Cry of Fear can be best described in one word, immersive. From the first time you boot up the mod right through to completion the entire world closes in around you and holds you tight. You will take on the role of Simon, a young teen who wakes up in a dark alleyway with only questions. He has no idea of the events leading up to this point or why the world around him is slowly filling with horrible monsters. Simon needs to fight the darkness (and what lies within) with the intention of uncovering the mysteries and surviving to see another day. I won’t go into any more details regarding the story but it is worth mentioning that you are in for a very enjoyable ride, if you can muster up the courage to press into the night.
Cry of Fear has something very special. You see the gents from Team Psykskallar Team Psykskallar have not just been sitting idle for the past 4 years as CoF boasts some of the best engine implementations for GoldSRC since Paranoia. From the very beginning of the mod you are greeted with a new hint system, inventory changes and my personal favourite the new map loading system (more details on that later). Lighting effects are vastly improved and actually make a big difference. The world – while not extremely dark – still requires some player held light source to navigate effectively so your combat will change based solely on the lighting made available to you. With 6 different lighting solutions available at different points in the game you are spoilt for choice each having their own pros and cons.
Unlike the majority of half-life mods CoF is not a linear game. You will often find yourself backtracking as you pick up items for areas you have since passed, however the world is far from static. New obstacles will appear within areas you so bravely exorcised on your first pass, familiar routes will change and new areas and shortcuts to old will open up. Players who have ventured into the Dark/Demon Souls games will have a good idea at what I am hinting at. This is all thanks to the above mentioned level loading system where every door you enter loads (rather quickly I might add) a new map within the game. With each new instance the enemies you face will be randomly placed, codes for doors and computers change meaning each new game will be different. The system itself is fantastic, it is a “think outside the box” that just works so well, I might even go as far to say it is the best level management system I have seen in a modification to date. And I have played a LOT of mods.
Following the motif of survival horror, inventory space is quite limited and in some cases extremely frustrating. One example I had to find and carry two fuses from one location to another, each fuse takes up a whole slot within your inventory and if you take into account that each weapon, key, light source takes up as slot well you will be forced (quite regularly) to make hard choices on what you will be carrying with you. I will admit that this system was frustrating for me; I tend to “save” items for more difficult encounters so if I wanted that shotgun again I would need to backtrack. Personal issues aside I believe the whole system could have still worked well if the issues of size and weight been a factor rather than a slot based system.
Now I am imagining you are all saying “Enough about the engine, IS THE MOD SCARY?!?” Yes, Cry of Fear is really frightening! There are a fair amount of “BOO!” moments but CoF really shines in how it builds up the suspense and for that the music plays a very big part. These moments are effective at getting deep under your skin, to the point where it had literally given me shivers. Mix in the removal of ye-old f5 to quick save for a suitably better and far more traditional save point system and the resulting effect will fill you with a sense of dread since you are very much gambling with your progress. For those among us who are weak at heart Cry of Fear does have some downtime that works wonders for the pacing of the mod. The first few chapters will really run you ragged for scares, but when you finally step out into the open streets and the soothing music envelopes your tormented mind you realise how much of a powerful hold CoF has over your emotional state.
So should you try Cry of Fear? Yes, without a doubt. But know this, no matter how much you think you are prepared for what you are about to experience I can tell you right now that you are not. So turn down the lights, put on your favourite headphones and get ready for what will most likely become an all-time classic mod.