter Legends, I imagine (Google it). These materials include the various movies overlayed with English subs, and also the pdf booklet I made with all the translated menus you can refer to if you decide to try and play it. (Yeah, it’s a lot of work, especially when there are so many other great games out there right now waiting to be played, but there you have it.). There are some other materials included as well in the download package: The English translated game manual as a pdf, some artwork, and all the gamesave files. There is an epic-length Readme included that explains how to best use the materials. If you plan on playing the game and using the stuff, I REALLY suggest you read it first.

Simply put, I like the game, and grew fonder of it the longer I worked through it. The shooting mechanic works well enough with a selection of 5 or so pretty standard weapons; however, the swordplay, to me, is a button-mashing affair. As the game advances, you gather special sword moves which you can use on opponents, all of which are detailed in the game’s (now translated!) manual. In other posts here, I’ve probably made it abundantly clear that I am no fan of boss battles—just not my thing. This makes it doubly strange that I’d be fond of “Collapse: Devastated World” because it has plenty of bosses of various sizes (monsters and monstrous humans). Most of these battles will end a chapter and require a series of specific maneuvers, including a series of quicktime context-sensitive button presses (a la “God of War,” though nowhere near that scale), displaying some special moves. And the animation is really well-rendered in my opinion—some pretty nice motion capture happening all throughout the game.

(Technical note regarding some of these boss fights: There is a +5 trainer out there on the webs [GameBurnWorld?] that provides unlimited health/energy/ammo in case any of these boss battles become too tiresome. For me, I actually played the game on easy [not what I typically do, but since I was translating it as I played it, I did not want to get stuck in the middle somewhere and have to start over] and even on the easy setting, some of the boss battles were extremely tough and required multiple attempts. But a word of warning about the trainer: The one I found only works on an unpatched version of the game [basically version 1.0]. Officially, there is a 1.1 patch for the game released by the publishers which apparently significantly improves the playablilty of the game and comes highly recommended. But the trainer I found won’t work on the patched version. To resolve this problem [to play the new, improved version of the game with the patch, but also be able to use the trainer if needed on the unpatched version], I had 2 separate installations of the game, one patched and one not patched. When I needed to, I simply swapped my gamesaves between them, so I could have the best of both worlds. A complex, but workable, solution.)

Some players might find the overall structure of the game to be a little predictable. The pattern is quite obvious once you get into the game: Corridor crawling with single opponents gives way to some outdoor exploration with larger groups of opponents (not even close to open world, though) which gives way to a boss battle and a cutscene, which ends the chapter. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s a varied enough format, and with varied environments, so this structure did not bother me. Additionally, the story is pretty well-rounded, so this helps to masque some of the predictability. You are also joined by several NPCs who fight alongside you in a few chapters, which is nice (and they’re not too irritating or erratic). There’s a love interest too, woo. Speaking of enemies (heh), I do have one gripe: There are 2 or 3 main areas where the game uses the old “infinite waves of opponents” trick on you, which I always despise. So, I hang around attempting to clear out an area, and dudes keep dropping off of ropes from the ceiling, and I realize all I needed to do was literally run through the area and hit a door to complete the level. I hate that shit; I really do. Also on the negative, there seems to be some balancing  problems—as I mentioned, even though I played the game on easy (for my reasons of facilitating the translation into English), there still were sections that seemed off the scale in difficulty. Additionally, in later chapters, there is some pretty serious platforming which is needlessly frustrating (and fatal), resulting in loading screen after loading screen (upwards of 50 tries for me). Oh, the human AI exhibits some erratic behavior that might look like it is intelligent, but ultimately they are stand-around-and-get-shot-dumb. And the ending, after a drawn out boss battle, happens sort of abruptly in cliffhanger fashion. (This title was followed up by “Collapse: The Rage” in 2010.) But if those are my only burning complaints, then things on the whole are pretty damn good, right? (Oh, and the main character’s constantly swaying dreadlocks are really dumb [the perpetual motion machine perfected!]—a glaring design choice, but easy to ignore.)

There are also special “paranormal” abilities (called energy keys…my translation…errr…) you gather throughout the game, which are explained as technology developed as a result of scientists studying the anomaly itself and working with human physiology. These include an ability to blow back your opponents with a wave of energy, an ability to create a temporary double of yourself as a deception, an ability to slow time, and other somewhat standard tricks. These help you change up how you might approach an oncoming battle, but I found myself not using them too often unless swarmed with enemies—though in some cases, they are required (like slowing time in some of the moving platforming sections later in the game).

My final thought about this game is that although it is in no way epic or innovative, it’s a carefully crafted gem, heavy on sci-fi story and character. I’d hate to think of it simply disappearing and becoming even more inaccessible to those few westerners who might care just because no one saw fit to try and localize it in some way. The translation materials, while far from a perfect solution, are my small contribution to the gaming world—but because of the time involved, it’s the last time I’ll ever do it again. Period. Want to play the sequel in English? Do it yourself.

______________________

Link to the  excellent “3D Shooter Legends” website is below. On the site, use the search box and just type in COLLAPSE. When the entry for “Collapse Devastated World” comes up, you’ll see a clickable link taking you to the English materials on 4Shared. (NOTE: As explained below, the files are large, time-consuming to download, and broken into many parts; using it is a bit of a pain; and it does not translate everything! Hardcore folks need only apply.) This is not the whole game, but just translation stuff. NOTE: ON-SCREEN MENUS ARE STILL IN RUSSIAN–SO IF THIS IS A DEALBREAKER FOR YOU, THEN DON’T BOTHER WITH THESE MATERIALS (although a pdf of translated screenshots of menus is included here for you to reference).

What is included:

1. Ten in-game cutscenes will have English subtitles.

2. Over 30 animated dialogue sequences will have English subtitles.

3. Six other cutscenes will unfortunately still play in-game WITHOUT English subs, but these are included in a separate folder WITH English subs to be watched outside the game in any media player at the appropriate time.

4. The English translated pdf game manual

5. A pdf showing screenshots of 32 main menus (and pop-up tutorial screens) in English (since I couldn’t provide on-screen translations—not ideal, but it suffices for those of you who REALLY want to play this in English and can’t figure out the menus on your own).

6. Save files to unlock all checkpoints in the game.

7. Some artwork (standard DVD case and disc face).

USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. YOU MAY ONLY USE THESE FILES IF YOU ALREADY OWN YOUR OWN COPY OF THE GAME. PAY ATTENTION TO THE README FILE–THIS IS NOT A SIMPLE PATCH, BUT A COLLECTION OF MATERIALS THAT CAN BE USED IN A VARIETY OF WAYS TO ACCESS THE GAME’S NARRATIVE IN ENGLISH IF YOU’RE WILLING TO DO THE WORK.) It’s a 38-part rar file, 3.6Gb in all. Make sure you get all of it. It’s hosted on 4shared. If you already have a premium (pay) 4shared account, you can download the entire folder, all files, at once. If you don’t, then you have to download the files individually. Cheers!

http://legendsworld.net/shooter/news