The first Soldier of Fortune is best remembered for its GHOUL engine, which
allowed one to blow off an enemys body parts with admirable anatomical accuracy.
Plug a bad guy in the leg, and hed hobble around; put a round in his head, and
hed go down with a bullet-induced and extremely gory cerebral hemorrhage. Moms
everywhere hated it. Its also remembered for . . . well, nothing, really. SoF
wasnt by any means a bad game; it was justother than the splatter
factora competent but uninspired first person shooter. Solid but not spectacular, it
was the singles hitter, the possession receiver, the cute girls kinda cute best
friend of first person shooters.
With Soldier of
Fortune 2, Raven has decided to up the ante. Rather just another good time shoot em
up with spectacular gore, SoF 2 aspires to be something more; to that end, it actually
contains elements like a plot and a stealth mode. Unfortunately, the plot is vapid and the
stealth mode unworkable. Youll soon enough find yourself ignoring both of them and
just blowing stuff up. The poor implementation of these elements, rather than
complementing what the game does well, actually draws ones attention to what it
doesnt do so well, and thence to how far short it falls of the benchmarks set by
other recent FPSs like Deus Ex or Medal of Honor or No One Lives Forever or Ghost
Recon. Frankly, its kind of embarrassing. Its also an injustice to SoF2, which
at its heart remains a good rave-on shooter with a decent multiplayer component.
In Soldier of Fortune 2, you take the role of John Mullins, a
mercenary employed by a shadowy organization dedicated to the elimination of terrorists.
With bio-terrorists on the loose, youll soon find yourself trotting the globe as you
seek to find Mr. Big and put an end to his threat to all humanity. Mostly this consists of
going to ostensibly exotic but rather prosaically rendered locations, killing a bunch of
bad guys and solving a few puzzles, and being rewarded at the end by a boss fight and
another piece of the big picture. As one can tell from this précis of the games
plot, theres nothing much original here, and one can happily skip all the cut scenes
and still enjoy the game. In fact, if you do skip the cut scenes you can avoid such
dialogue as this, taken from actual gameplay. "That was close."
"Yeah, too close." Man, I wish Id thought of that.
Gameplay is strangely schizophrenic. When it consists of nothing more than traditional
damn-the-torpedoes fun and gunning, its pretty enjoyable though utterly predictable;
when it strays into the more sophisticated territory of "stealth missions", it
becomes almost laughably unplayable. First of all, the stealth mode is poorly
implementedlet me count the ways: you cant toggle stealth mode on and off from
the keyboard, which is a pain; once an alarm is activated, you cant turn it off;
maids can see you right through walls; though you can pick up bodies and move them
around, theres rarely any point to it; though you can crawl around on the ground,
theres rarely any point to it. This poor implementation leads to a lot of
frustration when attempting to sneak around; youll get spotted a lot. Eventually
this frustration will lead you to just say "screw it," let the damn alarm ring,
and shoot everything in sight. You may well be surprised to discover this works extremely
well. This begs the question, "why include this stupid stealth mode in the first
Enemy AI is usually pretty good; bad guys huck grenades, take
cover, and retreat when wounded. Theyll ambush and snipe from cleverly-concealed
positions. Again, enemy AI is not at its best when playing stealth missions. Sometimes
goons will seem to possess x-ray vision; sometimes theyll ignore silenced shots
shattering glass right in front of them.
Graphics are good; the Quake III engine has certainly had better-looking games wrung
out of it, but SoF IIs graphics are perfectly serviceable. What they are not is
inspired. Though youll do a lot of traveling about the world in SoF II, most of the
games levels are surprisingly generic and bland. Though the outdoor levels are an
exception, theres a certain sameness to most of the games settings. Though
there are of course changes to the details, the streets of Prague are structured and play
a lot like those of Hong Kong; the crate-filled holds of a freighter much like the
crate-filled bays of a warehouse. The games range of colors is, as per most Raven
and id games forged from the QIII engine, a bit muteda little more color
And oh yeah, the GHOUL 2 engine does a bang-up job of rendering
severe bodily hurt. Head shots are especially gory, and wounded enemies behave in what one
supposes are realistically limited ways. Of course, youll get desensitized to all
the games blood and guts after about 15 minutes of gameplay, and after the novelty
wears off may well find yourself wondering about the aesthetic and entertainment value of
point-blank crotch shots.
Most of the characters are pretty nicely drawn, though one would expect that from a
game whose real claim to fame is the anatomical correctness of its wound effects. And I
may be alone in this, but does anyone else think that John Mullin looks a lot like a buff
SoF II does have great soundguns sound realistic and voices are well-dubbed.
Its the one part of the stealth packagewhich demands excellent soundthat
is in any way exceptional.
Soldier of Fortune IIs multiplayer is actually pretty darn
good; it includes game modes such as death match, team death match, CTF, andmost fun
of allinfiltration. The number and variety of multiplayer maps is somewhat limited,
but there is quite a healthy SoF II multiplayer community out there, and its easy to
find a game. SoF II also contains a random mission generator; since the games levels
seem pretty randomly generated themselves, it seems kinda redundant.
I have a few other quibbles with the game; it takes a pretty healthy machine to run,
and the single player missions can vary wildly as to quality and level of difficulty. But
mostly Im disappointed that the games designers didnt focus on what
Soldier of Fortune does wellquasi-realistic first person action-packed shooting. The
games poorly executed attempts to be something more than that just draw attention to
what the Solider of Fortune II really isa lot like Soldier of Fortune. And
thats pretty good.