Soldier of Fortune
Ghoul Heralds Splaterfest Extravaganza
Raven Software scraps high fantasy for a gory first-person shooter that aims high on the stomach churning factor. You play as real-life mercenary John Mullins, a former Vietnam vet tasked with retrieving four stolen nukes while blasting any assorted scum that get in his way. The real John Mullins, as opposed to the fictitious one depicted in this game, is noted for providing insight on the gun-for-hire trade.
The game lends its name and theme from Soldier of Fortune magazine, a pro-military editorial paper that covers world conflicts, gun reviews, anti-gun control rants and gory first hand accounts of combat from people who lived to tell the tale. It’s a magazine that isn’t solely directed at mercenaries (although it’s the self described ‘journal of the professional adventurer’), but appeals to a much broader audience of army servicemen, police officers, war buffs or people who just take a visceral joy out of reading about blood and violence.
As a PC game, Soldier of Fortune has much of that same appeal mixed with an over-the-top budget blockbuster theme. It looks and plays like an action movie, made to feel more so with levels that involve hijacking a running freight train or defending your sidekick while he disarms a time bomb. The game is divided into ten missions that take you to famous war-torn hotspots like Iraq, Russia, Kosovo, Sudan or Uganda. Although some historical backdrops are provided, like the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, these are treated only cosmetically.
Your enemies are as stereotypical as bad guys get – arab terrorists, white skinheads, black gangstas and lots of Russians line up to die miserable deaths courtesy of Raven’s patented GHOUL engine. GHOUL is a hit detection system that takes combat to the next step; a system that enables you to shred off body parts in spectacular fashion, leaving enemies cowering in a jumbled mess while they slowly give away their last dying breath. Some of the heavier weapons can dismember foes to lifeless pulps in no time, while the low caliber stuff can incapacitate or disarm, if needed. Shoot an enemy in the crotch and it’s a priceless show the first time. Shoot his thumb off and he’ll drop his weapon, rendering him harmless.
Although the initial uproar that SoF generated might have been blown out of proportion, there’s no denying that this game absolutely revels in causing virtual misery. Bad guys frequently plead for mercy and there’s no reward for sparing them. But it’s not all mass homicide – you’ll occasionally stumble on civilians needing rescue, and you’ll fail the game if too many die (most of the time at least). It’s very odd how the game should sometimes punish you for gunning down innocents in one level while turning a blind eye the next. Oddly, the only place you’re allowed to indiscriminately gun down both bad guys and innocents alike is in Iraq.
The game has a light tactical element to it, although it’s more for show. This includes the PADD, a device that measure how much noise you’re making, as well as an assortment of fairly cool weapons and gadgets that are all perfectly balanced to suit particular engagements. Most if not all of the weapons have real world counterparts, their naming changed to eliminate licensing fees. Everything from handguns to suppressed SMGs to sniper rifles and rocket launchers are available, and you get to choose your gear before each mission. Weapons slots are limited to a couple of primary weapons, a sidearm and three inventory items. Grenades and flashbangs are available, but throwing them feels pretty clumsy. The guns you carry occupy front row center. and the way your character handles and frequently fidgets with each gun is pretty cool, giving the impression of someone who knows his trade.
The aforementioned PADD, described as a device that measures how much noise you generate, is more of a bust. In the tutorial it’s said to gauge your stealthiness, a statement that’s only half true. It’s basically a meter that rises every time you fire a weapon, particularly loud ones. The louder a gun battle rages, the more enemies you’ll spawn around your area. The trick to keeping noise down, and hence reducing the number of bad guys spawned around you, is to either use silent weapons or fire loud ones in short, precise bursts. Spawning can be turned off when starting a new game.
Matter of fact, lots of little things concerning the game’s difficulty can be adjusted before starting the game, from the AI to save availability. But again, you can only change them only once and have to stick with it for the remainder of the campaign. I recommend you set the enemy AI to ‘aggressive’ and increase your savegame availability. By default, enemies tend to be far too easy on ‘medium’.
Wrapping up SoF isn’t that hard. It’s a pretty fun shooter that’s especially noted for its gratuitous violence, towering proudly next to hard hitters like Grand Theft Auto or Postal 2. It’s not extremely original nor revolutionary an action game, but damn if it ain’t cool.
System Requirements: Pentium 200 Mhz, 48 MB RAM, 3D Accelerator, Win 95/NT/98