The Fight Against Mediocrity

If the player fires at this exact instant, he’ll probably miss.

Every couple of months I pull out a game that I’ve started but never completed. I play these games for a while, make some progress, then put them down again, sometimes for months. Usually these are games that just never grabbed me (like Extermination), or games that I was playing before I got interrupted by something else, and this way I eventually am able to complete them.

But there are a few titles that keep coming up in the rotation over and over again that I’m never able to make any progress on whatsoever. Right now the worst two offenders are Rule of Rose and Cold Fear. Both of these are terrible games, and actually, they both have similar problems: the game play is so broken that progression is either extremely frustrating or downright impossible. I recently complained about Rule of Rose, so now it’s Cold Fear’s turn.

OK, developers, here’s the deal: any time you have a source of infinite damage, you need to match it with a source of infinite health. For example, Cold Fear contains enemies that respawn every time you enter certain rooms. Respawning in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means that the player can be exposed to a potentially unlimited source of damage. If you do not pair respawning enemies with respawning health and ammo, the player can eventually get into a situation where they have no means to defend or heal themselves and yet are required to progress. At this point the player has little recourse other than starting the game over from scratch, as there is really no way to play any sort of game that only punishes and never rewards. Now, I know that in Cold Fear, you guys at Darkworks made it so that some enemies drop ammo and health, especially if it looks like the player needs it. But it’s not enough; if I’ve run out of ammo shooting the same goddamn respawning monster for the nth time, there’s very little chance that I’ll survive my next encounter long enough to actually kill the thing and search it for more ammo. And the problem is compounded by the rocking of the boat (which makes it harder to aim than in any other game in this genre), the need to shoot guys in the head, and the lack of a map; you might know where the rear deck storage hold is, but I sure the fuck don’t, and every time I backtrack through certain rooms looking for the one unlocked door, you spawn another zombie. Do you see where I am going with this? The game play has me wondering around a ship, trying not to run out of ammo or health against an infinite number of zombies, who by the way can kill me from off the screen before I realize they are there.

I got to a point in Rule of Rose where my options are to a) start over from scratch, or b) never play the game again. Progression is impossible given the amount of life I have left and where I managed to save. I’m not quite at that point in Cold Fear yet, but I am close: I played the same section over and over again about 15 times this evening, sometimes dying after 10 minutes of play, sometimes in the first 30 seconds. It’s not that the game is hard that frustrates me, it’s that it is unfair and arbitrary. Everything else about the game is actually sort of all right, but the whole experience is utterly ruined by a few fatal flaws in its design.

25 thoughts on “The Fight Against Mediocrity

  1. http//
    I played Cold Fear around one year ago maybe more. I was pretty close to the end but I just dropped it. I am surprised I played that far to be honest. It is one thing for developers to use some little “in game tricks” (like the ammo deficiency you mentioned) to make a game challenging but it is different to overdo it and thus make the game frustrating and annoying. A rocking boat full of enemies that die only by headshots is just frustrating. I progressed and I progressed even further in the game but it didnt get any more enjoyable(and the oil rig later on is just so poorly designed)… What is the point of playing a game if you are not having any sort of fun… Poor game, really poor game or it seemed to me that way probably because I had some sort of expectations from it.

    Well, I played the PC version and I can only say that, with a mouse, it’s quite a fun game. It does get old at some point because it’s pretty repetitive and the story is so dumb it doesn’t help at all, and you’ll probably forget about it within the month; but all in all it’s still a nice, fun, fairly solid game in my eye. And I never ran into that ammo shortage problem either, so I don’t know what to say there.

  3. Some games are so poorly designed they
    DEMAND the average player 1) buy or find
    a walk through or 2) Cheat like Hell with
    AR-MAX disk or something.
    Having tried to cheat in Cold Fear I was
    still bored and wondering- how do I get around
    this bloody ship?!
    The Quest needs a new Score or Category.
    The Mark of Meh. Games that are pointless or
    brutally flawed should be marked as such.
    I nominate Chaos Break to receive this dishonor
    first. A game need not be finished to receive
    the Mark of Meh.

