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Soldier of Fortune

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Crave
Developer: Runecraft / Raven Software
Media: GD/1
Players: 1
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

Soldier of Fortune looks sharp. It pushes the Dreamcast rather close to its limits; perhaps Phantasy Star Online pushes it a bit further, especially in the environmental modeling, but for the most part there's absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to the looks of the game. Unfortunately, the good graphics come at the cost of framerate, which while steady isn't quite as high as I wished it'd be. Of course, it does do the occasional nosedive during a really big firefight, but for the most part you can be happy that your Dreamy will pump out the graphics consistently. The character models are good, and one of the much-touted features of the game is the ability to blow off parts of people's bodies. Indeed, every corpse you create will look different; as you damage different parts, different things happen, and you can blow off limbs and the like. Gory, but cool-looking as hell.

The sound is equally solid. While I've been playing a lot of Max Payne lately, the gunfire in Soldier of Fortune is just as nice; easy to differentiate and very realistic. The music is solid and fits the fast-paced mood of the game, even if it's not overmuch memorable. The enemy death yelps are also pretty good. The sound won't blow you away, but it won't annoy you either, which is definitely a Good Thing.


Gameplay:

And the same can be said for the game. Soldier of Fortune is a good game, a straightforward shooter that owes more to the games from the start of the genre than the more thinky-think titles of late, and while the DC has its own problems--most notably, and horrifically, the insane load times--there's quite a bit of fun to be had with this title. Assuming you don't own the PC version, and you don't mind having a pee break every few minutes, Soldier of Fortune is a game you should definitely check out.

The storyline is rather intriguing, if not as coherent as you'd like. You play the role of John Mullins, a covert agent who has to save the world on a regular basis. You've got the typical 'save the good guys,' 'kill the bad guys' sort of assignments, and it's up to you to pull them off without getting your head blown off. The game takes place in a couple dozen levels, each with its own look and feel and all of them packed to the brim with bad guys to kill.

Indeed, therein lies the core conceit of Soldier of Fortune. There's a lot of death to deal, and it's up to you to deal it. There'a a nice array of weaponry to play with--as should be expected, since the game is a license of the magazine with the same name--and you'll have fun playing with shotguns and rifles (and bears, oh my!) as you blaze your way through the evil troops. Indeed, the game discards almost all pretense of a 'thinking man's shooter,' as that's not what it tries to be. Run down the hall, clean out the room, lather, rinse, repeat.

It's a good thing that the game plays well enough to keep that going for a while. There's a lot to do, even if the game is painfully linear, and it's always fun seeing how the next enemy will drop with your weapon. There's enough variety to keep you playing until the end, which is good.

At least, if you can stand the load times. By far the main detractor from this game, costing it some serious 'cool factor' points, is the fact that the load times are frequent and atrociously long. I suggest reading a book or short story while you're playing this game; you'll be able to finish a short story per play session if you get far enough into the game. These sort of load times are downright criminal. It shouldn't take three minutes just to get into the start of the game, folks.

The game also lacks any multiplayer capabilities, although I understand the concentration on the single-player experience. And I feel a little dirty nitpicking about stuff like this. The Dreamcast never got its Half-Life, but at least it got this.


Difficulty:

The game has variable difficulty settings, which is always nice on an outright shooter like this. The AI is solid enough, but it's not inpenetrable, and it can fall prey to a number of stupid tricks. Be forewarned, though, because they can hear the firefights and will happily come to investigate what's going on. Careful ammo management isn't as important as simply maneuvering well enough to stay alive; keep sharp and keep shooting, and you'll do fine.

Game Mechanics:

The game uses the standard Dreamcast controller, and it will definitely take some getting used to before you've got movement and firing down pat. Even then, certain combinations are a little hard to do, but that's almost a given considering that the game was made for a mouse-and-keyboard PC combo. Indeed, the game supports the mouse and keyboard, and I can imagine that it plays a lot better with that. It's quite sharp on the Panther DC as well, if you want to play it that way. The core mechanics of the game are solid, and there's not much clipping or 'garbage' in the game. Indeed, the only major knock against the game is the overly excessive load times, which will turn most people who play the game right off.

If you can look past the load times, and don't mind a game that concentrates purely on the action, leaving your brain on the sidelines, you should definitely check out Soldier of Fortune. The sharp graphics and tight gameplay make the game a fine addition to the Dreamcast's FPS stable, and fans of the genre who don't own the PC version would do well to check it out. Just make sure you have something else to do while you wait for the levels to load. Perhaps you could take up knitting?


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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