Soldier of Fortune 2: Double Helix
The original Soldier Of Fortune may have appalled and disgusted due to its graphic portrayal of bodily mutilation, but that was back in a more innocent age. Since the events of September 11, the goalposts have moved, perhaps irreversibly, and releasing a game involving terrorism is virtually asking for outraged headlines, particularly when the plot involves the threat of biological warfare. Clearly something of a political hot potato, development on Soldier Of Fortune 2 is nevertheless carrying on regardless, and at this stage it is unlikely to be changed into a game in which bouquets of flowers are handed out to the nasty men.
It would be irresponsible of us to ignore the issue though, and during a demonstration of the game we spoke at length to Raven Software's project administrator, Kenn Hoekstra. He claimed: "There's been a lot of sensitivity to the issue and a lot of people trying to make judgments about what the American public can handle and what they can't. I think what it comes down to, if you want to talk about freedom of choice, is that people can choose to entertain themselves however they want. They can watch what they want to watch, do what they want to do, and we're not going to try to make that judgment for people. This game has been in development for two years and we're sticking to our development philosophy and our design and just trying to make the best game we can."
That game will again feature real-life Vietnam veteran John Mullins, who has recently spent some time at the Raven office in his capacity as mercenary consultant. The story begins with a prelude mission that takes place 15 years ago. when Mullins was sent into a Soviet complex in Prague to extract a biological weapons scientist. Back in the present day, and the virus that the scientist was working on shows up in Colombia. It's another excuse for Mullins to grab his passport, and off he sets on a globe-trotting odyssey of slaughter and pain that takes in such exotic locations as an ocean liner en route to Tampa Bay, a Hong Kong prison, and a top secret underground complex in Kamchatka, wherever that is.
There is even a level set on an aeroplane in flight, which we really had to question. Hoekstra was keen to stress that the plane had not been hijacked, and even gave us a tour around it to confirm that there were no passengers. The idea is that it actually belongs to the terrorists, who are now being pitched as some kind of James Bond-style SPECTRE outfit intent on world domination. Perhaps wisely, there will be no reappearance of the Middle Eastern level. As Hoekstra says: "Actually I think one of the things we got flak about in the original game was the Middle Eastern connection.
Out of respect for not trying to classify everyone as a terrorist, we opted for the more kind of SPECTRE-esque, taking over the world idea."
Second Time Around
It's certainly an elaborate tale, and Hoekstra admits: "We tried to focus a lot more on the story this time around. In the last game the story was an afterthought and this time we planned it from the beginning. You kind of unravel the mystery of what's going on - I know that's in increased demand in FPS games."
Also in demand is decent AI, which is one of the criticisms of the first Soldier Of Fortune. This time around, Raven is implementing different levels of AI, with trained enemies working in a more tactical manner. Conversely, so-called thug AI will be used for more basic foes, such as I long Kong street gangs.
Whoever you're fighting, there is still plenty of scope for doing damage, and we were given a graphic demonstration of a blood-drenched corpse being shot repeatedly in the eye. Other visceral treats included bones sticking out from the still warm flesh of your enemies. However, if this isn't your bag, a password system is being implemented enabling you to lock out specific aspects of the game, such as blood or dismemberment, effectively letting you tailor the violence to a level you deem suitable. Or you could just play something else.
At the end of the day, Soldier Of Fortune hits always been about running around shooting people in the face, and the sequel will still offer this. But as Hoekstra says: "We've tried to remain true to the original gameplay as far as action goes, but we've also tried to put in more stealth elements and multiple ways for you to complete missions. You can run and gun and shoot everything that moves or you can try to be stealthy and avoid security cameras."
What Raven, and by association, Activision, won't be able to avoid is the inevitable criticism that the game will receive when it hits shelves next year. Tile US games industry has a reputation for being extremely violent as it is, and this can only help to reinforce that. But as Hoekstra admits: "The timing is unfortunate but it's fundamentally trying to give people entertainment. We're not making a political statement."
You want infinite missions? You got 'em
Unusually for a first-person shooter, Soldier Of Fortune 2 will not feature multiplayer action, the official line being that this is now almost a genre In itself and that simply adding a few half-arsed Deathmatch levels would not be doing it justice.
However, a huge amount of value is to be added by the inclusion of a random scenario generator. Essentially this will wortc in the same way as random maps in real-time strategy games, with variables selected such as what enemies you want to fight and what environment and terrain you want to employ.
And if infinite random missions aren't enough, you can even design your own, by placing buildings and so forth, and deciding objectives such as rescuing hostages, meeting a contact or straightforward seek and destroy. Sounds like a treat for all budding game designers.
Download Soldier of Fortune 2: Double Helix
One of the more shocking revelations of the show came during the demonstration of Soldier Of Fortune 2. The developers were keen to point out that there'll be considerably less gore this time round, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on your mental stability.
The good news is that the Quake III Team Arena engine was throwing out some lush-looking graphics. We were taken through some of the vehicles that you'll be able to pilot, including tanks and helicopters, the latter of which will give you the chance to man the gun turret and leadhole some bad guys. Needless to say, we were more than a little eager to have a go.
