MacGyver meets CNN's Anderson Cooper. That's the best way to describe Matthew Carter, the protagonist in Cold War. Matt is a freelance American journalist. Following a tip from an informant, Matt has arrived in Moscow to witness a top secret meeting between USSR leaders and the head of the KGB that might lead to the story of his career, but instead he becomes the story when he's framed for the attempted assasination of the Soviet president. Thrown into prison, Matt must find a way to escape, clear his name, and get to the bottom of a sinister plot to return the USSR to the control of the Communist regime right when it appears the Cold War might be coming to an end.
Even if his camera was curiously substitued at the airport for a dubious X-ray camera that caused the whole commotion, it wouldn't be that far-fetched for an outsider to believe Matt was really a CIA agent on a secret mission to murder the Soviet president. After all, in the moments leading up to the incident, which are played out as the game's tutorial level, the player is tasked to render three guards unconscious (one using a gun with rubber bullets), anesthetize them, steal a key and use it to enter the meeting place. Does that sound like the actions of an accredited journalist to you? I guess I've been doing my job wrong all these years.
Minor plot hiccups aside, Cold War is a third-person stealth action game in the vein of the Splinter Cell series. It even borrows a similiar HUD. When you approach a door, creep up behind an enemey or come across any interactive object, a menu will pop up in the top corner of the screen displaying the actions your character can take. The same interface is present when you search a body, showing the possessions you can loot from the victims you've incapacitated. Combat is also very Sam Fisher like. When the player equips a long-ranged weapon, the camera moves to an over-the-shoulder perspective for better aiming. There's even a stealth meter indicating the likelihood of being spotted or heard by an enemy. And wouldn't you know it, Matt can even snap his fingers to attract nearby guards (at least he doesn't whistle).
About the only thing Matt Carter doesn't steal from Sam Fisher is his athletic prowess. Matt doesn't have the ability to split jump or hang down from a horizontal pipe for an inverted neck snap. To make up for his physical limitations, Carter uses his MacGyver-like ability to construct helpful machines. The gadget creation system is by far the most original element in Cold War. Using items stolen from enemies or found by searching the environment, players can piece together all kinds of useful contraptions. For example, combining an Ether flask with a simple Can creates an Ether mine, knocking out anyone in the vicinity of the explosion. There are 28 gadgets in total, ranging from luring devices and tracing bugs to projectile weapons, both silent and deadly. To gain access to the gadgets, players use tech points hidden throughout the game in the form of blueprints.
The other unique element to Cold War is the X-ray camera that mysteriously replaced Matt's original camera. Clearly a top-secret spy gadget, the X-ray camera carries a number of uses, the first being the ability to see through walls. This comes in handy when the player wants to examine a room before entering it in order to find out if any enemies are present. The camera is also an effective ranged weapon. With the appropriate ammunition, the camera fires a burst of radiation that can render an enemy unconscious as well as ignite flammables, such as a fire extinguisher. Last but not least, the X-ray camera can also disable security cameras and laser fences.
On the topic of enemies, the AI is best described as dumb but deadly accurate. My first encounter with a guard gave me a pretty good idea of what I could get away with in their presence. I opened a door right in front of an enemy and after his obligatory "huh", he continued on his way. It takes quite a bit of noise, or a visible corpse, to get one of the guards to investigate. But once they do muster the courage, it can be fatal for the player. A couple of shots is all it takes to kill Carter so there are sections of the game where the quick save system comes in handy.
They don't call it the Iron Curtain for nothing. Dark and dreary is the order of the day in Cold War. Between the fog-induced darkness and the dimly lit corridors, the odds are in favor of Mr. Carter on this night. In an odd choice, the story unfolds in cutscenes featuring animated panels that not only look out of place for the subject matter, but also fail to create any kind of tension. On the plus side, the special effect created for the X-ray camera is excellent and the character models look nice. In terms of sound, Cold War does little to distinguish itself. The voice acting is decent, but the sound effects are run-of-the-mill and the soundtrack is far from memorable.
Of course the thing to remember here is that Cold War is a value-priced title. At $19.99 USD, it's the equivalent of a poor man's Splinter Cell, though the first title in that series can be bought now at the same price point, and it's still a much better game. The gadget creation system in Cold War is by far it's best feature, with the X-ray camera coming a close second, but the game can be frustrating at times, repetitve at others, and there's just not enough tension to drive the story to its conclusion. Unless you prefer the MacGyver approach to your stealth affairs, I recommend you stick with Sam Fisher.