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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Activision

Ups: Fast and furious gameplay, gloriously gorey graphics, good multiplayer options.

Downs: Might be too much gore for some.

System Reqs:
Pentium-200, 64 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, SVGA w/ 2MB

Guns, gore, and good game play are what drive the entire first person shooter genre.  Until now the FPS camp has been divided between Quake III and Unreal Tournament.  Well, there is a new kid on the block, and the new kid has a big gun pointed at your head--I’d do what he says! 

Soldier of Fortune has taken the FPS genre to the next level.   Contained within the long-awaited CD is a new approach to the first person shooter.  It’s realistic.  It’s violent.   And it’s extremely graphic.  The game itself is based on the well known and ever-popular Quake II engine.  But before you start whining and complaining about how you've seen and done it all in Quake already--listen up.  The game uses an accelerated Quake II engine, and that is where its comparison to the Quake series stops.   Raven has also thrown in a GHOUL engine.   The ghoul engine is what controls enemy response to damage(i.e., If you shoot someone in the knee they grab it and hop around--then they walk away with a limp). The ghoul engine adds a lot to the game.  There are all kinds of different ways to play, and each one will evoke different responses from the enemy AI.  If you go in guns blazing, the enemy response will be quite different than if you were to sneak about using a sniper rifle or knife to silently remove the enemy from your path.

The game play is very good.  Stalking and killing enemies is intense. The game plays much like other first person shooters, and as with the others if you don’t use the mouse/keyboard controls effectively you're dog meat.  While most FPS games seem to focus on a strictly run/gun approach SOF takes a small step back and introduces situations in the game that require some strategy in order to navigate safely  and complete your objectives.  Some levels are more difficult then others and some are incredibly large, requiring a great deal of patience and exploration.

Death is never lurking far away; in fact, it seems like its breathing down your neck the entire time.  There is never much of a respite from the action in SOF.  There is always a door to open, a ladder to climb, or a vent to duck through which leads into another perilous gun battle as you search your way about the enemy compound, and the amount of detail in the levels is quite good.  There is an excellent variety of scenery, from the subways to the desert and even a stopover in Siberia. 

The interface is well done, too.  All of the information that you could ever wish to know while playing is clearly displayed on the HUD.   Armor, ammo, items etc. are all clear and easy to read without cluttering up your screen with worthless info.  The only item that seems to be unique to SOF is the noise meter.   It’s a little bar in the middle of the HUD.  Gunfire, explosions, and general chaos make the meter rise, and once it hits the top look out!  When the meter pegs its because your playin’ the game wrong!  Make less noise… you’re an agent of the government.  You're supposed to sneak in solo and snipe all your targets, then get out before they know you’re there, not go in like you have an army at your back and blow the whole damn town up! 

The enemy AI is good, but you need to know what you're doing to set it up right.  The difficulty settings on the game are nice.  There are 5 or so to choose from but anything less then challenging is WAY TOO EASY.  So if you have played this game through on medium and think you’re a badass, think again.  Try it a little harder, then we’ll see who the real soldiers are.  Another nice option is the “Custom” setting.  This gives you control over just about everything you can think of, from the AI intelligence settings to spawn rates.  The best way to play the game is to set your own level of difficulty in the custom settings.    

Multi-player seems to be a given anymore.  If a FPS doesn’t have a good multi-player set up it doesn’t last very long in the market.  The reason seems to be that the replay ability is pretty low on a FPS.  It’s just not that much fun to go back through and play the same thing over and over; I mean really, once you have the game, monsters, spawn locations, and weapons memorized, how much fun is it to play?  That’s where multi-player comes in.  By playing against other people that don’t follow programmed paths, and don’t react the same way to in game situations, the game becomes a whole new ball game.  Throw in MOD’s and you might as well be playing a completely different game each time you play.

The in-game graphics are extremely well done.  The scenery is good, but the defining point is definitely the gore.  I do not think that there has ever been a game with more graphicly detailed gore.  You can do all sorts of damage to the enemy that you have only dreamed of in the past.  There are twenty-some gore zones which means you can blow off arms, legs, guts, and even separate someone’s head from their shoulders.  Which does add quite a bit of replay ability to the game--for instance, try to get through the entire game on Unfair only making groin shots!

When you talk about violence in video games (who isn’t these days) it's important to note a few nice game features for parents of young children who might need to be shielded from some of these violent depictions.  There is a parental violence lock (which isn’t new) that allows parents to control the amount of violence that is displayed in the game.  The two features in   the violence lockout that set SOF above the rest is the fact that there are several settings--not just violence on or violence off.  The other welcome addition is the fact that you can enable the violence lockout when you install the game.   You don’t ever have to open up the game and search for the lock.  You set your password and turn it on during the install and its ready to go as soon as the game is started.

As with any game of this genre, SOF will undoubtedly be compared to every FPS you can imagine.  The best way to measure a games success is to look at its staying power.  I would put my money on SOF; I think It will be around for some time.  And with the new patch on the way and some new MOD’s rumored to be on the way, things are only looking up.  If there is a gamer on your list that needs a new game for spring and they need to work off a little steam, hook them up with SOF.  Definitely worth the money!

--Ben Moore