Set in the mid 1980's, Cold War: On Your Own Behind The Iron Curtain puts the gamer in the shoes of newspaper reporter Matt Carter looking for a big story in the heart of a corrupt and dangerous Russian government administration. While Matt has a good idea he is stumbling into something with headline potential, he has no idea of the events that are about to ensue. With stealth as the primary mode of play, gamers take control of Matt as he uncovers a story of conspiracy, corruption, nuclear weapons and other various Russian goodness.
As far as the actual in-game storyline goes, without spoiling too much, Matt is unknowingly used as a pawn in the corrupt game of a high up Russian official in his bid to power. It is your job to uncover this corruption to the world as well as set the record straight on a few wrongly accused officials. While the events in Cold War are not necessarily expected, the storyline is definitely not the game's strongest point, particularly the characters, who do feel very cliche; the evil Russian power hungry official, the snoopy and seemingly "nerves of steel" reporter, the oblivious president - it's all pretty generic and B-Grade really. Like those B-Grade action movies of the 80's and early 90's, Cold War also features the cliche fluent english speaking Russian characters with an accent. While getting real Russian speaking voice actors and using subtitles may have been difficult, there's no doubting the voice acting in this game does feel a little corny at times - any other accent and I think you can give it a pass, but there's just something about a Russian villan speaking english that makes me want to chuckle. The game does throw a few jokes in here and there so it at least doesn't take itself too seriously.
Unlike many other games in the stealth/action genre though, Cold War actually does a good job in varying the missions on hand. While the fundamental theme of stealth rarely takes a break in this game, the way in which you use stealth does tend to change a fair bit. For instance, there will be missions with a generic "get here without being caught" requirement, but you will also see missions where you need to help a wrongly accused official get around, follow someone without falling behind too much, interrogate information holders and more. While some of these variations are scripted and/or played out in the form of a cut scene, there is still plenty of variation in the actual gameplay to keep you interested.
The main source of in-game variation comes from how you plan to play the game, and it is here that Cold War does a very good job. For instance, for every situation that you face in Cold War which requires stealth, there is almost always more than one way to go about it thanks to the game's unique weapon/trap construction system. Throughout the missions in Cold War you will find objects like rags, batteries, plastic bottles, screws, alarm clocks etc, and you can take these and make certain gadgets and tools, such as plastic non lethal bullets, alarm diversions, silencers and much more. You will also find "tech points" usually in the form of document folders which let you unlock more and more of these gadgets to build. What you have available to use will determine what options you have in stealth situations, and thanks to the large range you can often get pretty creative with your approach.
One gadget which you will have access to in most of the game is the X-Ray Camera. This nifty little device, as you may have guessed, gives you the ability to see through objects such as walls and floors in your vicinity. On top of this, it also allows you to interfere with objects such as security doors, surveillance camera's and even enemy head gear. While it doesn't exactly abide by the laws of physics, it sure makes for a cool addition that isn't just eye candy - checking out enemy locations before entering a room is vital so get use to pressing "X" (the X-Ray Camera hot key) very often.
While it is true stealth is the primary focus in Cold War, there will still be plenty of times where you can choose to be aggressive rather than passive - after all, you have weapons in most situations and can use them just about any time you want, it is just that more often than not, it is easier to use stealth as Matt's health is not in huge supply, and when more than one enemy is involved, coming out alive in a gun battle is always very tough. Still though, if you insist on creating a gun fight, you usually can without influencing the outcome of the mission providing you don't kill innocent civilians or vital characters - both no no's for a successful mission.
Unfortunately, one aspect which doesn't do either the stealth or action side of Cold War many favours is the AI of the NPC enemies. While there are no serious game killing issues, the "robotic" feel of the enemies will definitely come through more times than it should. For instance, while you can usually rely on your "visibility" meter to determine when you are and aren't safely hidden from view, sometimes even when it is completely empty and you remain completely still, an enemy will easily spot you and proceed to shoot. When this happens, everyone in the area instantly knows where you are to the inch and comes at you with brutal precision - at times the enemies react more like programmed gun turrets than humans. Again, it isn't such a problem that it destroys the gameplay, but it is reasonably clear the AI was not the most polished aspect in the development stage of Cold War.
Similar to the Splinter Cell series, Cold War is played with an "over the shoulder" view and generally shares quite a few similarities with SC in its "feel" and design - which is a good thing. Splinter Cell has always had one of the better game engines out there and Cold War's is very much comparable. The only part where the game's engine seems to fall short is with environment interactions - there's no rag doll system to speak of, and the interaction Matt has with his surroundings consists of crawling through holes/windows and hiding in lockers and under desks. While on one hand having a system like SC's where Matt could turn his back to walls and peak around corners etc may have seemed unoriginal, at least some degree of useful interaction should have been implemented for sure. As it stands with Cold War the only real time environment interaction is using the dark areas to move around, but as said above even that proves useless at times.
Visually, Cold War is a rather pleasant game to look at. The character models are highly detailed, the environments are authentic and the special effects such as weather, fire and explosions (albeit rare) don't look too shabby either. Perhaps the best part is that Cold War looks this good at very nice frame rates - we had everything cranked up to the max on a 3500+, X850XT system without any sign of hiccups at all. Controls wise, Cold War doesn't do much of a job introducing you to the entire range of controls so you will likely have to spend a few minutes going over the mapping in the options menu, but once you get the hang of it, the default mapping is reasonably well designed. The audio system is also well executed, with the expected changes in background music when danger approaches, setting the gamer up for some pretty intense moments, as well as everything else you would expect such as authentic gun noises and chatter between unsuspecting guards.
Much of Cold War is not exactly new - it feels a lot like Splinter Cell in many regards - but where Cold War separates itself is the execution. At first, controlling a reporter with a stronger emphasis on stealth than action may not appeal to everyone, but the gameplay does grow on you, and it is quite addictive and challenging. While the storyline and voice acting do feel a little cliche, and the AI isn't perfect, Cold War is still very enjoyable for the gamers out there who look for stealth mixed in with a little action, although be warned, this is most certainly a stealth first game.
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