  4. “OK, developers, here’s the deal: any time you have a source of infinite damage, you need to match it with a source of infinite health.”

    I’m curious why you repeatedly insist on this. It seems like such an arbitrary thing to ask for. It’s one thing to say that the fights are too difficult, or the game has crap controls, and another entirely to just decide on a random rule like that. It would be silly to make this kind of demand from any other sort of game: you don’t see shooter fans demanding never-ending health packs to go with their infinitely airdropping nazis, now do you? They just complete the level and move on.

    There’s an easy answer to infinite sources of damage: learn to not take damage from them. As long as this is possible through the old-fashioned practice of plain _getting better at the game_, everything seems all right in principle to me.

  5. > Osbert

    Sure, the “just suck less” argument has its place. The reason I ask for this is not to make the game easier, just ot make it fair.

    See, when developers set up the difficulty curve for a game, they have to make some assumptions about how the player will play. They have to assume the player will reach a certain level of skill by a certain time so that they can start introducing harder elements. There are many ways to do this, including dynamic difficulty adjustment (DDA, pioneered by Crash Bandicoot and underused in this industry), pacing, and power-up strategies. But basically, a developer either needs to lay everything out perfectly, or provide a means for the player to continue playing if they end up playing in a slightly different way than the developer expects (Master Chief’s recharging shield in Halo is an example of smart, procedural balancing).

    In Cold Fear, the difficulty is clearly tuned with the idea that you’ll take the fastest path to the next event or door. If you are able to linearly progress through the game in the way the developers intended, the ammo and health they have provided would probably be sufficient.

    But the fatal flaw is that there is no map and there is often no way to tell where you are supposed to be going except by wandering around the ship trying door after door. Of course, the ship is populated by respawning zombies, so wondering around causes a drain on your resources (health and ammo). When you eventually reach the place you are supposed to go, you can get there with much less health and ammo than the developers expected, causing difficulty to spike. If you managed to save while in this state, the difficulty pacing is going to be constantly off.

    So what I am suggesting is that they should not have had respawning enemies. Without respawning enemies, there would not be a constant drain on your health and ammo as you wander around the ship (there might have been some drain, but it would have been finite and therefore easy to compensate against). Or, if they must have respawning enemies, they need to provide the player a way to return to “normal” when they get to the real part of the game, otherwise the difficulty balancing they have set up is off and the game is frustrating rather than fun. Having every respawning enemy drop health and ammo would have helped, but instead dead guys have useful items fairly infrequently.

    Resident Evil does not provide infinite health or saves or ammo, but the enemies are finite as well; once a room is cleared you can generally count on it to stay that way for a long time, so exploring rooms you’ve already visited doesn’t drain your resources.

    I have no problem with games that are hard. I really enjoyed Devil May Cry, for example, which was crushingly difficult to complete. My problem is that when a game becomes far more difficult than it was intended because you’ve run out of a resource that the developers didn’t expect you to run out of. It doesn’t matter how awesome you are at head shots if you are out of ammo; you can’t shoot anybody and you will die.

  6. Well technically speaking the basic idea of survival horror is conserving ammo, which enemies to kill, and which to run past rather than lose health and generally survive in an area were its not very likely to survive.

    Gotta say i never had a real problem with cold fear and found it prety easy, i didnt die once in cold fear, but died a good 3 or 4 times over the course of obscure.

  7. > hellsing

    I don’t think survival horror has anything to do with ammunition rationing or avoiding enemies. Those are certainly traits of Resident Evil, but I don’t see any reason for them to apply to the genre as a whole. Clock Tower, for example, doesn’t use item collection or resource management as a game mechanic at all, but it’s still certainly a survival horror game.

    Also, Resident Evil’s game system affords ammo conservation and enemy avoidance because the enemies do not respawn. You can decide which enemies to kill because you can predict where enemies will be in the rooms you’ve already visited. That’s not true in Cold Fear, as an enemy could spawn in any room at any time. It’s also the case that Cold Fear enemies are much tougher to avoid than the zombies in RE, partially because they are faster, partially because the camera doesn’t show you things behind you, and partially because the level design has a lot of narrow corridors that can’t fit more than one person.

