Other game tactics include using pieces of the environment to do the work for you. You can shoot explosive barrels, fire extinguishers, and different-colored valves to create an environmental trap for oncoming enemies. From time to time, you'll encounter a fight between two of the enemy species, and you can let them fight among themselves before you intervene. Environmental effects, such as laser beams and swinging obstacles, can often be used to pick off the less bright enemies, and the rocking of the boat will send a zombie or you overboard, if you're standing on the wrong side of a slippery surface.
That's all good, but a significant drawback to the gameplay is the lack of an in-game map. Hansen declares early on that he is able to remember some Russian, so he can translate the signs on and around the doors if you look at them with enough reverence--but because of the similarity of the areas and the sheer number of open paths at any given moment, you'll spend a great deal of time backtracking and trying to recall exactly which path to take. There are clues here and there, such as new enemies and changes to the environment, but for the most part you're left to wander the boat and figure it out on your own. And wander you will.
The Xbox version outperforms the PS2 release with progressive scan support and faster load times.
Saving is prompted automatically when you reach certain objective areas, which takes all of the control out of your hands. Usually the save points are close enough to each other that this isn't a problem, but it can be frustrating when you're unable to save on a whim and must wait until you happen upon the next point, which means you risk repeating a section over again. Likewise, inventory management is out of your control. Objective items that are used in the game's minimal puzzles, like security cards and door handles, are kept in the inventory and used automatically, but health packs cannot be stored--you'll use them instantly upon discovery, even if you have only a tiny sliver of health missing. This makes health management a more difficult task, but again, the game is generally forgiving, and health tends to appear when you need it the most.
Technically, the visuals in Cold Fear are good. The environmental effects in the outdoor portions are well done--the rain, wind, and waves reflect their ominousness, and the view is often obscured by splashing water droplets or blood from nearby enemies. This is much more apparent in the Xbox version, which looks and plays more smoothly than the PS2 version and also supports 720p. Most noticeably, the PS2 falters with some troublesome loading times, which, when coupled with frequent backtracking, lessens the experience quite a bit. Despite the graphical polish in both cutscenes and gameplay, Cold Fear does not capture the visceral visuals common to survival horror games. There is a decent amount of gore, but it is neither unique nor interesting. The graphics are attractive, but not deep.
The game's atmosphere takes a further hit because it is simply not that scary. Frights come in the form of canned surprise moments, which involve either a seemingly dead creature's resurgence or an enemy's appearance from behind an unexpected or unexplored corner. There is nothing compelling about either of these tactics, especially considering that at times the moment is merely for show, and the enemy will fall back down without providing the least bit of threat to Hansen. There are a few details in the game that are very imaginative, which makes it all that much more distressing that the backdrop for them is so unimaginative. From time to time, through the windows in the lightning, you'll notice a shadowy apparition for a brief moment, which is scarier than any of the gory scenes that you encounter. Enemies will also sometimes continue to attack you after decapitation, which provides for an interesting challenge, even if it is frustrating. Occasionally the enemy AI falters, and creatures will merely run off the boat or get stuck on portions of the environment. This is infrequent but very troublesome in a game for which atmosphere is so integral. Also particularly problematic is killing zombies on stairs, because you can't step over them and onto their heads to deal the fatal blow. This means that when confronted with enemies on the steps, you must either lead them onto flat ground or make sure you get a headshot.
I've got the fear!
The atmosphere's major saving grace is the music and sound effects. The music is dramatic and very flexible, changing with the mood as necessary. Although a couple of the tracks get repetitive and even slightly grating, for the most part the music does nothing but help the game. Likewise, the sound effects are appropriate to the environment, including the harsh creaking of the metal boat and the constant splashing of the waves upon the deck. The voice-over is pretty generic, but it's unlikely that a Coast Guard-officer-turned-renegade-soldier would sound any different from the gruff voice assigned to Tom Hansen.
Game progression unlocks up to 13 different art galleries, which show some of the more impressive visuals in the game. You're also able to unlock a fourth difficulty mode, if you can muster up the interest to play through the game again. It's likely, however, that the approximately eight hours it takes you to play through the game the first time will be enough, if not too much. Although Cold Fear is a tidy action game, with some interesting gameplay elements, it suffers from being generic, evidenced even by the generic action title. It's definitely entertaining for a few hours, especially if you're amused by the rampant clichÃ©s, but if you're looking for a truly freakish survival horror game, you'll be better off getting your fear somewhere else.