In Cold Blood

Review by Old Rooster
January 2002

Adventures in Transition

Given increasing cross-system (PC, PS2, etc), as well as cross-genre (adventure and action) development, it seems we'll be seeing more, not less, of the arrow-directed, console-type controls evident in In Cold Blood. I much prefer the cursor and first-person perspective found in Dracula Resurrection and Dracula Last Sanctuary. Of course, I'm really waiting for adventure titles to lay some claim to the kind of engine found in No One Lives Forever, but that may be expecting a bit much. As long as it's "consoles first, PC second," it looks like we'll have minimal mousing and be stuck with awkward control schemes.

Comes the Revolution

One of our favorite developers, Revolution Software, of Broken Sword fame, has put its hand to an adult, dark, even grim tale of a captured British spy caught up in a modern-day tale of intrigue, espionage, and double-dealing.

Over the course of nine retrospective episodes, you play the role of John Cord, upper-crust English agent, who tries to remember who betrayed him and why. Increasingly, a plot unravels filled with twists, surprises, betrayals, and challenges. Comparisons may be drawn to James Bond, but I think more of Smiley's people, of LeCarre fame. There are no fancy cars or fat chicks, and few gadgets or weapons to employ. Rather, Cord must rely on observation, stealth, some conversations, and deductive problem-solving in his quest to unravel murky memories.

Revolution titles typically exhibit several hallmarks or distinctive qualities of production and play. In Cold Blood reflects two of these, with a very well-crafted and suspenseful story, as well as beautiful art and settings. Letting us down is character movement and positioning carried over from the dreaded "Playstation-port syndrome."

How Is the Game Set up and Managed?

We are presented with three CDs, with the game installing smoothly and using only about 200 MB of hard drive space. Minimal swapping is required, loading times are reasonable, and the save/load (anywhere!) menu works quickly and well. There are no video settings available, with 640x480 being the only graphics option. One can choose to play with the keyboard or a gamepad, with some reconfiguration allowed, but there's no place at all for the mouse in the game. At times the character control scheme can range from frustrating to dangerous! You may be given only so many seconds to sneak up on a guard, and you need to get there in the most straightforward fashion, not the herky-jerky ambulation often experienced with these controls. The occasional gun fight can become a literal hit-and-miss proposition, with aiming and accuracy being very chancy.

If you've played Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare and similar games, camera positioning should not be a problem for you. There's a total view of the area in which you find yourself, and you're rarely left hung out to dry by enemies approaching you can't see. Ala Grim Fandango, Cord's head will turn toward an object or character with which he may interact.

How Does it Look and Sound?

As indicated, 640x480 works with this title, and works quite well, helping the dark settings to set a mood fitting to the story. The characters are somewhat blocky, but we're more forgiving of that than others in this community. The world is credible, and that's all you can really ask.

Voice acting is a bit hammy but fits in the context satisfactorily. Ambient sounds, especially Cord's footsteps, are very well integrated, adding to the build-up of tension. Music is only played during dramatic moments, with the overall quiet also increasing the atmosphere.

How Does the Game Play?

Being careful not to give much away, let me say that In Cold Blood is a long (40+ hours) and sometimes laborious game, but it also has that elusive quality of having you want to turn "one more page." The narrative is the key to this game, with puzzles of secondary importance. These challenges are woven very tightly into the fabric of gameplay. A missed and required conversation or a "hot spot" not investigated will lead to a door that won't open or a new level that won't begin.

"Use Your Brain, English" —Gregor, a Helper

As with most adventure titles, the environment needs to be explored in detail, looking for significant NPCs and objects. Watch out!—for the door you open, or corner you turn while wandering, sometimes reveals guards who are inclined to shoot first and ask questions later. You'll become all too familiar with the "red screen of death," accompanied by dramatic music and pithy comments from Cord: "No, it couldn't have happened that way!"

There are over 100 rather "factory-like" settings to explore, including a refinery, mine, land train, and even a submarine. Through stealth, a bit of killing, and the use of your Remora, the story moves along. Remora? Ah, yes, your Remora—a neat little wrist device allowing access to enemy computers as well as updating mission objectives.

We find some humor to relax the tension and, unfortunately, some occasional illogic. How can Cord get away with his proper English accent in this facility on the Russo/Chinese border—even to the point of discussing soccer scores with the guards? Perhaps we are to imply he is fluent in the local dialect. Further, there's an inconsistency to actions of the guards, ranging from being trigger-happy to virtually ignoring a comrade you've dealt with a few feet away.

Is the Game Fun and Recommended?

In Cold Blood is a fine game for the adult adventurer who enjoys dark spy novels and also is willing to tolerate a bit of "consolitis" in her/his gaming experience. The narrative is compelling, puzzles make sense within the context of the story, graphics and acting are more than adequate. The game is hard, frustrating at times, and perhaps too long, having a tendency to drag. It's no Longest Journey, or even Circle of Blood, but it is unusual enough and sufficiently entertaining to warrant a solid "thumb up" from this sometimes jaded Rooster.

What I Liked the Most

The storyline is interesting and solid; game world presentation is invitingly done; the acting is more than satisfactory.

What I Liked the Least

Controls can be awkward and frustrating; there are logic inconsistencies; the game can be long and tedious. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Revolution
Publisher: Dreamcatcher
Release Date: March 2001

Available for: PlayStation Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium II, 233 MHz
200 MB free hard disk space

Where to Find It

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