Soldier of Fortune
Imagine you could somehow physically grab hold of all the pleasantness in the world, all the chuckles and smiles and summer afternoon picnics, and then crumple and scrunch them into a compact metaphysical ball with your hard little fist. And then imagine yourself standing on a mountain, hurling said ball as far away as possible - clear over the horizon, so it disappears forever. What are you left with? A frightening environment filled with pain and anger and weeping and violence and, of course, lashings and lashings of hot, creamy death.
Welcome to the cheery kingdom of Soldier Of Fortune, a first-person shooter based on a sleazy, right-wing gun-love magazine. It's likely to whip every angry sociopath in the world into a state of extreme sexual arousal, and frankly this disturbs us.
Why? Well, mainly because we think the sort of people who read Soldier Of Fortune magazine are hateful, jar-headed scumbags. But also because we're dying for a go.
Guns And More Guns
Soldier Of Fortune was bound to happen. It's the next logical step from the nation that brought the world the Deer Hunter (although it looks miles better than the notorious Bambi-slaying sim ever did): an action game designed to appeal to gung-ho US trailer trash and paranoid survivalists. You know the sort: all camouflage clothing, pick-ups and fag-bashing. They'll play the game in their makeshift bunkers, surrounded by hunting trophies and rifle racks, taking time out every 20 minutes to salute the flag and spit on a Saddam voodoo doll.
That's the down side. The up side is... well, there are two up sides. First of all, with any luck, it'll prove cathartic enough to prevent frustrated gun-hoarding lunatics from going gun-bonkers in the workplace. The other up side is that it - rather annoyingly - it looks like being a damn good game in its own right. Gah. There's no justice.
And Yet More Guns
Weirdly, SOF is being developed by Raven Software, previously better-known for pointy-hatted Merlin 'em ups like Heretic and Hexen. As stylistic turnarounds go, this is as shocking as Steps recording a cover version of I Kill Children by The Dead Kennedys. Well, almost. Something we've been banging on about for a while now is the need for games set in believable, contemporary environments. This is precisely what Soldier Of Fortune delivers, and also what gives it its power to disturb. It's a million miles away from the bland Tolkien fantasy worlds of Raven's previous offerings: you're left in no doubt that this is planet Earth, Buster, and if you don't like it... well, you'll just have to lump it.
Part strategic manoeuvring, part barrel-smoking kill-a-thon, Soldier Of Fortune casts you as a highly trained international mercenary, killing for money with all the relish of a sadistic maniac. Inevitably, it all ends in tears and bursting ribcages.
The missions are almost uncomfortably contemporary: plenty of tinkering with pesky Eastern terrorists and wannabe nuke dealers, as you'd expect for a game whose origins lie in a xenophobic rag like SOF - but there's more surprising stuff, too, like a paranoiac-pleasing assassination run on a corrupt minister holed up in a makeshift fortress. All your Rambo fantasies rolled into one - well, apart from the sexual ones.
Killing Me Softly
Running on an almost rewritten version of the Quake 2 engine, the game lays on the realism with a great big virtual trowel. First of all, the guns are reproduced in loving detail - SOF is at least partially aimed at weapons trainspotters after all. You'll need to deal with limited ammo (every shot counts, trigger-boy), frustratingly authentic reload rates and, for once, proper recoil (no physics-defying, Quake-a-licious, rocket launcher nonchalance here, wethinks). To keep potential mass murderers happy, Soldier Of Fortune's toy cupboard practically overflows with different flavours of death: machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades... you name it, it's in here, and it's probably pointing in the face of someone a bit foreign.
The Most Beautiful Ghoul In The World
These days, no game can be reported upon without at least one reference to a ridiculous acronym dreamt up by the developers to describe an otherwise dull feature of the coding, and hot diggety dawg, if Soldier Of Fortune doesn't make heavy usage of a bit of technological fizziness known as GHOUL. The GHOUL system apparently enables the programmers to create an incredibly realistic environment. Not only does everything show full respect for the laws of physics - even the boxes shatter in a realistic fashion - there's also admirable attention to detail. We're promised the ability to shoot the gun from an opponent's hand, but if you think it's more fun shooting off the hand itself, prepare to bellow with unwholesome delight because the loveable GHOUL system also caters for stomach churningly lifelike gore.
