Soldier of Fortune: Platinum Edition
Windows - 2001
Description of Soldier of Fortune: Platinum Edition
Well, it's that time again. No, I'm not talking about spring, when winter-dormant plants spring forth, and the TV schedules are filled with a variety of soul-crushingly dull repeats. I am referring to the coming of this year's "controversial" game, a role filled in previous years by the likes of Mortal Kombat and Carmageddon 2. It's a grand old tradition where a random games producer puts out a title, usually a rather bloody one. It's a tradition, particularly one upheld in America, that enables the moral minority and various politicians to whip themselves up into a frenzy--who then proceed to blame games (yep, it's games now, not video nasties or rock and roll) for everything from school shootings through to bad weather.
One million dollars
But somewhat strangely, Soldier of Fortune, the new and bloody, if rather good, shoot-em-up from Raven hasn't attracted that much attention outside of the gaming community. Perhaps the media has its hands full bashing Pokemon. The game shares its name with the Soldier of Fortune magazine: a mercenaries and guns style publication read by a small number of mercenaries and a hell of a lot of deer-blasting gun-loving Americans. It's the former camp that this game allows you to emulate. Soldier of Fortune casts you as a mercenary working for a quasi-secret organisation called "The Shop," which rather handily pays your wages and makes sure you get enough work to keep you in bullets and beer. You are called in to aid in the retrieval of four stolen nuclear warheads which have been half-inched by an eeeeeevil terrorist organisation. This neatly side-steps the issue of the perceived amorality of mercenaries, people who are apparently willing to fight for anyone who pays them. Although, when you think about it, the "official" army is at the beck and call of politicians (particularly the US President) with its own self-serving political agendas and interests, and so is not exactly guaranteed to be acting in the best interests of humanity. But whatever your moral position, remember: it's still only a game.
Guns guns guns
As Soldier of Fortune starts, you're helping the police clear out a thug-filled subway, which introduces you fairly gently (in an ultra-violent kind of way) to the game. Wandering around the corridors and gloomy tunnels of the subway, you must blow away any thugs you come across, flick the odd switch, and generally causing mayhem and terminating your foes with extreme prejudice. This level is actually a little unusual in that this is one of the few levels in the games where you can't shoot everyone on sight, as there are hostages being held prisoner in the subway. Should you shoot more than two by accident then you'll be pulled out of the mission and have to redo the whole thing again. But once you finish the level by taking out the final thug you are given your new orders to aid in the retrieval of said warheads and pretty much everyone is a legitimate target. Still, any excuse for a economy sized firefight... and firefights there are a plenty, since gunplay is featured pretty heavily. There is no negotiation here. What there is is a mixture of action and stealthiness. In terms of sheer shoot-em-up action, Soldier of Fortune is pitched mid-way between Quake 2 and Thief.
Soldier of Fortune 's blasting takes place across a large number of levels, each set in real locations such as Kosovo, New York, Iraq, and so on. Each of these places is filled with a variety of baddies, punks in the underground, soldiers in pretty much every other location, and the odd hostile vehicle (which you can blow up but not commandeer). You'll be up against baddies with flame-throwers, shotguns, rockets and a whole variety of other weapons, all set upon shooting you repeatedly until you're feeling really rather ill. But even if these odds sound insurmountable, don't despair. Because in the grand style of most 3D combat games, barring Hidden and Dangerous, you can take far more damage than your foes can. It wouldn't be much fun if you just dropped to the ground the moment you took a couple of bullets in the chest. Nope, it's far more fun when your opponents drop to the ground after taking a couple of bullets in the chest. Or the head. Or the vulnerables. Or any other part of their bodies, for that matter.
Yes, this is the bit you really want to hear about: Soldier of Fortune 's hit-sensitive damage system. This means that your opponents react and take damage differently depending upon which part of their body you hit. This kind of thing has been promised before in other games but never quite materialised, and I'm blood-spurtingly happy to say that Soldier of Fortune pulls this off perfectly.Each baddie has twenty-four or so hit-sensitive locations on their bodies, which means that you effectively get one of twelve reactions when you shoot a baddy. Should you shoot them in the head, they usually die instantly. Alternatively, if you shoot them in the arm, they will usually scream and grab their arms for a bit, usually shooting at you after about five seconds of blubbering. Shoot them in the leg and they'll blubber again, but grab their leg and move more slowly, dragging their feet when they come after you. Naturally, each hit is accompanied by a suitable amount of blood, and should you blast one of your foe's parts with sufficient force, with the shotgun, magnum, or any weapon used at really close range, they may end up with bits blown off altogether. This also results in instant death and quite a lot of blood and gore. Apparently the people paid to clean up each battlefield get paid overtime at ten times the usual rate.
How you decide to play Soldier of Fortune is entirely up to you. Unusually, altering the game's difficulty affects not only how hard Soldier of Fortune is, but the approach you need to take to succeed. On the easy difficulty level, or on the appropriate custom difficulty level, you can quite happily run along, guns blazing, blowing away all the baddies, making as much noise as you like, as you can in Quake 2. On the other hand, if you play the game on the medium or harder difficulty levels, things get a bit trickier since the more noise you make the more enemies turn up. You can tell how much noise you make by watching the noise meter at the bottom of your screen, and it's well worth keeping an eye on this. Otherwise, as you're blowing away one enemy you may find another one coming up behind you and introducing you to the business end of his or her shotgun.
