After the ports of the first two Broken Sword-games doing well on the Playstation, Sony asked Revolution Software to develop a game for their console from scratch. With this opportunity, Revolution Software decided to go in a different direction from their previous projects by creating something with an action-setting starring a secret agent, and even writing an engine specifically for this title. According to the director and executive producer, Charles Cecil, the game was inspired by movies like Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects. I personally have never touched this game, but seen it in the occasional retro-stores, and surprisingly in my own GoG-account. Making a transition to 3D is definitely a hard thing, so maybe it was a good idea that Revolution experimented with a title outside of the Broken Sword-games, to see what worked and what did not? Though hopefully, this experiment is more than just a throwaway project.
My name is Cord, John Cord.
Just to be clear, this is not based on the novel or the movie-adaption by the same name. You play as John Cord, an MI6 agent who is captured by an unknown man. After being tortured and interrogated, John decides in the end to answer this unknown man’s questions, starting with the beginning of his mission. He was tasked by his boss, Alpha, to find a missing agent, and a good friend of him: Kiefer, though John seems to have a hard time remembering the events leading up to where he is. This forces him to take one step at the time and recall his journey as well as possible. The story starts in Volgia, a fictional state in the USSR with a ton of controversial habits, including racial cleansing, where you and Gregor Kostov, a freedom-fighter, tries to infiltrate the facility.
To be direct: this is a traditional spy-flick. It has a professor with a kidnapped daughter, another female spy which you know is going to be close to our main character, and even a traitor is involved. The events in the story are cliche, though never tedious thanks to it having a steady and well-paced progression. The twists are decent and interesting, evolving the plot to something grander than I would expect. I am not going to spoil what will happen, but I can say that even the traitor’s action is understandable and gets enough screen-time to be remembered. Despite that I did not consider this character memorable at first.
The characters themselves are generic and have thick accents for showcasing a clear cultural heritage, though fits the game’s cheesy tone and are never in poor taste. It is clear the team had more focus on the plot than personalities, which keeps the game entertaining. The only exception is the main character. It is hard to get a good grip on who Cord is, as they begin late in-game to establish a personality, and it is inconsistent. In one area, he is shocked by a torture room, and in the next he is joking over the dead bodies of the enemy. Double-standards, I suppose?
There are some clever lines with characters and some humorous ones too, with my favourite being two work-acquaintances arguing over a muffler. Yes, this was actually hilarious. Throughout the game, you will travel to different facilities in varied areas, giving the story a sense of adventure and scope. They can be high up in the mountains, in a snow-covered world, or the futuristic city that got popular thanks to Blade Runner. The story is far from anything significant, but is entertaining and knows how far it needs to go, leaving you with a nice journey that ends on a cliche, but a satisfying tone nonetheless.
Story Score: 6/10
Simplicity is not similar to laziness
As a game made first and foremost for the PS1 by Revolution, I thought it would be something similar to the ports of the Broken Sword-titles. I was only half-right as this game takes on a mix between TPS-survival and the puzzle-genre. This is certainly not uncommon for old survival horrors, but this game highlights puzzles in such a consistent pace, it becomes clear that it almost was a point-and-click at one point.
You control Cord with tank-controls and fixed camera angles. It works well, and Cord is quite versatile, with the ability to side-step, run, crouch, and can both shoot the opponent or attack them by knocking them out stealthily. Yes, there are some stealth-segments and while some are forced, it is quite easy and honestly shallow due to the easy patterns to follow and enemies being dumb as a brick. Unless I specifically had to though, I just shot myself through every encounter since enemies would just run blindly towards me with the sound of a gun being fired. Everyone gets stun-locked by any shot and never makes any smart manoeuvre, making the aspect of survival lacklustre as you are never in danger. They also carry tons of ammo, so you should never run out, and healing-kits are easy to come by and can be taken along with you. Sadly, acquiring these are tedious as well since you have to crouch and then interact to pick the items up.