If you winced at the merciless crowbar-clubbing action on display in Kingpin, maybe you should consider playing SOF with your eyes shut. Each character model is split into umpteen 'reaction zones', allowing goggle-eyed psychos to blow individual limbs off their enemies until their trousers stir with delight. You can shoot a man in the bollocks and laugh as he convulses in agony or burst his head like a watermelon and gasp as chunks of brain fly past your shoulder. Or do both, one after the other, should you be thus inclined.
We rather expect the BBFC to take a somewhat dim view of this, although perhaps, in these apparently more lenient rimes, they'll pass it uncut and content themselves with rolling their eyes heavenward while sighing in a world-weary fashion.
Blam Bum Bum Bum Bum
So what else is there? Well, aside from the usual believe-it-when-we-see-it promises about awe-inspiring artificial intelligence and multiplayer support, Raven are making much of the way the game's storyline unfolds -like a thriller, apparently - and also, intriguingly, of the occasional role-playing element at work beneath all that stubble and kevlar. Apparently, there's some degree of NPC interaction beyond picking whose head to blow off next: you'll be conversing with, and making judgements upon, a wide variety of different characters throughout the game.
All in all, it looks like being a definite contender - albeit a wilfully controversial one. Keep yer peepers primed for a full review in due course. And please don't subscribe to the Soldier Of Fortune magazine in the meantime. No. That would be wrong.
Download Soldier of Fortune
Licensed from the US gun fetish mag of the same name, Soldier Of Fortune attempts to weave traditional mission-based gameplay into a contemporary setting. Taking you halfway across the world, it casts you as a 'consultant' hired by the US Government to track down four stolen nukes. With 26 levels to tote over 10 guns around, it's basically you against terrorists (and a few dogs - which will please Steve Hill), armed with guns that look real, that controversially expose real-looking innards on successful operation of the trigger. It's not short on multiplayer options either, with arcade, team and realistic deathmatching, capture-the-flag and more besides. It may use the old Quake II engine, but Half-Life used Quake I. And we all know how well that turned out. Things are looking good for Soldier Of Fortune.
It isn't easy being this hypocritical, you know. On the one hand, we believe Soldier Of Fortune to be vile anarcho-porn of the highest and most hideous order -a shamefully slick helping of fascist super-violence designed to satisfy the xenophobic bloodlust of dunderheads, bigots, macho dickballs, and the many thousands of dangerous gun-toting, Armageddon-quickening paranoiacs currently squatting inside self-built bunkers-cum-armouries in two-horse US towns with names like Jarhead, Ohio, feverishly stroking their shotguns while they pore over their bomb plans. And on the other hand? Urn... we, er... we kind of like Soldier Of Fortune. We like it a lot actually. If you're lazy, truly lazy, then here's a capsule, sum-it-all-up-in-a-sentence review: "Soldier Of Fortune is an ultra-gruesome, real-world take on the Quake genre that's nowhere near as good as Half-Life, and is demonstrably sick and wrong, yet exerts an unusual addictive pull all of its own."
OK? Now you lazybones can tootle off to the end and gawp at the score, while the rest of us have a laugh at some of the game's content.
In SoF, you play a character called John Mullins. His name's John, but everyone calls him 'Jam'. It's all "don't go in there, Jam", and "watch your back, Jam".
Jam is a Vietnam vet, a firearms expert, an experienced mercenary, and easily the most laughable prick ever to have stepped foot inside a computer game since the eponymous star of the execrable Leisure Suit Larry games reared his wormy little head before a disinterested world. Yes. Jarn 'Soldier of Fortune' Mullins is an absolute dingleberry. A tool of the highest order. He looks just like celebrity chef (and Sunday morning Godslot presenter) Kevin Woodford, so it's hard to take him seriously (and even harder to resist the urge to somehow twist the gun round and watch him blow his own head off). He's also totally lacking a sense of humour. This man takes himself more seriously than Goebbels, as do his mates at 'The Shop' (the shadowy organisation of mercenaries for which he 'works'). In fact, every single person in the game stomps around pulling expressions of utter, steely-eyed seriousness, delivering duff lines with such grim self-importance, you keep hoping - praying- that one of them'll blow off in their combats or something, just to break the ice a bit and make them smile. If you had to sit next to one of them at a dinner party, you'd probably end up taking your own life with a cheese knife before the main course hit the table.