However, there is one significant difference between this game and Thief. The difference being that Soldier of Fortune cheats. How? Because whereas in Thief your foes patrolled each level freely, in Soldier of Fortune the positions of your enemies are largely scripted. So in the first subway level, when you head down the stairs, a baddy is always there, always jumping out to shoot at you. And on one of the Kosovo missions, at a certain point on the level, a pair of soldiers will always rush out towards you, guns blazing. And on another level, a tank will always roll along a bridge the moment you step onto the bridge opposite. This works fine in a shoot-em-up context, but when a stealth element is introduced, this makes things a little trickier. So rather than go the Thief route, Raven the designers of Soldier of Fortune make it so that when you make enough noise, enemies are effectively teleported into the level at some point out of your range of vision and sent over to your position. This works sometimes when you're in a fairly open area, but on other occasions it can be somewhat annoying to find that an enemy has appeared from an area that you just cleared out and that could not conceal another foe. It's a bit of a cheap compromise but you can always turn spawning off if you want to so it's not a massive loss. But for a sequel, perhaps a better system could be implemented.
While sneaking around may be helpful some of the time, when it comes to taking down the enemy you need some good hardware at your disposal and given that you'll spend sixty or so percent of your in-game time blowing people to oblivion, it's lucky that Soldier of Fortune includes a bucket-load of reality based weaponry. You get to play with a knife (which can be thrown as well as wielded), a 44 handgun, a magnum, a shotgun, a machine gun, a sub-machine gun, a rocket launcher, flame thrower, and others. You even get to wield a microwave gun which can be used to fry or explode your foes; of course, this weapon is completely fictional. Unless, that is, you count the government's rumoured HAARP microwave programme... but that only lives in the mind of conspiracy theorists, doesn't it?
Plus, if sniping is your thing, you can pull out your sniper rifle and using the zoom facility blow the head off any baddies who come into view. You can choose your weapons at the beginning of each mission by spending the cash you earned in the previous mission (disturbingly, you get money for each kill you make) on the available weapons. You can pick up weapons off dead baddies as you go along so you can gather a full complement of weapons as you traverse each level. Unless, that is, if you're playing on the medium or hard difficulty levels where you can only carry a certain number of weapons, so you may need to drop one before picking up another. This does add a certain element of strategy to the game, in between blowing your opponents' heads off their shoulders that is.
Your opponents are actually quite a stupid lot for a bunch of supposedly battle ready soldiers. They will come after you if they see you but their AI is strangely flawed. Their ability to see you seems to be completely unaffected by the distance between you and them. For example, if you stick your head round a corner you can see your foes and get a shot in first. However, even if you stick your head and shoulders round a corner, two feet in front of your foe, they won't see you at all. Similarly, if you shoot at them but miss, either by shooting round a corner or by missing with another weapon such as the sniper rifle, the enemy will fail to react completely. A little more improved AI, on par with Thief 's or Half Life 's, would have made the baddies more convincing. Fortunately, Soldier of Fortune 's single player levels are so well designed, complete with battle scarred buildings, sniping positions, sewers, dark corners and other atmospheric features, that they go some way towards overshadowing the AI flaws.
The same can be said of the multiplayer levels as well, which include car parks, bunkers, warehouse style levels, streets and others, suitable locations to blow the brains out of a human foe. And Soldier of Fortune features a variety of multiplayer games, amongst them standard deathmatch (with a slightly fiddly teamplay facility), Capture the Flag, Assassins (which is basically tag with guns), and realistic deathmatch. The latter is probably the best deathmatch mode I've seen in ages, even being superior to the standard blast-em-up jumping all over the place standard deathmatch, which is still damn entertaining. Why? Because it encourages stealthier play, making you subject to the same damage restrictions as the AI controlled baddies in single player mode. So if you're shot in the head, you die; if you're shot in the leg you limp, taking visible damage; if your arms are hit, you have problems aiming; and you only need to be shot a couple of times in the chest to die. So you end up sneaking about, looking around corners, taking potshots and then backing off, rather than going around guns blazing, making the game more like a real-life shoot-out than a John Woo film. (Although if you prefer John Woo style action, you can go back to standard deathmatch.) Unfortunately, while it's easy to get a relatively lag free Soldier of Fortune game going on the registration-required-we-know-where-you-live-big-brother-style Wonsystem (there's no Gamespy support for the game yet), realistic deathmatch games were far and few between. It's a shame too, as realistic deathmatch really does have a hell of a lot of potential.
From gibland with love
Graphically and sonically Soldier of Fortune is flawless, boasting as it does superb character animations and excellent sound effects and plenty of pyrotechnics. The gore effects themselves are unbelievable gory, not that Raven went out of their way to make the game gratuitously violent. At all. Ahem. As a whole, Soldier of Fortune is a highly entertaining but not perfect game that should keep you going for a good week or two, and is sufficiently different with its real world environment to other shoot-em-ups about. And if realistic deathmatching ever takes off, you could be playing it for ages to come. It has a few flaws, particularly in that stealth isn't always rewarded as you'd expect it to be (given the fact so much of the game is scripted), but it's still strangely addictive and gratuitously gory. If you're looking for a totally realistic stealth-based softly softly action game a la Hidden and Dangerous, you're best off looking elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want a highly entertaining shoot-em-up set in a modern environment and with a bit of stealth thrown in, then Soldier of Fortune should fit the bill nicely and deserves a place on your gaming shelf.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
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