It's hard to remember what games were like before 'stealth action' started to arrive on the scene. A huge proportion of games in many genres have seen 'stealth elements' creeping in, to the extent that they have become second nature to many gamers. A well-implemented stealth section always becomes something to look forward too. Though, when it's done badly... well, it can leave a bitter taste. However, when one poorly implemented stealth section constitutes the entire game, you have real problems...
I'm perhaps being overly cruel, but these days stealth is so well done in certain games that the bar has become quite high. Cold War doesn't live up to these standards, though it's still far from being a bad game. Taking place in the midst of the Cold War (who would of thought it?), you're cast in the role of journalist Matthew Carter, a man who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain Gordon Freeman. Carter's got himself into a bit of a mess too, getting framed for plotting to assassinate the Soviet President. Not a great day, by anyone's standards, but as a story it's perfectly serviceable, ticking along at a reasonable pace, while throwing in the odd plot twist. It's all you really need from a game more concerned with hiding in the shadows.
The game's biggest problems begin to show in the first few minutes. The graphics are unusual - you can see that a lot of craft has gone in to making them look good, but they defeat themselves at every turn with silly animation sequences and a strange 'glossy' look that seems to affect all the surfaces. It's a shame, as the world created in the game is fairly solid, but when you see Matthew's jogging animation, for instance, it really detracts from it. The sound is also nothing special, but gets the job done, and the voice acting has its moments.
While most of the game lacks any real originality, the MacGyver-style gadget system at least tries to do something a little unique. You see, our man Carter has some excellent improvisational skills, which he can use to whip up many interesting bits and pieces. Using the rubbish you find scattered about, Carter can build rubber bullets, remote detonated bombs and the like. It's quite a nice system, and your gadget building skills can be increased by finding new gadget instructions while moving through the game. It's not perfect though, and doesn't feel fully integrated into the game world, with certain devices feeling pretty superfluous.
The main gameplay has no real surprises; you creep through shadows and crack guys round the back of their heads, moving like a ghost in the darkness. It's exactly what you would expect really, but without the manoeuvrability of Sam Fisher or the set pieces of Metal Gear Solid. The added bonus (if you want to call it that) of poor AI means that you're rarely going to get spotted, making most of the game a breeze.
Despite being a rather lacklustre experience the biggest problems came from bugs in the game. The Xbox version is pretty solid, but the PC game is messy, and that's being polite about it. There's bound to be a patch that will fix some, if not all, of these problems, but when a game crashes by simply looking at the keyboard setup you're not too interested in what might be coming in a few weeks. It's a shame, as it left a bad taste in my mouth before I'd even played the thing.
When you take into account the budget price of Cold War it all makes a lot more sense, but its problems, particularly in the PC version, make it hard to recommend. Stealth aficionados out there may get a bit of fun out of it, but there are better (and now equally priced) stealth titles out there. Certainly, the gadget system does add a nice twist to the genre, but it feels tacked on, and doesn't integrate with the rest of the game well enough. Cold War is merely competent, and in a genre packed with classics, it's just not good enough.