Jarn spends most of the game ostensibly searching for an iiber-terrorist named Dekker, who spends most of/wstime cropping up in engine-vision cut-scenes, cackling and blowing the heads off unarmed hostages at point-blank range. He's easily the most ludicrously over-the-top villain you'll have seen in your life -- even if you've spent your entire life watching Sky Movies.
Heavy On The Air Miles
Fortunately for Jarn, who's clearly unhinged himself, tracking down Dekker (and, er, his stolen nuclear warheads) involves visiting a host of glamorous around-the-world locations and shooting a frankly jaw-dropping number of people. New York, Africa, Japan, Iraq, Kosovo (yes Kosovo), you name it, Jam's there - blowing someone's head off. It's like watching an edition of Holiday hosted by those Columbine High School maniacs.
At which point, it's worth pointing out just how gruesomely violent SoFis. It makes Kingpin look like a Kinder Egg and Carmageddon look like Chucklevision. You can, quite feasibly, shoot the gun from a man's hand, then take his leg clean off while he begs for mercy - and then blow his head to jelly as he slumps, screaming, to the floor. And once he's down, you can stab him in the face, you can circle around picking off the remaining limbs with a shotgun, or you can pump round upon round of machine-gun fire into his lifeless body and watch it jerk about. This is not a nice game.
Playing this game must be bad for you. It feels bad for you. There are .44 Magnums. There are machine guns and rocket launchers. There's an excellent sniper rifle and a downright hideous flamethrower. There is screaming and bloodshed. At the end of each mission, you're given a tally listing the number of head shots, neck shots, groin shots... You'll want a bath afterwards. And then you'll go back to finish off the next level. Why?
Because It's Fun
It's undeniably fun to play. The levels aren't particularly taxing, but they are (on the whole) imaginatively designed. The real-world setting adds to the thrill, as does - and we're almost ashamed to admit this - the outrageous level of violence. The graphics are exemplary throughout, as is the use of sound (the music's a bit sucky, but it is 'dynamic' - ie it reacts to the action).
The weird (and slightly frightening) thing is, if SoF was set in the spaceports of Mars, or the fictional netherland of Etemia, or wherever, it's doubtful whether it would have held our attention for so long. Fact is, the nigh-on pornographic buzz of spraying a modern-day office with gunfire, taking limbs off be-suited, screaming enemies left, right, and centre, while a standard neon strip-light buzzes overhead, keeps you glued. That may be wrong, but it's the honest truth.
The ultra-violence is eye-poppingly hideous - but it's also (whisper it quietly) perversely satisfying, in a please-God-don't-let-this-corrupt-me kinda way.
But it would mean nothing were the game itself not so damn playable. Soldier Of Fortune is a balls-out, whisky-swilling, flag-waving, carbine-smoking, xenophobic, fascistic, cathartic arcade game that you'll end up playing more than you should.
It probably deserves to be banned - but while it's here, let's enjoy it quietly. Oh, and we'd recommend taking short breaks to read some Enid Blyton or a Mr Men book or something.
What we thought
"Soldier Of Fortune is an uttra-gruesome, real-world take on the Quake genre that's nowhere near as good as Half-Ufe, and is demonstrably sick and wrong, yet exerts an unusual addictive pull all of its own."
What you said
- "I often play FPS games, I even consider myself to be a bit good, too. But I have to point out that even on tough play modes Soldier Of Fortune was, all in all, a bit too easy. Yes, it is strangely addictive. And yes, it is sick and wrong. It is one of the few games I have actually returned to the shops to claim my ten day exchange guarantee. I wasn't about to wuss out and play on no-gore mode. Hell, I'm 25! But after giggling with glee as I zoomed into the head of an enemy and smiled with a hint of smug satisfaction as a puff of red mist rose from the hole I had shot through his cranium, splattering pieces of grey matter to the wall, something had to be done. After a night of no sleep (every time I closed my eyes all I could see was an image of zooming in for a head shot) I decided the game had to go. It was promptly exchanged for Midtown Madness and I am now a much calmer individual. All in all, it is a great game, highly tense, very addictive and a whole lot of fun, but only for those who have no problems in following a gang around real-world locations, such as Bosnia and New York, trying to inflict some of the most realistic and horrific injuries."
