In Cold Blood is an adventure/stealth-action/puzzle game made by Revolution Software. I think it can be most likened to Resident Evil of old, and similar titles, going by the tank controls, survival mechanics, and the light inventory management with environmental puzzles. Right up my alley, except I had to play the game with my keyboard, since I couldn’t get the gamepad to work correctly. Not the most pleasant experience, unfortunately, but doable. So, while I do enjoy these old games with archaic controls, In Cold Blood would benefit from a remake, preferably in the Metal Gear Solid 5 engine (Fox engine), if we are allowed to dream.
The reason I’m saying this is that the general idea behind the gameplay is great, but sadly, the controls for stealth and action are not that good, at least not viewed from a modern gaming perspective. It mostly comes down to a bit of a waste, considering that the story and game, in general, are fun. It’s me thinking of how badass this title would be in a modern engine designed for stealth. The whole premise is like it was made for me otherwise. Basically, it’s 9-10 hours of infiltrating highly secret bases, everything from industries and offices to high-tech labs, riddled with spy stuff set in the near future. A dream come true, well, except for the controls, as mentioned.
You play as John Cord, a British agent sent to the remote country of Volgia, a state part of the former USSR. You are there to investigate a suspicious uranium mine after the CIA agent and friend of Cord named Kiefer sent home a warning that something sinister is going on. Communications with Kiefer stopped shortly there after, and the worst is assumed. You will have to act quick.
There is a lot more to it, but not much more is needed to know going in. I will say that this is the typical spy drama, with everything that entails included. The story starts rather low-key, having the local freedom fighters helping you investigate the mine, but it eventually escalates and gets more and more interesting, and dramatic. The narrative is well told with good pacing, and it did a great job of pushing me along, making me curious about what twists and turns the game would throw at me next. It’s not deep, nor will it change your perspective of the world or anything like that, but as an action stealth title it felt very fitting and it made me feel like a James Bond character behind enemy lines neck-deep in trouble several times over. And as mentioned before, In Cold Blood takes place almost 100% indoors, you will go from one cool and mysterious secret base to the next. If you are like me and love this kind of stuff, you are in for a treat!
Gameplay-wise, it’s not the most amazing game. The stealth is simple, the movement is way too rigged, and the tank-controls does not translate well to this type of title. It works but feels very unreliable at times, which will lead to deaths. You move around in pre-rendered backgrounds, and this means that the game, in traditional survival horror ways will have set camera angles. It’s all very cinematic, but once again, the control issues, and the general fatigue that follows it put a bit of a hamper on the enjoyment. This game was released for PlayStation as well, and I can imagine the controls being much better on that system than it is on PC.
The issue is not that much that moving around is clunky, it’s that the game expects you to do quick actions at times, which is funky on the keyboard at the best of times. There is no quick-turn or anything like that, so getting a soldier, or robot behind you, is a death sentence. Turning around, and then slowly unholstering your weapon is way too slow for these types of ambushes usually. This works much better in other similar games since the enemies don’t use projectile weapons. These Volgians, though. They don’t mind peppering you full of AK47 bullets the moment they spot you. Luckily, there are ways to circumvent some of the issues. In-universe, you have the REMORE portable computer, which you can activate whenever you want. This computer scans the nearby areas for enemies and reveals them on your computer map. This means, that you can always see what the next room will contain, so you can act and plan accordingly. However, this is not always the case, because certain moments in the game are scripted. These moments will spawn enemies behind or in front of you, forcing a chase, or whatever the game has planned for you. It’s not too bad, though, since most of the time it is exciting and increases the tension, and mostly, these enemies come from logical places, which gives you a few seconds to figure out from where and how, so you can make your escape. The other way to circumvent this problem is to save often and a lot. Not very immersive, and META as hell, but going in blind, it’s a necessary evil if you don’t want to replay certain segments untold times, because you will die, and you will die plenty!
Sneaking around and killing dudes is not all you will be doing. There is a lot of talking too and solving puzzles. Now, these puzzles are not very hard, but they require good memorization of items and locations. While you get an in-game map with the REMORA system, it’s better to try to remember the area layout in your head, and take notes of important stuff, because the map rotates depending on where you are. This has the effect of the map changing positions constantly, making it difficult to navigate with that alone. There will be a lot of running back and forth, looking at environments, and so on to be able to solve some issues. Sometimes you just have to unlock another topic by investigating something important to the plot. It can get a little tedious at times, but for the most part, stuff feels logical and makes sense. You just have to be methodical in most cases. There are also parts of the game when you are under heavy time pressure. Solving puzzles, and figuring out what to do under these conditions does increase the heartbeat a fair bit, especially if you only have an old badly timed save-state to fall back on.
Overall, I did enjoy the puzzles, especially the ones you have to solve while being chased by murderous robots. I’m not kidding either, there is one part of the game that has you followed by a gigantic industrial robot, and I found it to be an awesome segment. I have to admit, though, I had to check out a few situations on the Internet that left me stumped on what to do. Usually, it required a game mechanic that I didn’t think could be used to solve a puzzle, so it never even entered my mind, but maybe it should have, thinking back. Like using the melee action to hit a malfunctioning computer so it works again. In real life this is a classic solution to any mechanical problem – just apply enough violence until the thing works again.
Visually there are no denying that In Cold Blood looks old with low poly models, and static environments. However, nostalgia is a hell of a thing, and these pre-rendered backgrounds, together with somewhat stiff cartoon-like animations make for a nice visual treat personally. Highly subjective of course, as with most things, but I found the graphics interesting and pleasant to look at throughout the game. The backgrounds vary a lot, and some areas do truly look extraordinarily cool, like right out of a sci-fi-themed spy movie. All the different missions will offer up new locations, and I don’t think anything was repeated, so you will be seeing a lot of fresh locations during your 9-10 hours in this game. The sound is a bit of a hit-or-miss, though. While I think the voice acting is superb, especially for the posh stiff-upper-lip British agent man you play as, the environmental sounds and music are lacking. They do exist, but both are very spartan I noticed. Many times you will be walking around in total silence, and that gets weird when you realize that some areas feel like it has missing sound/music. It drags down the atmosphere a little, however, the story, and the visuals make up for it.
Now, this game will put a lot of people off, just going by the visuals, and controls. But, if you have a soft spot for the old days of survival horror (visually and mechanical), and spy thrillers, you got nothing to lose trying it out, and in that sense I recommend it. While the controls take time to get used to and never feel tight enough to make the action, or stealth truly enjoyable, it is functional. Just save often, and use your handy little computer system to plan your moves, and you will minimize the frustration!
Thanks for reading.