    Hmm, this is an interesting topic. Maybe I should make a whole post out of it.

    I have mixed feelings on Cold Fear, but I pretty much enjoyed it up until the last boss fight.

    In the final boss fight, you have to contend with the monster – keeping him distracted – while your young lady friend plants 3 or 4 bombs on the platform. That is difficult enough, and it gets worse.

    If you succedd in stalling long enough for the lady to plant her bombs, Big Monster Guy picks you up, and you have to pull off a certain combination of button moves to kill him, ones I never did bother to use or learn while killing the little baddies.

    (I tried this particular button-mashing technique a few times earlier in the game on lesser bad guys, but I never got the hang of it.)

    My problem is I can never beat the final monster (but I’ve gotten close a couple of times, except for that crummy button combination move!)

    I haven’t picked the game up in eons.

    While there is no in-game map, one is printed in the booklet that comes with the game. Why they didn’t put it in the game itself, I’ve no idea.

    Another complaint I have (and this is true of a few other video games I’ve played, not just Cold Fear):
    Not being able to find a door, and this was due not necessarily to a lack of an in-game map, but due to the graphics.

    What I mean is one door in Cold Fear was a pale grey color, and so was the wall it was in[/i].

    The door blended in to the wall so well (and there was no door knob or anything else “door-ish” about it), that I didn’t see it.

    The game was not progressing, and I suspected it must have something to do with some room I was supposed to go in but had not yet found.


    I walked my character all around the rooms, hitting my ‘action’ button while facing every inch of every part of the rooms, and that’s how I found it.

    I must’ve wasted upwards of like 20 – 30 minutes just to find that dang door (and it was just a [i]hunch[/i] on my part that there was supposed to be another room, and hence, a door).

    The [i]Fatal Frame[/i] games were also bad about that – I overlooked ‘I- don’t- know- how- many’ rooms because the doors looked like part of the wall.

    As for the health pack issue in [i]Cold Fear[/i]… it was a tricky thing.

    If I remember right, there were only “X” number of health kit things (mounted on walls) in the game
    (I don’t remember defeated foes dropping health/ammo, but it’s been so long since I’ve played it…).

    If you had low health and needed more, you could get killed while searching the ship/port with no in-game map for help, with no idea of where to find a health kit dealie, and bad guys popping up in the midst of this.

    I don’t think a player’s health should have to depend on sheer luck or running about looking for health, not in that manner.

    Chris, I understand your argument about the health pack system in the game, and I agree.

    While I myself don’t recall having problems with it in [i]Cold Fear[/i], I came [i]close to it a few times, but I always managed to find more health in time (by sheer luck, not game skill)…

    … and I’ve played a few other games with that same problem, and it’s annoying as all get out.

    OK, I just now read your reply to Osbert, Chris, and you articulated the problem(s) perfectly, and I still agree with you.

    That scenario you outlined in your reply to Osbert has happened to me in several games, and I hate it.

    The result is that you get penalized for something that’s not really or totally your fault.

    I am a bad gamer (well, I am good at a few games).
    I tip my hat to those of you who are stellar – you never get shot, killed, or run out of health, but for someone like me, I need all the help I can get.

    For me, if a game gets too hard, it’s no longer fun. It becomes frustrating. I’d rather put it down and never play it again.

    ~And that’s not what I paid $20 – $60 for.

    I don’t mind challenging, but when it’s so hard I can’t progress in the game, I draw the line there.

    I like the video games that give a difficulty setting option at the start: Easy, Normal, Hard. Unfortunately, not all games give that option.

    Not everyone playing out there is an Ace at gaming or is a 100%, dead-eye shot.

  9. ^ my post above.
    Sorry about all the italics; I didn’t mean for it to happen. I must’ve forgotten a closing tag somewhere.

  10. I kind of liked the game for the difficulty of fighting enemies. But I can see how one person can struggle while the other finds it a mere challenge. Weirdly, I had the complete opposite ordeal compared to Chris…I’m not saying I’m amazing, but I’ve been told by the missus that I’m quick to learn tactics and so on.

