This simply looked amazing. The trailers had my attention and with it being free, I knew I was going to play this game from the first day I saw it. It also wasted no time in showing me why this was a great choice to play. But that is not to say that everything was great here. In fact, this game held a very dark secret which I must now warn you about. A great game released broken, is still a broken game, and for this reason, I must warn people about Cry of Fear before they take it up.
Story: Getting hit by a car is never fun, but Simon’s accident is the beginning of Hell on Earth. Waking up from a nightmare, he finds himself in the abandoned streets of the city as if every person had just disappeared. And yet, as he soon discovers, Simon is not alone. Accompanying him are deranged mad men, mutants, and monstrosities that are all interested in his eminent demise. How long was he out? What the flying hell happened to the city while he was out? And most importantly, how the hell is he going to survive and get home to get his family out of this madness?
Throughout the game you will be given hints to answer these questions, but you will be left to piece it together for yourself with the final piece being the ending you receive. This could be one of 5 different endings depending on what you do as you play the game. Sadly, however, these endings range from depressing and obscure, to slightly uplifting, but sad. None of them paint a picture that seems worthy of the struggle to get to them, however.
Nor does the game suggest the ending will satisfy as it goes along. In fact, when I saw the first cut-scene that went back to the accident and the cops investigating it, I got a really bad feeling that this was just not going to go anywhere worthy of the amazing atmosphere the game had already produced for me. It was my first warning not to get my hopes to high.
The main action doesn’t tell you anything of this plot, but rather it is left to the handful of cut-scenes along the way, and their suggestion quickly leads to far more mundane reasons for the events going on then any horror fan would truly like. To say much more would be to give away spoilers I do not wish to, however.
Graphics: Cry of Fear was originally made as a mod for Half-Life… the original Half-Life. As such the graphic power available is a lot more limited then most modern games. And yet it’s hard to not be impressed at just how much the developers here managed to squeeze out of this dated engine. Simply put this game is absolutely gorgeous when compared to most titles that use it and puts them to shame.
And at the same time, it takes advantage of the limitations as well, using the limited graphic power to keep the horrific scenes ugly in the way horror should be, amplifying the unease when you see a new creature or new “unnatural” scene for the first time. Granted, this element goes away as you get used to seeing the things, but you never forget the first time you see them, the shock of it, and the realization that there will be more. This is especially true when you travel through the many darkened hallways of the various buildings you will have to visit, where the only light you get is the one you take with you.
But the real star graphically is when Simon has “hallucinations” in which the world itself need not apply. This is where the game truly pours on the horror elements showing what can only be described as a personal Hell. These scenes will be the ones you remember long after you finish playing, and with good reason. Absolutely amazing job done!
Sound: Furthermore, Team Psykskallar understood exactly how to play horror and that the graphics would only take you so far. The most unnerving things in this game are not the things you see, but the things you hear and know are waiting to jump you at the next opportunity. You will hear glass shatter as something breaks into a window, but not see what or where, or a door being hammered on as something desperately wants out… and you know in time, you will probably have to face whatever it was as well as the snarling beast around the corner waiting for you.
Then we can consider the music that goes with this, as the team put together a near perfect soundtrack for this game, ranging from background noise as you look around with no clue what will happen next, morose slow music as you trod through a safer area, reflecting on the dire situation Simon is in, and the hectic chaotic music mixes that accompany large and sudden attacks from the many creatures you will see. The visuals may put you on edge, but it will be the music that truly sets the mood for this adventure.
My only complaint about the audio is with the voice acting. It can be quite ham-fisted at times, but considering this game was made Germany I can’t fault them for some odd English here and there. What I can fault them for is the volume during these cut-scenes. There are many times where characters talking are overpowered by the ambient soundtrack being played, making the subtitles an absolute must if you do not want to miss anything.
Gameplay: Cry of Fear is a survival horror title with a first person perspective. In the classic sense, this means a lot of the challenge in this game is inventory and ammunition management. If you expect to play this game guns-blazing, you will also expect to play this game without any ammo and quickly dying without any real defenses from the monsters around you. Expect to want to conserve those precious bullets and maybe even run away from fights you really don’t have to take.