- "Soldier Of Fortune is one of those games that doesn't come around too often, usually because they get banned. It's not a Half-Life or a Quake and doesn't try to be. Instead, it takes the same sort of strand that Kingpin tried and failed in, but this time it's been done right. OK, so the storyline is familiar, but the game plays well. Finally, an enjoyable game that combines gore and gameplay."
- "Want Half-Life but don't like little green men? Want Unreal Tournament weaponry but without the silly skins? Want the best FPS of recent months? Then Soldier Of Fortune is your bag! Ignore the gore and guts (turn 'em off, you wuss). Ignore the really cheesy cut-scenes and abysmal ending. Enjoy the sneaking and the hiding, the sniping and the ducking. Play it and you'll be totally smitten by the 'one more go' bug. Give it a try and forget about life outside of a sniper scope for a few weeks."
Returning the game because it's too sick? That's got to be a first for one of our readers. All in all, the general consensus is that most of you find the extremely explicit violence fascinating, while being aware that it is wrong.
Want to take part in a quick experiment? Yeah? Good. All you have to do is read the following words and monitor your reactions carefully.
Ready? Okay. Here we go: Guns. War. Bullets. Muzzle flare. Zapruder footage. Heavy recoil action. Trigger finger. Empty casings rattling round your feet like hollow cockroach shells. Charlton Heston. Dirty Harry. Hunting. Crossbows. Guns. Guns. Guns, guns and more guns.
Right. Experiment over. Did you find yourself getting sexually aroused? If the answer's yes, then congratulations - you're probably just the sort of person who reads Soldier Of Fortune magazine, the right-to-bear-arms bible of gung-ho gun nuts everywhere.
Even if you haven't seen Soldier Of Fortune magazine itself, you know the kind of thing: you sometimes see gun porn mags lurking guiltily on newsagents' shelves in the UK, where they're imported from the US. A typical issue has a cover peppered with 'product shots' of phallic-looking semi-automatics, a feature on the National Rifle Association, some survivalist tips, and a wipe-clean centrefold of some trailer park jailbait deep-throating a muzzle. Probably.
Soldier Of Fortune is one of the most established ones. And now it's been turned into a game. A first-person shoot 'em up game. And, surprisingly, it looks like it might just turn out to be really really, good. Soldier Of Fortune the game is being developed by Raven Software, the people responsible for politically neutral actioneers such as Hexen 2 and Mageslayer. The company's track record is a befuddling mixture of peaks and troughs in which robust and imaginative 3D shooters (such as the aforementioned Hexen 2) feature prominently. Soldier Of Fortune is the latest addition to the fold. Unlike the other Raven tides, it's based very much on the real world - a gritty, contemporary setting that's a welcome departure from the first-person fantasy/sci-fi norm.
Soldier Of Fortune utilises the Quake II engine, and as you can see from the screenshots here the game looks disturbingly realistic. It should play realistically too, thanks to the 'GHOUL' modelling system created by Raven boffin Gil Gribb. This provides more believable object physics in the game, for both wounded victims and pieces of architecture. Furthermore, as you'd expect from a game based on a magazine for gun fetishists, the weapons are designed to look and behave just like the real thing - nail-biting reload times and all. It should be enough to have regular Soldier Of Fortune readers breaking into a sweat before the end of the first level.
The missions sound exciting too: enough gnarled, earthy realism to indulge all your Rambo lll/Death Wish fantasies in one go. To this end, we're promised plenty of 'over the top violence' coupled with authentic strategic elements, support for all leading 3D cards, and thrill-a-minute multiplayer support bunged in for good measure.
The licence is neither here nor there - this game should turn heads on its own merit. Whatever. We'll be reviewing SOF in a forthcoming issue. Now shut up, put the magazine down, and back away slowly. Or I'll shoot your forehead off.
On a normal day just like any other, a call goes out to a man of action. A man named John Mullins wakes up to an ordinary life filled with dilemmas, the same as any other man. However, this man may just save your life. Yes, John Mullins is a combat specialist meant to handle any possible terrorist scenario imaginable. He occasionally works as a freelance operative for a U.N. anti-terrorist group code-named The Shop. John doesn’t mind it that much even though he works irregular hours and the customers are a little hostile. His current objective is to deal with a secret terrorist organization that is bent on murder and destruction. Generally, John hates to stick his neck out, but the paycheck is outstanding and he gets all the free ammo he can carry. If he’s lucky he’ll be able to defeat the bad guy before lunchtime. There shouldn’t be a problem that can’t be solved with a satchel full of grenades.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
You may never hear me say this again, but before you start shooting it up with a terrorist you should go through the tutorial. If you’re like me and skip reading the instructions, you’re in for a world of hurt once you’re on the battlefield trying to figure where the trigger is. Luckily the tutorial is actually interesting since it allows you to shoot all the guns you start with, including the sniper rifle. Once you’ve gotten through all that you’ll be ready to start the game and be thrown right into your first mission.
