Soldier of Fortune: Gold Edition
You are John Mullins, a Soldier of Fortune. A mercenary employed by the Shop, you're a Vietnam veteran trained in many different forms of warfare. Selling your skills to the highest bidder, you're usually called in for small operations that need a precise, brutal touch. This time, the target is nuclear. A terrorist group has stolen four nuclear warheads, and worse, they're virtually unopposed thanks to their numbers and firepower. As the only man capable of stopping them and recovering the stolen warheads, you're called in, bringing your unique and deadly skills to the mix. Armed with a frightening array of weaponry, you're the only thing standing in the way of someone's bad day, nuclear style.
Soldier of Fortune: Gold Edition is the resurrection of an old favorite of mine from the PC world. This style of game, a first-person shooter, is a venerable classic, arming you with insane amounts of firepower and pitting you against all number of enemies. With a few innovative features, Soldier of Fortune was one of the first games to handle a multitude of damage effects, spreading injury across twenty-six zones on the human body. This meant more gruesome deaths that were more in keeping with the damage pumped out by real world weaponry. With a more realistic plotline than many of the sci-fi games of this genre, Soldier of Fortune was an anti-terrorist fan's dream. It was relatively believable for the first few missions of the game as you used real-world-style weapons to take on terrorists who threatened nuclear attack.
Still, even on the PC version, this title suffered from some problems. It stood out as innovative for its realistic scenarios, but still suffered from combat that was more suited to an action movie. Even at the normal difficulty level your character was extremely tough, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Later on the enemies themselves became truly nightmarish, with terrorists in Iraq packing body armor that made them nigh invulnerable to some of your smaller weapons. Even with these problems, the PC version was a decent play, and still definitely worth getting from a bargain bin. The question that begs answering -- will this really be a good port title on the PS2?
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
You've played them before, so you probably already know what to expect. It's you, a handful of weapons, and a bit of explosives against the world, or at least some of the more vicious terrorists in it. The first part ofthat you'll meet is the interface. Not quite a replica of the PC version, this features a dumbed-down set of screens that I found to be a real eyesore. I'm not one to critique a game strongly for a poor-looking interface, but this one looks absolutely horrible -- so much so, in fact, that I couldn't stay quiet about it. The way they've laid out the control modification screen makes one think they designed it for some insane eccentric aircraft engineer, who thinks about things in a sort of "A and then C, but not before X" kind of way. The menu fonts look terrible, and the whole thing looks worse than old PSX games I used to play -- like Armorines.
Once you manage to set up the controls, which is in and of itself no easy task, you can actually start playing the game. Brought in to assist on the gang takeover of a subway station, you're launched right into the action bearing a shotgun, pistol, knife and assortment of C4 and flash grenades. Later on you can get an SMG, sniper rifle, flamethrower or even the traditional rocket launcher. A couple of the weapons leave you wondering where that real-world weapon concept went, but it's forgivable with the large variety of normal firepower. You'll want to use the analog thumbsticks to move and look, as you need to keep the other buttons free for firing, jumping, ducking and using various tools throughout your mission. The control in this title suffers a lot from the poor-quality port job performed by Pipedream. Many scenes have a significant framerate problem when a lot of action is on the screen, throwing off your gameplay. Oftentimes you'll run across a sticky point, as the game doesn't seem to comprehend its own collision detection, making it a pain to crawl into some pipes and down some holes.
If you're looking for a title that loads quickly and isn't a pain to save/load, you've come to the wrong place. This puppy is a nightmare for anything that involves loading info from the CD; saving to the memory card, while fairly easy, is a serious time-cruncher that takes way too long. Red Faction did a good job of being easy to save, and its files took up one-eighth of your memory card!
On the plus side, for the first few missions the game has some pretty good action. Sure, you might need to down a chopper or two to get to the nuclear weapons, but at least it isn't as frustrating as some titles in this regard, at least to begin with. Overall the game is pretty big, with ten different missions, each divided into multiple sections totaling around 20+ levels worth of material. It'll take you at least ten hours or so to beat, provided you can sit through that much game. Still, if you're a diehard about console-based FPS games, this might (and that's an iffy "might" at that) be the game for you.
When you pick up the box, you'll immediately notice the main selling point of the Gold version -- more multiplayer maps. SoF Gold supports multiplayer with the PS2 multitap, allowing you to play a four-person split-screen game with your friends. On a large TV, like all split-screen games, you'll probably get a fair play out of this, and the extra maps come in handy when trying to keep your friends from being bored by the same old multiplayer game. I've got to admit, though, it really seems like this was the only significant change made for the 'Gold' edition status of this game.
This is the poor, stunted younger brother of SoF for the PC, and it shows. Textures are a bit too bright, have jagged edges, and show a color depth that reminds me of the days of Duke Nukem. For the most part all the character models have been preserved, but with the lighting and clipping problems present in this version they don't look at all worth watching. If any of you remember the train ride from the first mission, you'll almost always be able to see a clipping error as the enemies are shot, hang in mid-air as the train they were standing on continues on its way, and then finally fall to the ground after they've finished their death animation. Also, given that SoF was designed to use somewhat realistic-looking textures and color schemes, which are somewhat drab to begin with, you'd think that Pipedream could've handled the lighting better to cover up the problems with these kinds of graphics on a TV. I daresay that they reminded me of first-person shooters I played on the PSX, and even the Dreamcast version of this title looked better.
There's little in the way of audio effects or music in this game; suffice to say they're run of the mill. There's nothing interesting, and by that I mean neither poor audio, nor the high-quality sound you'll find in other titles. The voice acting is pretty good, as they've used the same audio tracks heard in every other version of Soldier of Fortune. I'd normally say that the acting spares this game a poor rating, as it really is worthwhile, but when you compare the voices to the poor graphics quality it becomes apparent that it's just more of the same re-hashed game you've played before. With a bit more story (no fault there, though, as the original didn't have any more story) and more attention to making the game resemble the original SoF, the in-game cut scenes could've been much more appetizing.
True to the original, Soldier of Fortune: Gold Edition features the comprehensive Gorezone technology, which allows you to damage opponents in one of twenty-six different locations. Fire at a head, and (provided you're using a large enough weapon) you'll likely see your opponent lacking a head. Aim for a knee with a shotgun, and you'll soon have a one-legged crook. There's even animation for shots to the nether regions, which are painful to look at as well as scoring extra points at the end of your mission.
While this is a faithful reproduction of the original Soldier of Fortune, I can't help but feel that it's the same kind of rushed-out crap that gets tossed into the bargain bin at your favorite game store just weeks after its release. It not only shows that you can screw up a port to a console, but also that you can fail to make a PS2 game look beautiful, managing somehow to produce PlayStation 1-level graphics with a next-generation system. While I've wanted more quality first-person shooters, like Red Faction, for the PS2, I could've done without this one -- especially given the horrible treatment of the original.