The story is once again based around John Mullins, the hero of the first game. You'll have to lead him through a series of missions, including search-and-destroy runs and intelligence gathering. Ultimately it'll be your goal to stop a deadly virus from being released onto an unsuspecting public. While the developers were keen to demonstrate the inclusion of a random map generator, they were somewhat cagey about multiplayer options, even going so far as to hint that there won't be any. Which is a huge shame, especially as the engine is literally crying out for multiplayer fragging action. However, the single-player game is looking fantastic, so let's just console ourselves with that and save any complaints about the potential lack of multiplayer options until we see the finished product.
Like Halo, Soldier of Fortune 2 is made up of a series of intense shoot-outs--but unlike Halo, your foes aren't smart enough to make the combat infinitely compelling. Geographically, Fortune 2 provides huge bang for the buck with nine massive levels and a unique random -mission generator (although it rarely generates fun levels). The single-player game is certainly enjoyable in short sessions, but it can turn into a dull parade of enemies too stupid to put up any real challenge in a fight, yet frustratingly too wary to sneak up on with a silenced pistol. Fortune ll's single-player game is a bit too straightforward and unpolished, with choppy animations, blocky graphics, and weird dead-body physics. Its online modes, though, add just enough to make it worth picking up. Playing Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag with real people offers unscripted (if somewhat no-frills) manhunting thrills. If you don't have Xbox Live, though, consider renting rather than investing.
Fortune 2 delivers buckets of gore, but you'll actually wanna play this sequel for reasons other than turning the opposition into amputees. I'm talkin' tough enemy A.I. and enough gameplay change-ups (like tricky stealth missions or being a helicopter's gunner) to make it feel less like your run-of-the-mill shooter. But would I choose to fight the good fight against bioterrorism over annihilating Wolfensteiifs undead Nazi legion? Nope. Fortune II doesn't have the same visual polish or addictive team-based online play of Activision's other wartime offering.
This game tries to be part Doom, part Medal of Honor, and part Tom Clancy, but it doesn't try very hard. The extremely bland graphics and inconsistent A.I. (some enemies have Superman hearing; others don't notice me shooting people five feet away) dog an otherwise average experience. And I certainly don't agree with Joe with regard to online: No way I'd play this plain-Jane, dumbed-down shooter online when I can fire up Unreal Championship or Wolfenstein instead.
While something can be said for innovation, something can also be said for good old solid dependability. Being a big fan of the original Soldier of Fortune 2, I looked forward to the Xbox version of this title, as right from the get go I had heard rumors of many fixes being made to the multiplayer, correcting the sometimes horrendous multiplayer experience from the PC version of the game. Additionally, another game with realistic weapon effects, and a real world storyline is always worth a look to me, given how many Tom Clancy novels I read.
Right off, you should notice that the level appearance and design, while confusing at times, is good but not quite top notch. Buildings and props look realistic, but still have a rather low-res feel to them, compared to other games that manage crisp if somewhat spartan visuals. Aurally, there isn't much going on here. Music doesn't get in the way, and it sometimes seems that weapon sounds are a little louder than they need to be, but that isn't without adjustment.
At times, the gameplay can get a little tedious, switching between long moments of necessary stealth and furious gunplay. Sadly, it didn't seem like the hit location based damage was even as detailed as I'd seen on SoF1, as head shots didn't do much, and the only thing that tore off any limbs was a really close shotgun blast. While I'm not addicted to the gore, if it's one of the staples of the series (and let's face it, SoF1 did offer the goriest action around) I expect to be well treated with some chunkariffic action. As is commiserate with the previous title, the enemies do increase in toughness, making the end of the game somewhat frustrating.
Multiplayer was difficult to diagnose, as almost every time I leapt online the servers were nigh empty. However, being rather dogged, I managed to play quite a few sessions, and I found something there that surprised me. The multiplayer was well done, with multiple gameplay modes, and a code base that actually lets you fight an opponent, if sometimes it does seem like you're well tougher than you should be. There's also a random mission mode that sadly is more tacked on than a post it note about your next dentist appointment. This was my single greatest disappointment in the game, as the random missions were small, boring, and frequently displayed the downside of the SoF2 graphic engine.
In summation, I can only say that SoF2 had good, but lackluster, multiplayer gameplay. This is a very traditional realistic FPS, lacking in any serious innovation, relying on the same gameplay that's worked before. However, ultimately, I found it a bit boring, and I'd be hard pressed to pick this up in a bargain bin.
Assume the role of John Mullins, a mere working for the antiterrorist group The Shop, in the hyperrealistic (and extremely gory) first-person shooter Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix. As in the first Soldier (PC, PS2, and DC), Mullins tackles everything from hostage rescues to search-and-destroy missions, wielding more than a dozen meticulously re-created real-world weapons.
State-of-the-art modeling and animation, location-specific damage, and scenarios based on Mullins' experiences (he's a former Special Forces officer) lend authenticity to the game. Bad guys await your bullets in such diverse locales as Prague, Hong Kong, and Kamchatka. Best of all, Double Helix supports various forms of online bloodletting (Deathmatch, Team DM, Elimination, and Infiltration) via Xbox Live.