Splinter Cell fans will be in for a familiar experience in Cold War, a competent but unremarkable stealth action game that puts you in the middle of a Soviet conspiracy.
- Decent stealth action mechanics, along with some neat gadgets to play with
- Storyline keeps you guessing and throws in a few good surprises.
- Enemy artificial intelligence is predictable but isn't believable
- Not much variety or interest in level design
- Little lasting value.
Cold War is a stealth action game that owes a debt to the popular Splinter Cell series, from which it borrows its third-person perspective, as well as its interface and many play mechanics. However, while Splinter Cell casts you as a highly trained ultrasecret agent, in Cold War you play as a sarcastic journalist who's in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he's not as wimpy as he sounds, because he gets to use a cool X-ray camera and a variety of homebrewed gadgets to survive--and maybe he'll thwart a power-hungry Russian madman in the process. Yet while Cold War features some pretty impressive graphics and a decent story, the predictable enemies you'll face and the limited number of environments you'll visit prevent the game from being particularly exciting.
The game takes place in the mid-'80s, toward the end of the titular conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. You play as Matthew Carter, who arrives in Moscow to chase the lead of a lifetime. But Carter unwittingly becomes part of a sinister plot when his camera is replaced with a high-tech surveillance device at customs. Soon enough, Carter is framed for conspiracy to assassinate the Soviet president and must join forces with the president's enigmatic confidant (who's also on the run for similar reasons) to clear his name and escape with his life. The story in Cold War unfolds using graphic-novel-style cinematic cutscenes in between missions, as well as some other cutscenes and voice-over during the missions themselves. The dialogue and voice work aren't remarkable, and the story takes some implausible turns, but it ultimately offers some good twists and a satisfying resolution when all is said and done.
The action isn't as original as the storyline. As Carter, you'll mostly need to stick to shadows, sneaking around in the darkness and waiting for your foes to turn their backs to you so you can run up and knock them out. Soon enough, you'll replace the knockout punches with gunshots to the head. You can crouch and creep along carefully to remain quiet and hidden, but even when you're running at full speed, you'll move quite slowly. (Carter's got this rather casual-looking jog, though he's capable of sprinting for brief periods of time.) The overall look and mechanics are unmistakably similar to Splinter Cell, though Carter isn't as versatile or maneuverable as Sam Fisher. Carter can't jump and can't take enemies hostage, and it takes only a couple of bullets at close range to knock him dead. On the other hand, he's a surprisingly good shot with a pistol or an AK-47, and he's also able to create a variety of useful gadgets that can give him the upper hand against his foes.
Gadget-building is one of Cold War's unique aspects of play, and it's fairly interesting. Basically, Carter will scrounge up all kinds of junk during his adventure, and this junk may be instantly combined to form new stuff. During the course of the game, you'll find documents that earn you tech points, with which you can unlock new gadget formulas (you must unlock lower-level gadgets to get to the higher-level ones). It's pretty absurd how often you'll find things like anesthetics just lying around, and it's stranger still that the recipes are so simple. For example, nonlethal rubber bullets can be created just by combining a plastic bottle with regular ammo. However, if you don't think about it too much, you'll probably appreciate that this system gives you some good options, even though most of those options really aren't necessary. You can build things like remote-detonated bombs or mines that release knockout gas, but then again, you can just shoot your way through the vast majority of situations. So why bother doing things the hard way?
Like most stealth games seem to do, Cold War suggests that violence should be a last resort, and yet lethal force turns out to be the simplest solution to most of the game's challenges (at least on the normal difficulty mode). If you take the time to creep up behind a foe to knock him out, beware that he'll eventually come to--and he might well blast you when you're inevitably forced to backtrack through one of the game's corridor-filled levels. But if you shoot him in the face, there's no waking up from that dirt nap.