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Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix

Score: 70%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software
Media: CD/2
Players: 1 - 32 (LAN/Online Multiplayer)
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

Soldier of Fortune was one of the coolest first-person shooters I've ever played, hands down. The gore was outrageous, the weapons burst with realism, and even though (at the time) it was just unthinkable to be able to snipe a guy's sunglasses off his head without killing him, SoF made it possible. So, I was naturally excited when I got my first hands-on test of Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix at last year's QuakeCon, and I really couldn't wait to install the full version when I got it last week.

Sadly, though, the sequel just can't measure up to its original standards. I was disappointed to find potentially stunning visuals marred by glaring code errors and jittery models, and many of the wall textures represented things that should've been fleshed out -- for example, the fire hoses in the Hospital level seemed as if they were dully wallpapered on. Ugly displays like these were the norm back in the Duke Nukem 3D days, but there's no excuse in 2002. Of course, if you want gallons of horrific, off-the-wall gore in a FPS game, SoF II is just for you. With just two slashes of a combat knife you can expose a bad guy's entire brain, and (somehow) a standard SOCOM pistol can dismember a corpse in seconds!

Fun stuff aside, though... you'll find no epic, sweeping movements in SoF II's soundtrack, but it's well-composed enough to make your experience feel more like a war flick than a PC game at times. The sound effects department did a hell of a job, too; there's some really great voice acting to be heard, and some of the terrorists' pitiful screams after having their legs blown off seem awfully convincing. This is definitely one of those games where headphones or a 5.1 Surround setup makes all the difference.


Gameplay:

It takes an excellent plot, robust enemy AI, and thoughtful level design to form any successful single-player FPS in my book. In Raven's case, the SoF II missions are quite hit and miss. I can dig the traditional 'terrorists are using some sort of virus to extort billions from world governments' story, permitted they supply a few twists (which they do), and the scenery changes often enough to keep me awake. But I dunno about that AI. The developers tried to emphasize stealth quite a bit this time around -- even adding the Thief-like ability to carry corpses to inconspicuous locations -- but slinking around quickly becomes pointless when your opponents can spot you three miles away under the cover of darkness and snowstorms, telepathically setting off alarms in the process. As frustrating as this can be, at least they're smart enough to lob grenades back at you and occasionally sprint/hide/sneak when you're least expecting it.

Many of the missions you'll undertake as mercenary John Mullins will display an outfit screen before hitting the drop zone. Here, you can customize which pistol, heavy artillery, grenades and accessories to bring with you, or opt for the suggested arsenal chosen by the computer for each level. Either way, you'll know what Mullins has on him going into the fray, and what he'll have the opportunity to find while carrying out his objectives. Very cool.

As far as multiplayer goes, the sheer fun factor of online SoF II is the only thing keeping its score from dropping below a 7 in this review. Sure, there isn't much new to see in the Deathmatch, Team DM or Capture the Flag modes, but 'Infiltration' can be a blast when you've got competent teammates. It's sort of like an urban CTF where once a player dies, he/she stays dead until a team has successfully delivered or protected their objective, or until the time limit runs out. 'Elimination' serves as a team-based 'last man standing'-type game, and can also knock out a few hours of your busy schedule if nobody's paying attention.


Difficulty:

The game comes with four difficulty settings, plus a custom setting screen where you can adjust the number of available saves, gun accuracy, and ammo capacity. I'd really suggest going with the custom option if you hate having a limited number of saves, as I do. I know it's supposed to push the gamer into playing more strategically by forcing only a few saves per map, but it's really aggravating to have to load a game from 10 minutes ago because some screwed up AI-controlled terrorist somehow snipes you through a solid wall. For those FPS masochists who love that sort of thing, though, pick the 'Consultant' or 'Soldier of Fortune' difficulties and go to town.

Game Mechanics:

If you haven't figured it out already, I really dislike many things about how this game works. Sometimes the bugs can be hilarious (like when a man's eyeballs pop out of his head while he's talking because the separate models were synched incorrectly) or downright scary (like when a corpse seems to lunge forward when hacked with a knife, just because the body fell at an awkward angle and the engine doesn't know how to deal with it), but it's certainly obvious that the coders should've spent some more time debugging the thing before shipping. The clipping errors alone are enough to make me cringe.

These problems usually aren't bad enough to affect your mission, of course, but occasionally there's one big one that really makes you wonder. For instance, I saved my game during an operation where Mullins was positioned at an airborne helicopter turret. I died, and upon loading the game I found I was suspended in mid-air erroneously while I watched the helicopter fly off into the distance without me, as if I were some sort of magical hovering military assassin ghost with nowhere to go. I had to load the entire level over again to fix the problem, and I didn't die a second time so I've got no way of knowing if it was a recurring bug or some freak one-time thing. Regardless, it sucked and it shouldn't have happened.

But, if you're devoted enough to look past every slight setback with the game's implementation and just wanna have a good time caving in Hong Kong cartel members' faces with the butt of a shotgun, consider picking up Soldier of Fortune II soon. It's not Raven Software's best work, but who knows -- maybe they'll learn a thing or two from games like Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and blow the gaming community's collective mind with another sequel somewhere down the line. I'll be waiting.


-Ben Monkey, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ben Lewis

Minimum System Requirements:



3D Accelerator card w/ 16 MB VRAM and full OpenGL support, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Pentium III 450 MHz or Athlon processor, 128 MB RAM, 1.3 GB HD space, 8X CD-ROM drive
 

Test System:



GeForce 2MX400 card w/ 64 MB VRAM, Windows 98 SE, Pentium III 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 32X DVD-ROM, Soundblaster Live! Platinum

Windows Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Game of the Year Edition Windows The Sting!

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated