Soldier of Fortune 1 is one of the first-person shooters that I’ve really enjoyed a lot. It didn’t have outstanding missions, but it was really great to relieve aggression. The sheer amount of violence was very unusual back then, and even today very few games of the same genre have depicted so clearly what happens if you use a shotgun on someone’s forehead. John Mullins, who is the main character, works for an organization of some sort by the name of The Shop. In SOF 1 you didn’t know a whole lot about The Shop, except that you met up with your partners through a bookstore. In the sequel The Shop has grown considerably, and looks like a real government agency. The purpose of The Shop is to deal with situations where the nation’s security is at stake, when other agencies like the FBI and CIA can’t go in with full force. John Mullins, who is one of my favourite first-person shooter heroes, is back to fight terrorism, but this time the focus is different than in the previous game. Bio-chemical weaponry is being produced by generally naughty people, and it’s your job to rid the world of things that could kill a whole lot of innocent people. The plot has its intricate twists and turns, some more obvious than others, but while not being outstanding it was good enough to motivate me to spend summer-days / nights in front of the computer.
Firstly, being powered by the Quake 3: Team Arena engine does this title good. However, to make it even better the game has been enhanced with the GHOUL 2 rendering system, which for instance makes the characters fall realistically meaning his legs for instance will not hang horizontally if a villain is partially lying on the edge of a cliff. This is indeed a nice feature, but it does need work because this new system introduces some humorous bugs. Secondly there’s the TORR terrain system. The quality of the levels is really a mixed bag. The most realistic levels in my opinion are the jungle levels, where you actually can hide in the huge swaying grass. In fact, the movement of grass and trees does a really good job on making the levels believable. Yet, hiding in huge swaying grass is somewhat of a double-edged blade, because while you may definitely sneak towards an enemy, you will in many cases not see anything BUT grass, and ending up by the feet of an AK-47 wearing villain rarely gives you an advantage. The problem with some of the levels is that they can feel somewhat blocky, and the various houses in the game do not look as superb as they could have been.
One of the things that you will notice when playing Soldier of Fortune 2 is how much more detailed the characters are. With 3000 polygon enemy models the villains look even more villainous, and your friends look even friendlier. The effects of led versus villain is also depicted with much improved clarity. The models have very detailed skeletons, so that shooting someone in the right leg will make them limp, and using a 45mm pistol on someone’s head may only remove a portion on the head. This is understandably gross to a good portion of the world’s sane population, but it’s clearly a feature that shows how it would be in the real world. The weapons are also very realistic. With 1500 polygon models and carrying authentic military designations you will only use what the real tough-guys use, and this time there are no sci-fi weapons like in the original Soldier of Fortune.
Graphical environmental effects are also used in this title. Snow, rain and fog effects are used, and it has its good and bad sides. The fog, which I’m fairly sure is volumetric is used in grenades with a realistic result. The rain however, is not great. When you look at a brick floor when it’s raining you can clearly see that they merely use some sort of animated textures, and when you can even clearly see the edge of these textures it doesn’t impress me much. But still, I suppose it’s better than nothing. The snow looks fairly nice, and it works well enough. The graphics could clearly have been improved in some places, but the Quake 3 engine still manages to work good, even after several years.
Sounds / Music:
The game supports dynamic sounds and music through EAX and Direct Sound, but for some reason it wouldn’t detect EAX support in my Sound Blaster Live! card, so I was forced to use Direct Sound. The environmental sound has been very well implemented, both technically and in the quality of the actual sounds and music. The voice acting is very professional, and you should recognize some of the voices from the original game – if you have played it naturally. Another thing that’s cool about the voices is how people living in the Colombian jungle actually doesn’t speak a really weird American accent, rather they sound very real. I can’t say they have a really rich vocabulary, because much of what they say is repeated a lot, but it’s definitely a nice touch.
