Cold Zero: No Mercy (also known as Cold Zero: The Last Stand) is a game where you sneak around and kill people, usually with the objective of obtaining secret documents or freeing hostages. That is, it has the same basic premise as the Commandos games, except that in Cold Zero you control a single person rather than a team of specialists. That single person, named John McAffrey, got himself kicked off the SWAT team, and then he ticked off the mob. Talk about a bad week. But as a result he has to do the mob some favors, and that’s the focus of the campaign that comes with the game.
Since the mob is calling the shots, you might think Cold Zero is about killing rival gangs or bombing police stations or tracking down people in the Witness Protection Program, but it turns out the mob is made up of a bunch of good guys. Shortly into the campaign you learn of a new drug that causes people to go insane, and that ticks the mob off, and so you spend the rest of the game helping the mob to track it down and eliminate it. The drug is called Cold Zero, and that’s why the game is also called Cold Zero. However, Eat Your Heart Out, Rambo might have been more appropriate.
That’s right, combat is the focus of Cold Zero. Usually it’s just you against a full installation of bad guys with guns, and while you can sneak around and avoid bloodshed to a certain extent, you’ll spend a lot of time killing a lot of people. To help you out in this endeavor, there is a whole slew of weapons included in the game. Cold Zero stops short of allowing rocket launchers and the like, but I think the two-shot Derringer is the only gun not available. Rifles, pistols, shotguns -- you name it and it’s there. Plus, different weapons have different types of ammo, and you might be able to find accessories, like silencers or magazine extenders, for certain weapons. There is even a choice of clothing for your character to wear, from jungle fatigues to a Matrix-style black leather coat.
Besides the variety of equipment, your character also gets to earn experience in the game, and so not only do have to decide what kinds of weapons to use, you have to decide how to develop your character. Do you make him stronger so he can carry more stuff around, or do you make him better at working with machines, or do you make him more efficient at using rifles? I usually like it when games have role-playing elements in them, but unfortunately the developers of Cold Zero didn’t balance the system very well. There are only nine skills to put points into, and by the end of the game I had maxed out six of them. Worse, for most of the skills I couldn’t tell the difference between the skill levels. If there is any difference between having a rating of 5 and 10 with rifles, I didn’t notice it.
Cold Zero also has some problems with its interface. For starters, the developers didn’t make good use of the mouse. Left-clicking only moves your character while right-clicking is for actions. That sounds fine, but what happens when you have a body to deal with? Right-clicking searches the body, and control-right-clicking picks it up. Then, if you want to put the body down, you can’t just right-click; you have to draw a weapon! There are too many commands in the game that require control- and shift-clicking when a simpler context-sensitive system could have been used instead.
There are also problems with the inventory system (you have to wield a weapon to eject bullets from it, which makes sense but is a pain) and the targeting system (the game too often thought I was shooting at rafters or car tires rather than at enemies), but what really makes Cold Zero unfriendly to play is the camera system. There is a mode to make the camera follow your character around, but it isn’t “smart.” It won’t try to change position to point in the direction you’re facing. That means you have to rotate the camera a lot, and the only way to do that with the mouse involves holding down the mouse wheel, which can be a little difficult to do without accidentally clicking either of the other two buttons and making your character shoot or move. Worse, you can’t tilt the camera down low enough, and so you often can’t tell what’s going on. If you’re in a forest, for example, and a bad guy is under a tree, you have to run right up to the guy to see him. Otherwise all you can see are branches and leaves, and if you shoot where the bad guy is standing, the game will probably think you’re shooting at the tree, and then you’ll get riddled with bullets and have to load your game.
Since Cold Zero is a Commandos-style game, you’ll probably have to load your game a lot anyway, but imagine playing Commandos and having to fight the interface as much as the bad guys. It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun -- and in fact it sounds like it might be too frustrating to waste time with -- but I sort of liked Cold Zero anyway. However, I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the genre. You might want to think twice about purchasing the game unless you’re a sucker for the genre, too.