    Unless you really sat down with Cold Fear and made an effort within the first 30 minutes, you were always going to struggle with this game.

    Sadly, that’s enough to put any average gamer off. It was also an insult to create a stable oil rig/secret lab in the second half. After really making you work for the first hour, it fell into mediocrity and laziness for the next two-three.

    Yes, the lack of map is terrible. Didn’t help that A) the doors were unmarked and B) the objective involved backtracking. In the end, to avoid conflict, you had to stay outside (very rare to find zombies) and hone on the objective. I guess the developers were being strategic or something akin to real horror (you pick the safest routes, etc.).

    The lack of map became worse on the rig since you had multiple paths (that all tied in to one hub in the end…yeah, thanks for that…). The only way you knew you hadn’t been somewhere before was when a giant mutant came after you!

    I don’t think Cold Fear was absolutely turgid. It took away a lot of safety nets that gamers are used too, but at the same time it took away the fun. For a quick weekend blast, it did it’s job. One you had to play continuous to get anywhere (defo not something to leave after weeks on end!). I liked it for the cheap scares but nothing more.

    Also, let us never speak of that nightmare of a final boss ever again. I must have done it 50 times before I succeeded in a fluke.

  11. I played Cold Fear for ten minutes and promptly lost interest.

    I didn’t think Rule of Rose was that hard, though. Once you get around the control issues, it’s relatively easy to dodge enemies, find a decent stockpile of healing items, and move on in the game. The key is to know when you need to stay and fight, and when you need to run.

  12. I finished Cold Fear some time ago and I quite liked it.

    I thought the atmosphere and gameplay was kind of cool, even if difficult.

    Btw. there actually is an unlimmited suply of ammo

  13. > Townsend

    I’m not the awesomest player under the sun, but play enough of this type of game that I think I’m above average. The problem with Cold Fear isn’t that it’s hard (although I find the aim-for-the-head-while-ship-moves formula quite annoying), it’s that no matter how well you play, you can run out of health if you didn’t move through the game in the way that the developers intended. I have the same issue as spookycreepy: I walked around the stupid ship for 20 minutes the other night looking for an unlocked door, and when I eventually found it, it was close to invisible (gray door on gray wall in dark room). Of course, by that time I’d used all my ammo while walking around looking for that door, so there was no way to continue.

    > Endaso

    The part I am at in Rule of Rose is right after the awful mermaid boss. I beat the boss and saved, and now I’m stuck in a very small subsection of the air ship with few health items, no useful find items, and I need to progress past the part where you must face several waves of enemies that push in barriers. I’ve played this section over and over, but I don’t have enough life or enough health to complete it (even the dog dies in the first encounter, usually) and I’m not allowed to return to the rest of the ship to stock up on more health items. So it’s start over or quit forever. Gah!

  14. Honestly, it does get easier after the ship and the respawning of enemies is less frequent (I’d say monster only reappear twice in the same place on the oil rig). I remember starting the ship section a couple of times, before I finally figured out what the developers wanted from me (stay outside as much as you can, move inside when you’re close to the objective is the only tip I can remember)!

    But if you’re really not enjoying it by the end of the ship level, then I seriously suggest giving up on it. No, not because I’m saying you’re rubbish, but because it truly becomes dull as the game progresses.

    You’re definately not missing anything storywise; there’s even a huge plot hole later on, which suggests this game was cut down somewhat.

    Defo up there with Driver as the world’s most annoying start sequence ever…

  15. OK, well, thanks to you guys I gave it another go. I managed to get past the point I was stuck at (though more by luck than skill), and all of a sudden the difficulty has dropped dramatically. After hours of being without pistol ammo or health, they’ve just given me three new guns in the span of about 10 minutes, opened up a new area full of ammo and health packs, and allowed me to save several times. So I’m willing to give the game another chance; now that I have some munitions hopefully it won’t be so annoying.

    I still think this sort of difficulty spike is the result of flawed design, but I’ll withhold final judgement on Cold Fear until I finish it.

