Game: In Cold Blood
Developer: Revolution Software
Genre: Stealth / Adventure
Game Version: GOG.com
In Cold Blood is the classic non-fiction crime novel by Truman Capote which gives an account of… what? The game isn’t based on that? I guess there’s no hope of a Breakfast at Tiffany’s game either then?
I’ll start again then. In Cold Blood is an action adventure game from Revolution Software, famous for developing the Broken Sword games. It breaks away from the traditional point and click adventure gaming that they were used to by adding stealth and some combat, but it’s still an adventure game at its heart. In Cold Blood casts you as a British agent called John Cord in a slightly futuristic, mildly sci-fi setting where America is on the verge of war with China. The game unfolds over a series of nine missions, which start with a simple investigation into why communication has been lost with an American agent and build up into a big conspiracy theory.
The story of the game is surprisingly good. It’s nothing that’s going to set the world on fire, that’s reserved for the Russian missiles, but it’s interesting enough to make you want to proceed with the game. The voice acting is generally reasonable enough to work, but it’s certainly not subtle. The enemy is generally in full over-the-top Bond villain mode and the accent of the Chinese agent was rather suspect, though Cord himself sounds appropriate. And it’s lucky this all works, since the moment you take control of Cord yourself, the game tries to sabotage itself.
The controls for the game really are terrible. It uses a series of fixed camera views along the lines of a traditional survival horror game, which already had pretty awful control schemes. In Cold Blood manages to make it even more awkward. Trying to control the game with the keyboard means you’re limited to a character relative control scheme, where pressing left and right makes Cord turn and forward makes him lurch about, hopefully vaguely in the direction you want to go. The problems really start when trying to aim him through doors, or even worse, to make him climb onto a ladder. This generally involves running around in circles bumping into the wall at either side of the doorway or ladder until he finally goes where you want him to. Plugging in a controller allows you to select between the character relative control scheme or a more appropriate camera relative one. The fact that you can’t choose the camera relative control scheme for the keyboard is a bit baffling and seems like a very poor design choice. The game certainly seems like it’s more suited to a gamepad, presumably due to the multi-format release, but even this is broken thanks to the fact that the game will only detect the first four buttons of the controller to assign actions to. There are more than four controls necessary, so using the gamepad is even less practical than the keyboard in the end. I’m not sure whether this detection issue is just an incompatibility with modern operating systems though, so I don’t know whether the game itself is at fault, but it’s still a barrier to playing the game now.
Mostly these control issues are just a mild inconvenience, annoying but nothing too serious. But then you get to an action segment. Usually stealth is the best option, but occasionally you’ll find you have to shoot. That’s not much of a problem. As long as you’re facing in the right general direction, you can draw your gun and fire and the game will automatically fire at the enemy. Several times, however, you’ll find yourself having to run from one place to another while being chased, and it’s here that getting stuck on doorways and ladders can lead to deaths, reloading saves and smashed monitors. Similar problems can be had with the hotspots for activating items. In some places, you can press the use key and Cord will wander all the way to the other side of the room to activate an object there. In others, you have to be stood in the exact right place facing the exact right angle or nothing happens. At one point I had to reload the same save around a dozen times just because I couldn’t get the character to pull a lever at the correct moment due to not being in the exact right position. The only thing that prevented this sort of thing from being a game destroying problem is the fact that you can save anywhere at any time, and reloading saves is instantaneous.
Most of the more typical puzzles are fairly straight forward and fit into the plot well enough, so they shouldn’t leave you stuck too much. The game does lapse into some of that irritating adventure game logic at times though. This next sentence is a spoiler for a nonsensical puzzle, if that actually matters to anyone. At one point you have to place a bolt of metal into a particle accelerator in order to fire it out at high speed to smash a window to escape out of. I’m not a CERN scientist, but I’m pretty sure that that isn’t how particle accelerators work, and even the sci-fi setting isn’t going to let them get away with that one. In general though, the puzzles make some sort of sense and are related to the tasks you’re doing, and there are several action puzzles which would be entertaining if not for the previously mentioned control issues.
What the game does have going for it, and what keeps the game going despite all the problems, is the thrill of being a spy. Going undercover inside enemy bases, walking around in disguise while carrying out your investigations, sneaking around evading capture, and occasionally just blowing stuff up, the very theme of the game is portrayed so well that it keeps you going through the awkward moments. That’s why the game isn’t a complete disaster. There’s a very good game under the surface of In Cold Blood, possibly even a great one, but the fact is those problems do exist. It’s a shame that a bit more work wasn’t put into the areas that needed it, since the problems are ones that shouldn’t really be hard to fix. Either some better action based controls or reverting to a more traditional point and click adventure structure would both have resulted in a much better game with a correspondingly much higher score. It’s a shame that they instead released it with a hero that runs around like a drunk and won’t bloody well do what he’s told. For every half hour of enjoyable playing at being a spy, you’re likely to spend ten minutes swearing at controls, and that’s just not good enough. I really wish I could recommend the game more, but I just can’t.
So when does the Music for Chameleons game come out?
Save System Review: Save anywhere at any time. Very fast reloading. No problems here.
Graphics: The game is 10 years old, so obviously they’ve dated quite a lot. Annoyingly you can’t change resolution, so you’re stuck at 640 X 480, which doesn’t help. The characters are rather blocky, but the pre-rendered backgrounds are tolerable, if a bit blurry due to the resolution.
Sound: Voice acting is mixed. It’s rarely terrible, but it’s nothing spectacular either. Some of the accents are a bit over the top, but the lead character isn’t too bad.
Bugs: I had one point where the game kept crashing every time I tried to go through a doorway, and it was during a sequence where that was the only way I could go. It took several attempts at reloading the game before I got it to finally work. Other than that, there was nothing too serious, unless you count all the control issues as bugs, which would be fair enough.
Gameplay: Interesting concept but the control issues mean this is where the game falls down. They spoil the combat and the puzzles aren’t good enough to make up for it. The segments spent walking around exploring and investigating are the highlights.
Storyline: A passable Bond-like over the top spy story. It’s not ground breaking but it’s entertaining and kept me playing through the whole game.
Arbitrary Final Score:
If you like this, you might also like: Metal Gear Solid, Broken Sword, running around bumping into things.
Do the awful controls make you want to murder in this games title? Comment in the forums!