The weapons, which as I previously said has authentic military designations, sound perfect. Sniper-rifles are loud and powerful, while silenced pistols are obviously silent, but powerful in the right situations. The sound of the weapons actually adds a lot to the atmosphere, because it really is fun to empty a clip of your favourite firecracker, when the volume is high enough.
If you’re a fan of music in first-person shooters then you may get somewhat disappointed in Soldier of Fortune 2, because the only music available is played in the multiplayer part of the game. In my opinion this is good, because when you’re busy sneaking towards an enemy camp you really don’t need cheesy techno-tunes pumping in your ears. Obviously, you may just play some mp3’s through your favourite media player, but I think that would ruin some of the atmosphere.
No enormous surprises here. Controlling is very similar to anything you’ve played before, but this sequel is different from the original in one big way. Stealth has become a lot more important, and it can really make some of the mission a lot easier than if you’re noisy. The missions where stealth is very important is illustrated in-game by an icon of an alarm. If a villain sees you he will sound the alarm, and your life will be a lot harder. It’s actually strange how a level can go from being virtually empty to “over-populated” in the matter of a minute. When moving you can see how much sound there is in your area, so it’s important to choose what kind of movement you want to do. You have three options: regular running, sneaking and crawling. Each option has different levels of loudness, so in a stealth mission you will find yourself sneaking and crawling more than you will be running (as long as you don’t sound the alarm).
The missions are also different earlier. This time rescuing a person will involve a lot more than just breaking into an enemy fortification, and finding the person. This is actually a nice plus, because it shows you more of what a real soldier of fortune has to go through. Bio-chemical weapons is what you’re after, and this really is something we can relate to after having seen what anthrax can do. Yet, when playing the ten missions which in total has seventy levels I felt that there’s a certain “been here, done that” feeling, but less experienced gamers may find the missions to be great. The difficulty isn’t too high, and even though some areas are more difficult than others I doubt you should have any huge problems finishing the game. Also, while the original Soldier of Fortune could be completed in less than four hours (on easy, basically running through) this sequel should give you a lot more bang for the buck, because there’s basically a lot more to do. In some of the missions you will find yourself controlling machine guns on the back of escaping trucks, on helicopters etc, so there’s actually some nice diversity.
LICH is the name of the AI system used in SOF 2, and it introduces a few changes. The enemies aren’t fully as stupid as earlier, because now they use gas-grenades to flush you out of hideouts, they hide more and act a bit more natural than in other games. But still, the main problem with the artificial intelligence is that when you have, say three enemies in front of you, they should been able to work as a team to make life harder for you, instead of individually move towards you. Camping is a viable strategy to use, and several times I found myself sitting by an open door, shooting more and more enemies who all felt like moving towards an area where several of his comrades had already fallen. Group AI is something I would definitely have liked to see, but hopefully some future games will introduce it.
A lot of the anticipation behind Soldier of Fortune 2 came from the release of its multiplayer demo. The multiplayer in the original Soldier of Fortune wasn’t “planned” to be the game’s strong point, but it turned out to be a lot of fun to play, so naturally a lot of people has expected a lot when it comes to the sequels multiplayer capabilities, and I doubt you will be disappointed. There are five modes to choose from; deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, infiltration, where one team must retrieve a briefcase and return to the extraction point, and elimination, where the last team alive wins. There are also a good number of levels for each of the modes, along with a snazzy feature called the Random Map Generator. It should be pretty obvious what it does, but the quality of the generated maps aren’t as good as the pre-made ones, so I would use it only if you’ve grown tired of the pre-made ones.
The main disappointment is that they didn’t include any form of bots, which indeed makes it rather boring for those who are still stuck on modems.
Soldier of Fortune 2 certainly doesn’t reinvent the genre of first-person shooters, but with decent single-player missions, nice visuals, very nice audio and excellent multiplayer this should be a sure hit for a LAN-party or the boring summer-nights when you can turn the volume up.