  16. I’m not agree with you Chris.

    I’ve play the PC version of this game and only left kill the final boss. I liked the game very much. I think that is it a very good survival horror game.

    You like Survival Horror. in the game you are in a very desesperated situation at the beginning that you has to solve. Every moster that will appear is enough dangerous to kill you quickly and painfully. That’s Survival Horror!. I will remember forever, the first time that a “zombie” runs towards me. That feel is something that i not had felt in a game before. That’s surpresed me. And the game has more dangerous mosters that that.

    The game has no map, but i not needed. I was walking quietly by the ship, moving to the nest area only when i had explored completely in which i was. Literally i memorized the enviroments, which none of them are too big by the way. In “the real life” that would be i would do. I memorized each item and its situation… and when i needed i used them. I can die in the next room, but i has to enter. I count each bullet that i used and if i wasted too many in a enemy, or if the enemy hurts me too much, i load a previous game and repeat it. I discovered exploring that the ammo is unlimited but in determinated situations in the game. I killed all monsters that can attack me.

    The story is not good, but it is intriguing.

    People and magazines said that it is a very bad game. I think that it is a very good Survival Horror game. Offer different experience that a Resident Evil o Sillent Hill game.

    PD: The fight with the final boos is very good in my opinion. Completely dessesperated.

  17. >SpookyCreepy
    “While there is no in-game map, one is printed in the booklet that comes with the game. Why they didn’t put it in the game itself, I’ve no idea.”

    An old-school anti-piracy measure perhaps? Printing vital maps, diagrams and even whole conversations in the manual instead of the game proper was common back in the 80’s and early 90’s.


    I do agree with you in that there is a marked difference between games that are challenging and games that are merely _difficult to play_, but in the area of what constitutes an acceptable challenge I have to differ.

    Resource torture and save point denial I find to be ultimately just fine ways to heighten the challenge, because they are obstacles that exist _within_ the game and their effect can be diminished by playing better. I am much more bothered by games with unresponsive or unintuitive controls and/or impractical camera angles, as those are obstacles that place themselves _between_ the game and the player, and reward blind luck rather than skill. Admittedly, not knowing where you are supposed to go can be argued to fall into this category, but hard limits on resources really can’t.

    Now, Cold Fear is a thoroughly mediocre game and its whole selling point at the time were the then-impressive storm visual effects. I have no issue with you calling it boring, or frustrating, or plain not fun. But “unfair” rings false to me: you do have to admit its controls are tight and the camera points right where you want to see, unlike in so many other SH titles. It plays like a poor man’s Resident Evil 4.

  18. >Osbert

    I’m really interested in your perspective. For me, a game that is flawed in design can be just as bad as one that is flawed in implementation: both lead to frustration and are therefore unfun. I don’t see much point if the game is unfun.

    Let’s take the random ammo drops from Cold Fear: no matter how well you play, you can still run out of ammo because enemies respawn and do not drop ammo consistently. If you define “playing better” as “always knowing exactly where to go,” I guess that the ammo drops will work better. But just shooting guys in the head consistently isn’t enough to maintain ammo in this game because if you every get lost or have to backtack, there will be an unnecessary drain on your resources.

    To me, that sort of problem is the same as a game with a bad camera that causes me to miss a lot: in both cases, I am running out of ammo regardless of my playing skill. I dunno, just because a flaw is on the rules side rather than the implementation side doesn’t make it any less frustrating for me.

    To be clear, I agree that the implementation side of Cold Fear is pretty good. There are some very annoying camera angles (shooting down narrow steps causes the camera to center on the back of the protagonists’ shoulder, obscuring the view of the enemy, etc), but for the most part the engineering is well done. Now that I’ve managed to get past the difficulty spike area, it’s actually suddenly become very easy; I made more progress in an hour yesterday than I’ve been able to make in several months. So yeah, it looks nice and plays ok, but I think there are some flaws in the design that make it far more frustrating than necessary.

    I also think it’s interesting that people playing on PC have no problems with aiming. I suspect that mouse control is much more quick and responsive than the DualShock interface (it probably allows you to move the reticle rather than moving the gun).