The enemies are a complete joke because of their poor design, though just as terrible is the lack of guns. You only get one throughout the entire game and while it packs a punch, it gets repetitive and dull quickly. Perhaps the most disheartening, is that all your items will be reset when you enter a new mission, which makes the theme of resource-management in this survival-game lost. They do try to add some form of variety to the setup, such as timed events like a ticking bomb going off or being hunted by an unstoppable beast. While it is commendable that they wanted to make missions feel interesting in concept, due to the poor execution of everything else, they barely add anything.
As you can see, any form of combat is just broken, and too simple to be interesting. The puzzles fare better, but not by much. You have an inventory-screen that holds your gun, ammo and health-kits, as well as items to be used on other objects or people for progressing through the story. Items you can pick up are highlighted with sparkles and the game never goes to the bizarre aspects of what you need the items for. In fact, some puzzles are actually quite clever, such as one guard who will not give you his key-card, so you must find out his name and locker elsewhere to steal it. Though these neat puzzles are few, and the rest consists of backtracking events that can be annoying, at best. John will also combine items for you, and while you have a neat device called Remora for communicating with partners, showcasing data or issuing a few commands on other machines, it can become too simple and feel like context sensitive moments.
There are some other neat quirks added that I wish the game provided more strength to. One is the concept where you can threaten other people for gathering information by aiming at them, and I do actually like that you only have an in-game map with radar, and must remember the rooms layouts yourself, which is not hard to do. These are neat ways to get involved in the game, but every other aspect is done so poorly, that they become rather lost potentials. It destroys what seems like solid groundwork for a game, and is bogged down by dull mechanics, levels that are uninteresting, and concepts that only try to add variety and nothing to change up the way you play. Thank God you can save anytime so you can quickly take a break.
Gameplay Score: 2/10
Someone was a fan of Blade Runner
I am quite surprised at how well this game holds up, especially on PC, as early 3D tend to age worse than milk. In Cold Blood sports pre-rendered backgrounds with 3D-characters being put in, and it all works great thanks to the lighting helping out to make a character seem as they are in the picture, and fade depending on where they are going on the screen. The backgrounds are wonderfully detailed and take you in different settings, such as a broken down facility, a damaged sci-fi city, snow-coated areas with enormous vehicles that need a grappling hook to get into, and more. The areas you visit are diverse and creative, making you really feel like an undercover agent trying not to be seen.
It all presents with an ominous atmosphere, as you are never truly safe. Be it a scientist-room with plenty of dead bodies, or a building infested by office-workers, you are always afraid of what might be around the next corner and who is going to find you. This is highlighted by the absence of music, and letting the environmental sound-effects like machinery, footsteps or the wind enhance the lonely atmosphere the game goes for. The more noticeable moments, such as making a discovery or danger approaching, are provided with music that is orchestral, and fitting for a movie-score. It might be somewhat generic with clear emotions and no diverse notes, though the soundtrack emphasises violins in just about any score, which I think is perfect for this lonely, yet tense atmosphere.
Then there is a ton of CG that looks great and transitions unnoticeable between the animated moments, and the pre-rendered in-game backgrounds. There can be stiff animations on the characters in these scenes, but it is still solid. What will drag the experience down, is the voice-acting. They go for a cheesy direction with clear thick accents, and while it works for the story, none gets to shine with clear performances, with some even delivering their desperate lines with sounds of joy. It is clear that this is either a cast of inexperienced actors, or actors who were not able to redo their lines, so the acting is rather average at best, and unintentionally funny at worst.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Mission: It’s not happening
After you have finished the main game, you will be given the option to replay missions, show profiles of the characters you met, see concept arts, and the CG movies you experienced. I cannot say there would be a single reason I would revisit any part of this game, and the CG-movies will make you miss parts of the story, as some are told with in-game presentation. The profiles and concept-art are neat to look at, but due to how poorly the game is designed, it does not feel fulfilling to unlock these.
Extra Score: 1.5/10
It is really hard to recommend this game, as while I do enjoy the setting and the traditional, yet entertaining and well-paced plot, playing it is a mix of cool concepts and terrible execution. Revolution really seems to have had a taste for survival TPS, point-and-click, and even stealth-genre, but it is a jack of all trades, but not even serviceable at any. Though I would love a sequel as this unique title shows a lot of creativity and charm. However, you are better off sticking with the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill for good TPSs with puzzles.