"Soldier of Fortune's protagonist is a bloodthirsty killer who has no intention of ever retiring from battle. He just wants to pop heads and rend limbs with grenade launchers and assault rifles (most of which are picked up off the ground, since it's nearly impossible to find ammo for your own weapons). This game has acquired a violent reputation, and deservedly so... but much of the gore is obscured by muted backdrops."
There are certain things a soldier of fortune expects to receive for a job well done. For example, a soldier of fortune may expect to be paid.
In Soldier of Fortune: Payback, you're never paid. I highlighted "Payback" in green because it makes me think of money, even though this game never gives you any.
The subtitle "Payback" actually refers to vengeance. In this case, vengeance against the selfish scumbag who pretended to work with you... then sold out and killed the man you were hired to protect. The bastard even tried to knock you off!
The scoundrel clearly deserves some serious punishment. And he gets it. At the end of the first mission. About two minutes after he doublecrosses you. When my partner shot the Chinese diplomat, it wasn't a surprising plot twist, but I was intrigued; the game had effectively introduced an arch-rival. We had fought side-by-side throughout the mission. We had covered each others' backs. We had developed a rapport, in the same way I developed bonds with my compatriots during Brothers in Arms. So, when I mowed the turncoat down two minutes later, I scratched my head. "What a waste."
For some reason, even though payback is delivered during the first level, the game drags on for thirteen more. And you still aren't being paid. You just go on a series of linear, pre-determined missions because someone tells you to. There's no level selection, no risk-and-reward objectives, no real mercenary feel. The "real mercenary feel" is critical, I tell you.
This linearity, a world filled with impenetrable doors and alleys that dead-end at chainlink fences, was understandable when the original Soldier of Fortune came out, but first-person shooters have been around long enough that I think it's reasonable to expect more. When it comes to overall care and attention, Medal of Honor: Underground far outshines this game, and that was a Playstation title. Playstation one.
My theory is that Activision wanted money. Slap together a somewhat pretty but brainless game, stamp the "Soldier of Fortune" label on it, then sell it for $60. Nowadays, the game sells for $30 and comes packaged with First Blood. I'm sure some executive somewhere who hadn't played the game or seen the movie thought the combination was a great idea. "In this game, you shoot people! Rambo used a gun! It'll be a hit!"
Rambo didn't want to fight. He was a Vietnam vet with a heart, forced into urban battle by a society that rejected him upon his return. Soldier of Fortune's protagonist is a bloodthirsty killer who has no intention of ever retiring from battle. He just wants to pop heads and rend limbs with grenade launchers and assault rifles (most of which are picked up off the ground, since it's nearly impossible to find ammo for your own weapons). This game has acquired a violent reputation, and deservedly so... but much of the gore is obscured by muted backdrops. Knife a guy, and he clutches his throat as a gout of blood sprays through the air. Cool. Lob a grenade or cover the area with bullets, and blood is likely to be lost amidst an ashen cloud. Boring.
Inexplicably, when our bloodthirsty anti-hero finds the last boss sitting in a chair with legs folded, he doesn't pop the bastard in the head. No, instead, the two of them talk for a few minutes, which gives the boss time to pull a gun (surprise!) and run for cover.
There are plenty of places to duck and hide in the game, but you'll soon find that all the nooks and crannies in the world won't save you from the enemies that pop up behind, above, and all around you. Consider this an example of how not to script a first-person shooter. The quickest way to victory is to simply barrel through the level, gun blazing, racing towards the white checkpoint marker. Don't worry about getting lost; whether wandering through a city or a dull brown tunnel, the path is pretty linear. And it's not like killing people earns you any extra money.
Now that I've trashed the game, this is the part of the review where I mention a single redeeming quality so that I don't look like a total bastard. The jungle looks nice. The foliage is a bit "plastic" -- the leaf textures lack detail -- but they're pretty from a distance. The bridge over the river is beautiful. And the waterfall, with its frothy white-speckled water, would have been fantastic, if only it hadn't just... ended. Walk along the river, and you'll eventually reach a horizontal line. On one side of the line, raging rapids. On the other side of the line, dirt. Depending on how the camera is angled, it might be a vertical line for you.
That's not how rivers work. There isn't just a magical straight line where dirt turns into flowing water. It's also a glitch -- that's where the level was supposed to end. But it didn't end. I wasn't really sure what to do until I found a Youtube video. After watching it and taking extremely detailed notes, I realized I had done everything correctly; the game had screwed up. So I had to restart the mission and hope that the game didn't glitch this time.
I've since learned that's a common problem.
On another level, I walked into the "stuck spot". As in, I couldn't move anywhere but I couldn't die, either. I was "stuck". So I had to restart the mission and hope that I didn't walk into another "stuck spot". It was a gap between two bamboo fences, much like the other gaps I had crossed to find the token Asian informant who told me about the PIPERINE. But this time, the gap could not be crossed.
There are certain things a gamer expects when they purchase an Xbox 360 game like Soldier of Fortune: Payback. Frequent game-ending glitches is not one of those things.
At least now you can watch First Blood when you get sick of playing.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 09, 2009)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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