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Cold Fear, a set of three CD-ROMs in English by Ubisoft, distributed with a 17-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a 1 gigabyte Pentium PC or higher, for ages 18+, NIS 199 to NIS 219.
Technical rating: ****
Moral rating: zero stars
This highly realistic survival-horror program is supposed to be played only by adults, but even if you've passed the age of 18, it is likely not only to turn your stomach but also to give you a splitting headache. The gastric symptoms would come from endless disemboweled and alien-chewed bodies and blood-smeared sinks, walls and floors; the neurological symptoms would result from the constantly rolling and pitching environment of a Russian whaling ship in the stormy Bering Sea and the Star of Sakhalin oil rig. Ugh!
There is no law in Israel that prevents "adult-only" software from being sold to minors, thus I suspect this title will be a big hit among local teenagers. Neither they nor their unsuspecting parents are likely to reach page 14 in the accompanying user's manual, which notes in English that "this game and its contents are entirely fictitious .... and players must be adults... Ubisoft cannot be held responsible for the actions of those who disregard this warning. Do not attempt to recreate the scenes conveyed in this game under any circumstances." I suppose Ubisoft wants to be sure it won't be sued if a nascent psychopath who buys the program slaughters, burns or decapitates innocents he encounters during his real-life routine.
But still you have to give the software developers some credit for producing incredibly vivid and graphic images - raindrops on the virtual camera lens showing the protagonist, Tom Hansen, plodding on the deck and through the dim corridors in the bowels of the ship. The graphic engine and the computer-generated animation that opens the game are excellent. But only afficionados of this blood-and-gore horror genre will want to control him through the dark scenes, which he illuminates with a flashlight-equipped laser pistol.
Hansen, a blond, good-looking fallen hero, joined the US Coast Guard to take on some anonymity. But one day his ship receives orders to save the "abandoned" and drifting Russian whaling vessel in the midst of a horrendous storm. On board, he encounters murdered sailors, armed and dangerous human mercenaries and a wide variety of alien "Exo mutants" mistakenly created in his lab by Dr. Viktor Kamsky, a brilliant scientist. Mutants and mercenaries are supposed to be on the same side, but they really hate and attack each other.
Hansen's missions can be played at easy, normal, hard and extreme levels of difficulty, with the last one unlocked only when you manage to crack through the hard level - that is, if you can stomach the violence long enough to get there. The music and sounds are intense, and the language - shown as English subtitles if you don't opt out - is particularly vulgar. The voice-acting for Hansen is quite poor, but horror fans are probably not looking for Oscar-winning dialogue.
His weapons include handguns, shotguns, submachine guns, sawed-off grenade launchers, flamethrowers, spearguns and Kalachnikovs. Hansen also has at his disposal a variety of other objects such as electric transformers to be shot at to create a short circuit, barrels full of explosive and other dangerous materials, wrenches, hooks, fire extinguishers, oil valves, laser mines and switches to gain access to new enclosures.
If you can bear it, keep your eye constantly on the screen to notice when the word "Interaction" lights up; this offers the possibility of passing through a doorway or encountering someone or something to move ahead in the game. A "life" gauge presents Hansen's health status. If it empties, he will die and the current section of the game ends, listing the protagonist as "Missing in Action." If there is still some left, you can boost his health by using medical paraphernalia hidden in boxes marked with a red cross. Running will reduce his resistance and make him short of breath and open to enemy attack, but his strength will be restored if you let him rest. It may also help to be a bit crosseyed, as the firearms do not always shoot exactly where you target them.
I admit that people like me are not the prime target for the distributors of a game like this, but parents should beware and think twice before they send their teenagers off with some cash to their favorite software store and with no limits to content. If they bring home Cold Fear, I advise you to return it or toss it into the Mediterranean on a blustery winter day.
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