If you’ve ever dreamed of being a cowboy and duelling with your foes at high noon, Cold Iron from Catch and Release could be right up the main street of your one horse town. Heading to PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, it puts you in the shoes of a vengeful gunslinger in custody of a powerful and mystical weapon that’s just as keen on revenge as you are. This isn’t just an ordinary showdown though, it’s a puzzle shooter designed to tax your mind as well as your reflexes. Have you got the skills to survive?
Given there are numerous FPS games available in VR, it takes a something a bit different to stand out from the crowd, and Cold Iron definitely does that. Coming from a two man studio it takes the premise of a one-on-one shootout and adds a story and a twist in the gameplay to make you think just as much as you react. It’s simple enough to start with: pull your pistol quicker than the other person you’re facing down and make sure you shoot straight. However, it doesn’t stay that simple for long. Soon enough you’re predicting where enemies will appear, memorising the way they look, and picking targets off in certain sequences. The thread running through the adventure though is be fast and be accurate – a missed shot or a slow reaction means death.
On the PSVR all the action is controlled with a single Move wand in whichever hand you’re dominant with. Keep it pointed down for holstering, pull up and aim when it’s time to fire. You’ll know when that is because a bell will ring and you’ll get a ludicrously short space of time to make your bullets count. Each round is a best of 9 shots and after 4 successful hits Cold Iron builds the power to finish your opponent off. Every third round in a world is a boss fight which presents a greater challenge, and then if you’re good enough to keep going, there’ll be a bonus round of picking watermelons off at distance. The mechanics are straightforward and the controls easy and intuitive so that there’s no distraction when the action kicks in. With no HUD or info on screen all the focus is on what needs shooting in front of you.
Whilst the puzzles are fun to crack, having the solution won’t necessarily guarantee success because reaction times are key. In the early stages it’s pretty lenient and gives anything up to 2 seconds before the other dueller gets a shot off. Make it several worlds in and you’re being asked to get to under half a second to win. Couple this with randomly cycling puzzles and it can become very tough. Take the third world for example. Set in war torn city there’s a cyborg to take down who blacks out your vision and flits between different locations so that you can’t anticipate where he’ll be. It walks a fine line, just managing to stay on the right side of unfair, forcing you to get better and faster.
Story wise it builds up nicely and clearly has some heavy movie and literature influences (as a Dark Tower fan there are some very nice nods to Stephen King’s epic); and the environments fit well for the scenarios you’re presented with. It’s not the greatest looking on PSVR, more down to the limitations of that hardware than anything else, and long distance shots can be tricky where it gets a bit blurry. That said Cold Iron being possessed means it’s slightly more forgiving, but still possible to miss so you need to be working as hard as you can. Audio is satisfying and has the appropriate gravitas to go with the tale being told, giving it a bolder cinematic presentation than you may expect.
Cold Iron is short yet has some replay value with the world select once you’ve completed each one. It is a challenge though, and that’s enough for you to get your money’s worth from it. VR is constantly throwing up unique experiences and here is the chance to live out those quickdraw fantasies without the risk of dying. Are you quick enough to best all the opponents – man, machine and beast? The only way to find out is to grab the butt of your pistol and wait for the bell to ring.
A PSVR review copy of Cold Iron was provided by Catch and Release, and the game is available from the 30th January on PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift for around $20/£16 (depending on the platform).