Further emphasizing this theme is your inventory itself, which contains 6 slots total. Of these slots you will have one always taken up by a cellphone (which doubles as your light source for most of the game). Your morphine shots (the only healing items in the game) will likely take up a second slot if you managed to squirrel a few away, leaving you with 4 to use between your weapons and key items needed to complete puzzles and proceed in the game. There will be many many many times where you will be forced to leave something behind, and due to the need to have as much ammo as you can keep on you, healing items, and the very item that will let you proceed, this choice can be and often is an agonizing one. Thankfully, however, multiple shots can be stored in one slot, ammunition itself takes up nothing, and anything you drop will be there when you get back, so you will never overload yourself with bullets and no decision is necessarily final.
In addition, the inventory menu also produces 3 quick-equip slots you can assign items to, and you will want to, since you can use them to wield/dual wield far faster then by the menu itself, and the game doesn’t pause the action for you to work in your inventory. If you need something in a hurry, you better hope you can either find a safe corner or you set it to a button.
As for the game itself, it is challenging, but usually fairly so. When you die, you will most of the time see you did something wrong and feel the urge to reload your save so you can try again. I have to say almost, however, since there are a few places where the game seems to forget the concept of fair, like a set of hallways where the whole floor will hurt you as long as you are standing on it (One of the cooler scenes in the game, but to explain it would be a spoiler) or an enemy or two setup in a way to get cheap hits as you load a new map, or even a piece of map geography not quite setup right, preventing you from running away where you clearly should be able to without jumping (or crouch-jumping) to get there. In these cases, the game will likely just plain piss you off, but thankfully, they are few and far between.
And of course being an FPS game based on Half-Life 1, the controls are everything you would expect… smooth and feeling right in their natural habitat of a keyboard and mouse. Even the issue of sticking to ladders this engine seems to have has gone away. If I have any complaints here, they boil down to two: I would have liked walking to be a little slower for the most part, and the game often resorts to invisible walls where the developers couldn’t quite reasonably cover exits you are not supposed to go past.
Though sadly, this is also the part of the game I have to hammer the hardest, for while playing about 2/3rds through it, I found a bug related to such tactics that literally prevented me from completing the game. There is an underwater hallway you need to cross to get a ladder and get out of the building you are in, but it is barricaded with garbage. You are supposed to swim up to the the top and crouch-jump over, but after trying repeatedly and continuously for 10 minutes, I found this impossible in the current version of the game. And since you need the ladder to proceed, this is a game ender.
Bugs: A lot of people in the forums have complained about crashing bugs occurring left and right, but I was only able to see one of these session enders. But knowing how to set it off, it became annoying but manageable. However, there is game ending bug in here I mentioned in the gameplay section, but I will still list it here.
Going Down with Fire: There is a portion of the game in which your cellphone battery dies, and in order to proceed, you will use flairs as a light source. The problem is that if you are holding a lit flair and get killed, you freeze the game. This will not happen often as there are not a lot of enemies in this part, but this is also the part where you will be dodging trains, so it is far from impossible.
The Wall You Can Not Pass: In chapter 4 (which with 3 make up the bulk of the 7 chapter game), you will be required to use a ladder to break into a rundown and flooded apartment complex. When you get the item you came for, you will find yourself trying to find a way out. This is done by finding a ladder to place on this side of the window and climbing. The problem is that this ladder is on the other side of a huge pile of junk in one of the underwater hallways. In theory, you are supposed to swim to the top and crouch-jump over it. In practice, I tried to do this repeatedly for 10 minutes before reviewing a youtube walkthrough to make sure I was doing it right. It worked for him, but it did not for me. It is worth noting, however that he was playing v1.0 of the game where the stand alone is v1.6. It is entirely possible this used to work, but final changes to the engine broke it. Without a copy of Half-Life 1 to try this with, I could not find out.
Overall: I wish I could be kinder to this game. It started great and kept going strong through the majority of it’s content, but when you have a game-ending bug, the wheels have come off somewhere and in a way that prevents the player from seeing everything the game has to offer… or even the main event it is supposed to offer. If you have Half-Life, you might be better off tracking down a copy of the mod (version 1.0) and see if you can get past the bug this way. But without the game being finishable, I have to say I can’t recommend this stand alone version to anyone.
out of 10