Following the surprise success of the Broken Sword Adventure games on the PS1, a success that was surprising because the genre usually thrived on PCs but struggled on consoles, Sony reportedly requested that Revolution Software make a new game with the PS1 in mind.
The result was In Cold Blood, a new type of Adventure game that was unrelated to their past work, but maybe could offer something new to fans of the genre. Unfortunately, it is exactly the advances that the game made that make it so much inferior to the charming games that preceded it.
#A30: In Cold Blood:-
Year: 2000, 2001.
Publisher: Sony, DreamCatcher Games.
Developer: Revolution Software.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10-point system. I fully recommend games that get above a 7, and those that get below are mostly a waste of time. The recommendation for a game scoring a 7 largely depends on your personal taste.
"Now, John Cord. You are going to tell me everything about your mission. You'll start at the beginning with Alpha"
If you played the two Broken Sword games on the PS1, then you are right to expect a solid story told through very good voice acting and scene direction, which is thankfully what we get hear. Although it does lose the charm and humor of those games thanks to its overly serious espionage angle, In Cold Blood offers enough of a good story that you may not have a boring time watching it all unfold on YouTube.
Starring MI6 agent John Cord, it follows him as he investigates a coup in the fictional ex-Soviet country of Volgia. Soon he is embroiled in a web of mystery, intrigue, and supernatural resources that could change the world as much as it can bend the laws of physics. In fact, you first meet him while being literally caught in the web, being interrogated by the obviously evil Vladimir Putin, I mean Dmitri Nagarov.
So much for not judging a book by its cover
The majority of the game is set in flashbacks that Cord remembers while being interrogated, which puts us in his own shoes as he tries to figure out and remember how he was betrayed and captured, and then plan on what to do about it.
While the story and premise won't win any awards for originality, Revolution Software knows how to smartly manage its storytelling, resulting in an engaging tale from a narrative and performance point of view.
"What is so special about it? Everything, it does not only bend the laws of physics, it snaps them in two"
Unfortunately, the narrative is where engagement begins and ends with this game since it's an annoying chore to actually play it. Normally, playing an Adventure game is a highly meditative experience. You take a look at the nice backgrounds, click around to hear the smart/funny commentary on the environment while you look for clues, and then solve things logically.
That meditative experience is considerably changed in this game in favor of a more active and action-oriented style. You no longer point and click, and instead, you can directly control Cord in the environment. Additionally, you also have some limited stealth and gun combat options. While this approach could work in theory, the reality is that Cord lumbers on awkwardly to such a degree that moving about becomes a slog.
It is simply not fun controlling Cord, and it certainly becomes less fun when you get fail states thanks to the awkward combat and steel sections. Yet, what makes this indeed the worst is that it discourages the player from interacting with the environment because it's so damn slow.
The pondering pace is a bigger threat than any enemies
As such, one of the main joys of playing an Adventure game, where the protagonist provides wry commentary on the environment, which provides context and personality to the game, is something you want to actively avoid here.
Other games in the genre, such as Grim Fandango, moved away from point-and-click gameplay successfully. But those usually had better art direction to highlight interaction points, and they never had the awkwardly slow screen transitions that this game has.
"The place is swarming with guards, so don't think you could shoot your way in. Use your brain"
Although no level of art direction would have saved the game from the experience of actually playing it, it may have at least saved my poor screenshots. In another move to "update" their take on the genre, the developers opted to abandon their previous artistry and proficiency in 2D graphics and go into the realm of early 3D polygonal monstrosities.
Sure, there were enough advances in 3D technology by then that the game didn't look too bad, especially with some nice-looking converted 2D backgrounds in some areas, but the push to 3D polygons made the game much darker than it needed to be. This resulted in difficulty in knowing which objects you could interact with, which is especially annoying when you hate the thought of moving your character around.
While their work on the Broken Sword series had timeless beauty and charm, nothing in the art direction of In Cold Blood or graphical production, including the generic design of characters such as John Cord, ever rises to that potential.
Even the best-designed locations have smudged quality to them
I think that a smarter push to modern graphics would have been to retain their experience with 2D graphics but utilize more of the rather solid CGI scenes that showcase key moments in the game. They still won't look good and it would be an awful juxtaposition of styles, but it would at least save the base look of the game.
As it is, solid voice acting is the only part of the production that gets passing grades.
As a fan of the PS1 Broken Sword games, I am a bit sad that Revolution Software basically scored a bunch of own goals in making this game. Through a sluggish "update" of the gameplay to introduce more action as well as its clumsy jump into 3D graphics, they managed to eliminate the best qualities of their previous games.
In Cold Blood is a game that will leave you cold and uninterested in completing it, as no intrigue or mystery in the world will have you strain your eyes looking at muddy screens while your boring character lumbers about like a treadless tank.
1- Courch to help you sneak behind guards.
2- Utilize your map radar function (by pausing the game) to scout for guards ahead.
3- Some NPCs will only help you if you take to them with your gun drawn.
4- Don't run while using stairs, as it may glitch the game.
Don't forget to use your gun
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now reviewing Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary and other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest them.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Hey mate, do you think we would have looked better in 2D?
I am disappointed but not surprised by my reaction to In Cold Blood. Based on my experience, many promising Adventure games failed miserably thanks to a mindless attempt at innovating the genre, lumbering it with unnecessary mechanics and systems.
The next game in the addendum list, which is frankly less reliable than the main list at this point, is going to be Jade Cocoon, which is a polarizing JRPG with pedigree from Studio Ghibli behind it. I hope it's more a misunderstood gem than an undeserving cult classic.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: