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Game: Soldier of Fortune
Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: Activision
Year: 2000
Reviewed: 2008
Platform: PC
Genre: FPS
Game Version: Platinum Edition
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

ARGH! Is this intended specifically to annoy me? Things were going reasonably well for the first couple of levels. Nothing spectacular, just your usual FPS gameplay, but playable. Then the third mission came along and I was thrust into a bloody sewer level already. Did they really run out of ideas so early on that they had to resort to the worst level design cliché of all so soon? But I could cope with that… until I found myself in a different part of the world several missions later, only to end up in yet another sewer. And soon after that, in a slaughter house, I end up in the drainage tunnels. So that would be a sewer with the water coloured red then.

Soldier of Fortune
You put your left leg in, you put your left leg out…

Soldier of Fortune is a first-person shooter named after the war-loving mercenary magazine of the same name, and real-life mercenary John Mullins was hired as a consultant to attempt to make the game realistic, or so they claimed. In fact, you actually play John Mullins in the game. I don’t know how much of his advice they took, but I’m sure real mercenaries don’t actually charge into enemy infested areas alone and single-handedly kill hundreds of enemies with no problems at all. Although I guess they wouldn’t mind people thinking they do. Really, there’s no realism here, it’s just your standard FPS gameplay. Eventually, a mention to something called Jessica Six is discovered, and they send you to rescue her. Because they think Jessica Six is a person. Maybe Six is a common surname amongst American mercenaries? Or maybe it’s common for families there to number their children. It’s down to us normal people to see the obvious. Anyway, I was baffled when the game acted like it was a plot twist when it was revealed that Jessica Six wasn’t a woman you could rescue.

The main hyped feature (and source of media controversy) when the game was released was its localised damage system. Enemies would die in different ways depending on where you shot them, and the more powerful weapons could blast off their arms, legs and heads completely in showers of blood and broken bones. The trouble is that it was about all the game did offer, and it wasn’t enough to base an entire game around. If it wasn’t enough to save the game from mediocrity when it first came out, it’s nothing special these days where nearly every action game has the same features done much better than in SOF. One of the problems with it here is that although you can wound the enemies in various locations, they have one specific animation for being hit in those areas, so you start to see the same action repeated. At times, I had several villains on the screen and managed to shoot them all in the legs, leading to a synchronised hopping scene with several men with guns hopping around as if they were performing some sort of bizarre dance.

The AI isn’t up to much either. Mostly enemies will just stand there shooting at you, occasionally doing a rolling manoeuvre from one piece of open space to another for absolutely no discernable reason. I witnessed someone throwing a grenade at his own feet at one point. Another time I walked through a door to find two men stood there. One of them started shooting at me the nanosecond the door opened, while the other just stood there facing the opposite direction, even after I’d killed his friend. We’re not talking tactical geniuses here. Occasionally they will surrender if you shoot the weapon out of their hands, although the game doesn’t seem to care if you shoot the defenceless guys in the head. Mercenaries laugh at the Geneva Convention.

The story is about what you’d expect from a game based around mercenaries. It’s a story of terrorists that has even less subtlety than the average Tom Clancy game. The cutscenes are extremely short to the point of being almost pointless, giving the game a bit of a disjointed feel. In fact, you find out most of what is going on through the “Eyes Only” briefing screens at the start of each mission more than by actually playing through the game. I’ve never understood the “Eyes Only” classification for secret documents. Are they scared some enemy agent is going to attempt to read it with their feet? Anyway, the story basically boils down to this: here’s some bad guys, shoot them.

Soldier of Fortune
Hmmm… I’m sure I had a head a minute ago…

About the games only unusual feature is a sound meter, which shows the level of noise you’re making. Surely this indicates that there’s stealth involved? The tutorial even seems to suggest that at one point. It’s nonsense however. There’s no way to sneak past anyone. The only thing the sound meter does is rise every time you fire a bullet and then, when it gets too high, cause extra enemies to spawn in from nowhere. Because everyone loves randomly spawning enemies. About the only time the game decides to do stealth is in one mission where you get a disguise at one point. This means you can walk through a small section of the level for about 30 seconds before coming to a checkpoint where someone challenges you, and you have to start shooting again.

One feature I do appreciate from the game is the customisable difficulty settings. You’re not limited to their default difficulties; you get the option of assigning different settings for various different aspects of game difficulty, from the enemy difficulty and the number of spawning enemies (if any) to whether you want limited or unlimited saves. It’s nice to get a feature like this, as I’ve had games before where I’ve had to play on an easier difficulty than I’d like just to get a decent number of saves. It’s a good thing that they do have the custom settings too, since either extreme difficulty is a bit ridiculous. At the easiest difficulty, the enemies stand around for about ten seconds between shots, and then usually fire in completely the wrong direction. I’ve always been of the opinion that the easy difficulty should actually be easy since that’s the whole point, but this is going too far, not even giving the illusion of any skill requirements. At one point an enemy just stood there without firing even as I spent a minute jumping around in front of him. In contrast, the hardest difficulty level has a sound meter that practically fills up the instant you fire a shot, meaning that as soon as you come across someone and shoot them, around twenty other assorted bastards appear from nowhere.

The game suffers from some annoying problems. For one, there’s the problem that was quite common in games at the time but is especially noticeable here, and that’s the virtual impossibility of climbing down ladders. No matter how carefully you try to edge towards them, forwards or backwards, you usually end up plummeting several feet and often take damage from it. And as mentioned at the start of the review, the level design seems particularly uninspired. And worst of all, there’s the problem that Raven seems to be unable to understand, as it’s turned up again and again in their games. The final boss is just stupidly difficult, being around 50000% harder than anything else in the game up to that part. It’s a villain that you can empty the entire ammo of your rocket launcher (about 20 rockets) into, along with all your machine gun ammo before you come close to killing him. All while he’s shooting you with an incredibly powerful weapon that rapidly drains your health. And about halfway through the fight, he activates a bunch of turrets which can kill you in about 2 seconds if you’re out in the open when they come on. And this is only in the normal difficulty. Bosses like this aren’t the way to make the end of the game fun. They should be challenging, but not to the point of taking constant reloads until all but the most patient have either given up or turned to the cheats.

In the end, the game hasn’t really aged well, but it wasn’t all that special to start with. They mainly seemed to focus on the controversial levels of gore to sell the game rather than the quality, and the problems with the gameplay coupled with the incredibly unimaginative levels lead to a game that just doesn’t offer anything of interest that you can’t find in better forms elsewhere. The Quake 2 engine that it was built on was dated even at the time and the storytelling is poorly done with an incredibly generic plot.

Save System Review: Save anywhere and quicksave, although there’s an option to have limited saves if you’re insane.
Graphics: Dated even at the time of release, and with very dull level design, there’s very little of interest here.
Sound: The weapon sounds are pretty good, but the voice acting is rather mediocre.
Bugs: Limbs sticking through doors, bodies floating in the air, an inability to climb down ladders and a rather bizarre instance of being able to shoot a fish, which smashes to pieces somehow, without breaking the fish tank.
Gameplay: Generic FPS run and gun stuff. The levels are completely isolated as with early FPS games, but they’re nearly all rather dull. Blowing off people’s limbs can be entertaining for a few minutes though.
Storyline: Generic dumb action movie type plot. Just an excuse to have you running around shooting people.

Arbitrary Final Score: 1 star

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