Keep in mind that the controls are a bit complicated to master; be patient and you’ll get it in time. Of course you could just fake it, but it may not be to your advantage later in the game. If you own the Keyboard for the Dreamcast, it may be useful to those of you who are veterans of games like Quake. Another useful tip: you can adjust the controls to fit your playing style. As soon as you read the instructions and become familiar with the feel of the controller you’ll be able to dice up your opponents before they even have a chance to scream.
Another setting option is the difficulty rating. You may choose either easy, medium or challenging; whatever you feel comfortable with. As a note, the only things that these difficulty levels determine is how many additional saves you have in the beginning of the game. Not to worry -- if you last until the end of the mission it will save automatically without using the additional saves. You should only save if you think the level you’re on is too difficult for you.
Once you start the game there are a number of icons that you should be familiar with. The first one is the health meter, located at the bottom of your screen. You don’t have to worry that much about it since your character is smart enough to wear armor into a gunfight, thank god! If you want to know the amount of armor you are wearing, it is the gray line above the health meter. Now we can’t forget about your stash of goodies -- your guns and ammo. Oh boy! You can tell what guns you’re carrying and how much ammo you have by filtering through the box in the bottom right corner. If you’re the type of person who likes to use explosives (and I don’t blame you) you can find that located in the bottom left corner. Another feature in the game is the meter that determines how much noise your character is making. Usually I would say to run in guns a-blazing, but there is an advantage to sneaking up behind enemy lines and then taking no prisoners. You’ve just got to have your priorities straight.
One of the most important things in the game is learning how to shoot your target. I know you just have to aim and shoot, but there are features that will aid you in doing it. As usual you have an icon that helps you aim, but if you move it over certain things it will change color. If the icon is over a hostage it will appear green to let you know not to shoot. If it runs over an enemy it will appear red, giving you free rein to eliminate your opponent. Depending on where you shoot your opponent, you may kill your enemy or merely wound him. There are over twenty-six different locations on an enemy that can be hit. You may want to dispatch your opponent by shooting him in the head or chest if you’re surrounded. If you want a good laugh you can watch your enemy hop around after you shoot him in the foot. I had loads of fun trying to find all the possible hit locations.
Finally, remember that after each game you’ll be scored by how well you did on the mission. The overall score you receive determines how much money you get to purchase more equipment in the next mission. You are scored by how many people you kill and how many hostages are saved. Yes, that means unless you want to be dead broke you can’t kill the hostages. You also get a better score by hitting various hit locations like the head or the groin. You’ll have to stay on your toes if you want to get the best score.
What’s not to like about the whole package? Okay, I know what you may think about the game being run off the Quake 2 engine, but don’t worry. You’ll be absorbed by some of the realistic events that unfold before your very eyes. Since things seem so real, especially when the hostages are executed right in front of you, it is hard not to get into the feel of the game. It isn’t all blood and guts, though. You’ll laugh at some of the comical reactions to some of the places you can hit your enemies. I dare you to hit your enemy in the groin; you’ll never stop laughing.
Are you asking me what’s not to like about a hostage pleading for his life? Or maybe you think it’s not funny that the boy you’re working for tells you not to shoot the hostages? I don’t know about you, but if I couldn’t hear the terrorists giving me idle threats about killing the hostages, I just don’t think the game would be any fun. After all, it helps you get into the game so that you feel that you’re actually John Mullins, out to save the world for a reasonable price. What else could you possibly want?
I could barely put this game down! It has basically the same qualities that you would expect from a first-person shooter game, but with personality. The ability to shoot your opponent in numerous locations, making the combat seem more realistic, brings a sort of flair to the game. However, those of you with weak stomachs may wish to pass on this particular choice. On the other hand, for those of you up to the challenge, Soldier of Fortune will keep you on the edge of your seat and ready for anything the enemy can throw at you.