Soldier of Fortune 2: Double Helix
The average shooter that came under the spotlight after its patented engine could depict torn limbs and crotch shots with bloody abandon has produced a sequel – behold Soldier of Fortune 2. If you were to believe its developers, their GHOUL 2 engine provides ‘more pulse-pounding action than ever before, with 36 damage zones and 16 dismemberment zones!”. How nice. Let’s see if all that dismemberment is really worth it.
Just to be clear, GHOUL 2 provides the very graphic damage modelling but the graphics themselves are powered by id’s Quake 3 engine. As in the first Soldier of Fortune, you star as gun-for-hire John Mullins out to conduct high profile missions against terrorists. The hackneyed plot has its way as you kill or sneak through such places as a Colombian jungle, a freight vessel, an airport, a Russian military base and other such likely and unlikely combat zones.
Raven tried to model the weapons more realistically this time, cutting the sci-fi cannons for more conventional ones. You’ve got two types of pistols, two types of assault rifles, two shotguns, some explosive weapons and numerous grenades, all standard military hardware. You can carry any combination of weapons or all of them at once, depending on the difficulty model you’ve chosen (higher difficulties restrict the level of gear you can drag around).
An unfortunate consequence of all of this retrofitting is that the guns come off as annoyingly tame – they’re slower to reload, ready and fire. Plus there’s a severe shortage of suppressed weaponry to suit the stealth missions (you only get a silenced pistol and a few throwing knives). A suppressed MP5 would have been a godsend, like the one depicted on the game’s box cover.
Despite the claims of realism, things are still pretty much in the realms of arcade. Bullet penetration is not a factor, so you can duck inside a tent and receive total cover from any incoming high-caliber fire. To its credit, Raven added the OICW, an impressive rifle with an inbuilt grenade launcher that allows you to precisely calculate grenade flight trajectories. But overall the guns are much too slow and unwieldy to fully enjoy.
All Guts, Little Glory
The AI has seen improvement as well but is altogether too erratic to impress. Enemies will advance in groups, try to flank you, lean around corners, lob explosive grenades or return your own grenades that you threw at them (a trick you’re unable pull off) as well as deploy smokescreens to cover their advance. Other times their attention span seems woefully short (duck behind a corner and they lose track of you) or they spot and shoot you when hiding in tall grass or even smoke. Then there’s the game’s tendency of teleporting reinforcements when firefights drag on for too long, sometimes right behind you.
There’s also some stealth thrown in but it’s an unmitigated disaster – guards activate the alarm just by seeing you, prompting immediate mission failure or endless enemy reinforcements. Needless to say these missions aren’t fun, and they’re a considerable step backwards from the first game (in which guards actually had to activate an alarm switch manually). Most other levels are standard fare ‘kill ’em all’ assignments through various global hotspots, though you do get a brief teamplay element when helping out a Marine squad in the Colombian jungles. Even though they’re far too eager to blow your head off the moment you step out of line, this team-based mission offers probably one of the more enjoyable points in the game.
Other bits, like a couple of contrivances that place you behind a mounted machinegun on a truck or helicopter as you attempt to escape pursuing enemies, are not as enjoyable. These rail missions play half decently but look absolutely horrible, and the concept is done so much better in 2003’s Call of Duty, all while using the same engine. There’s also a random mission generator, but I see little point in going into it. Just know that it’s considerably less interesting than the hand-crafted singleplayer portion, which is saying something.
Then we have, at last, the excessive amount of gore. Ah indeed, the engine is so well crafted that it supports location-sensitive damage, ultimately allowing you to reduce enemy soldiers into lifeless pulps of bloody flesh, especially with heavier weapons. As queasy as it looks, the violence runs thin several missions in, and ultimately becomes pointless and unable to mask some general gameplay faults.
All these issues brake the game’s central focus on offering a gritty approach to combat. Blowing virtual bad guys apart and having them grovel on the floor in pain might incite some initial emotional reaction from seeing the blowees, but the gimmick quickly runs stale. Bad stealth and only half decent AI lower the mark even further, turning an otherwise promising shooter into a mediocre splatterfest.
System Requirements: Pentium III 450 Mh, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB Video, Win98