  19. Chris,

    I was stuck there too, eventually used up all my meds at the differen’t forced crowd fights. I just got lucky the third time around. But, honestly, it sounds as if the game just isn’t for you. Just drop it, and pick up something better. I love Rose, but I admit it, it’s bitch and not fun to play. To watch PLAYOUT, yes. They should have had one seperate team write the script, another to do actual work on it.

  20. About Cold Fear…

    This game is hard for all the wrong reasons. It’s not impossible, but I can see why many people didn’t like this game or finished it. As someone mentioned earliers there are a couple of points where you get near infinite ammo/life refills. They are there for a reason. Also no one has menchened if you point your handgun the light on it at door with Russian letters, Tom will translate for you. It’s not a map but it does tell where you are going.

    Rule of Rose:
    Fun game with a horrid combat system. This game quite beatable if you spend the time to find the all the hiddens items. The story is downright sinister once find out what’s going on.

    I had to choose between Cold Fear and Rule of Rose, go RoR all the way.

  21. I read a review of Rule of Rose that pointed out something I noticed the few times I tried to play (a rented version)…and that’s the fact that the girl you’re playing as is physically bigger than the bratty kids in the club…She oughta just knock down a few of ’em and take over as Dictator For Life…Suspension of disbelief and all,I guess… I did like the IDEA of Cold Fear–but have not finished it either now that I got to the Oil Rig…I have to agree with the view that it’s respawning enemies are too much …and I’ve another problem that’s due to equipment I have…My TV doesn’t get bright enough to show what’s going on in some of the dareker games (like Cold Fear)..A new TV will open up a LOT of half finished games for me(the Fatal Frame bunch and Echo Night for a few…)Soon I hope,but now I’m gonna end up moving Cold Fear back down on the list of ‘ to play when the new TV appears’…

  22. Yeah, Chris, you might just have to give up. I recall having trouble there, but I managed to luck out one time and get through. I honestly thought the narrative really picks up once you draw closer to the end of the game, but don’t put yourself through video game hell just to reach such.

    Also, a bit of a spoiler for William: the reason she never ‘pushed the kids’ around was because the events that we see actually took place when Jennifer was a child. You could say she’s ‘reliving’ her memories as a result of coming to the out-of-the-way Orphanage for a second time.

  23. SpookyCreepy: “The Fatal Frame games were also bad about that – I overlooked ‘I- don’t- know- how- many’ rooms because the doors looked like part of the wall”[/i]

    I never found this to be a problem (or heard of it as being one), my guess is you just aren’t familiar with Japanese style rooms.

    [i]Chris: “The part I am at in Rule of Rose is right after the awful mermaid boss. I beat the boss and saved, and now I’m stuck in a very small subsection of the air ship with few health items, no useful find items, and I need to progress past the part where you must face several waves of enemies that push in barriers. I’ve played this section over and over, but I don’t have enough life or enough health to complete it (even the dog dies in the first encounter, usually) and I’m not allowed to return to the rest of the ship to stock up on more health items. So it’s start over or quit forever. Gah!”[/i]

    Am I the only one that thought the bosses were the [i] easy part of the game? I remember that barrier part in Rule of Rose, and I remember hating it for making me waste a ton of my health items because of the cramped quarters. However (though I could be wrong on this…) I’m fairly certain you CAN go back and search for more health items. To me, once I got past the section with the barriers the game was less frustrating. There’s also a point in the next level (after the airship, sadly) where there are two easy enemies that re-spawn each time you leave the room and you can beat them up for some nice healing items…

    I did enjoy this game, even though I’d never call it a great game by any means.It’s a heck of a lot more fun when you play through the second time and have alternate costumes that allow you to swat down enemies like flies. And as faulty as this game is I think I could have dealt with everything else if the Airship wasn’t so ridiculously long and there were more levels to explore (the repetition made this game hell). I admit it is frustrating, but I do recommend trying to finish if you can go back and get more health items. Also, I don’t know the situation with your memory card, but I always make a point in games like this (at least the first time through) to make a couple of different save files to keep from running myself into a rut… Good luck if you keep at it!

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