The Good: Gore, and lots of it (if you consider that a good thing); interesting graphics; tons of weapons. The Bad: Unpopular multiplayer; very short campaign The Ugly: Stupid AI, single player maps very linear, utter destruction of the enjoyable SoF franchise
Journey with me back to May of 2000, when a plucky and intelligent guy infused with a level of writing charisma that most can only dream about, answered an ad for a little backwater game review site to become a game reviewer. For his keen insight into all things gaming, for his laser-like ability to dissect and quantify the quality of a game quickly and incisively, the wise men who ran the site had no other option than to accept him into their ranks. The first game he reviewed: Soldier of Fortune. As I’m sure many of you reading this can guess, that game site was Game-Over, and that guy? Well, I murdered him back in 2003 and stepped seamlessly into every facet of his life including the game reviewing gig, which on the whole has been a sweet deal, but occasionally requires me to play some pretty awful games, the present SoF: Payback being the perfect case in point.
Playing another SoF title after all these years feels a lot like going home again, provided your home was somewhere in New Orleans and is now totally thrashed and overrun with toxic mold. What the hell happened to the SoF franchise? What drove Activision to take it away from Raven and dump it on some discount development house in Chechnya or Bosnia or wherever the heck Cauldron is? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that the results are not pretty.
Let’s start with what’s good about this title – that shouldn’t take too long. There’s lots of blood. I happen to like blood on the whole, and when you shoot someone and there’s a big splat behind them on a nearby wall, I think that’s a cool effect. You can blow limbs off and send bodies flying. When they’re lying on the ground and you shoot them and they open up this big hose of blood and puddle all over the floor, perhaps that’s going too far, and that happens in SoF:P as well. SoF:P is a very bloody game no matter how you look at it. Also, on the whole, and there are those that will disagree with me on this one I’m sure, I like the graphics. Some would call them pixilated, but I’m going to call them gritty. They’ve dialed down the contrast a little, and as a result dark places look murky and poorly defined, while out in the sun things look very bleached. It adds I think a certain realism to the graphics, with OK smoke and fire, to make the scenery come alive. Also, there is haze in the distance that at first I took to be kind of a fake backdrop, but then if you look closely you can see guys moving around in that haze – it’s like you’re seeing a really long distance – and that’s a good effect that I’ve never come across before.
The other good thing? The weapons. There are lots and lots of weapons. Just about any weapon ever made – handguns, machineguns, rocket launchers, shotguns, sniper rifles. During the single player game ammunition for many specific weapons is in short supply, but there is always plenty of ammunition for some weapon of that type. You may not find ammo for your favorite machinegun, but you’ll have ammo for some machinegun almost guaranteed.
Now on to the bad stuff. To save some time, and because I’ve been making a lot of presentations for work recently, I’ll put it in the form of a bulletized list:
Never a particularly plot-heavy series, the plot of SoF:P can be summarized in one sentence. You’re a mercenary hired by some secret government agency (“The Shop”) who is betrayed by a fellow mercenary on a mission to protect a diplomat, so you set out to find out who is responsible. Yawn.
The single player campaign took me about 5 hours. I’m sure some people may be able to finish it even faster than that.
The menu system is total bargain basement: blocky letters, bare minimum of functionality.
Multiplayer gaming has DM, TDM, CTF, Elimination, Team Elimination and something called Demolition. I have no idea what Demolition is. I never saw anyone playing it, and the manual (which is just one freaking page) doesn’t discuss it. I kind of have this inkling that maybe SoF2 had it as well, but if so I never played it there either. In more than 5 hours of online play over three days, I never saw more than 50 people or ten games going at any given time – not exactly drawing the crowds, is it?
When you do manage to get a populated multiplayer game, it’s OK. Running around shooting people. It’s not groundbreaking, but there are a lot of weapons to choose from and the maps are OK if nothing spectacular. I don’t see it unseating CoD4 (or SoF2 for that matter), but it’s better than the single player game.
The enemy AI is beyond stupid. I’ve had guys pour out of an alleyway and turn AWAY from me, all of them helpfully presenting me a good shot in their backs. The most common tactics used by enemy soldiers are to either snipe with uncanny accuracy from a great distance, or run straight at you. The game pretty much depends on raw numbers to beat you, and even then it is very rarely difficult.
Single player campaign maps at first feel wide open, but then are artificially hedged until you have only one choice as to where to go. There are big piles of garbage you can’t climb over, or clumps of trees you can’t sneak through, or just a big frigging invisible wall you can’t find your way around.
For some unknown reason Activision took a pretty respectable franchise (I still play SoF2 from time to time to this day, and it is still installed on my PC), and chucked it in the garbage. They’ve clearly created a budget title, and then added insult to injury by attempting to charge the very unbargain-like price of $29.99, when even at $9.99 it might not be worth it. Don’t be fooled. Spend your hard-earned dollar elsewhere.