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Soldier of Fortune Gold Edition
Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Majesco Games
Developer: Ravensoft
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:
Wasn't it the XBox that was supposed to get all the ports of PC games? Nah, just kidding, I love the fact that PS2 is seeing more of the titles that made an impact on the PC gaming world. We have good and bad, of course, but where you decide Soldier of Fortune falls may depend on your attitudes toward violence and the current political climate we're facing.

One of a slew of FPS games released for PC within the last year, Soldier of Fortune had the distinction of offering ways to shoot body parts off your enemies. Head shots tear off heads, shooting someone in the arm or leg leaves them minus one appendage, or both depending on where you aim. So, big technical achievement, but how do I feel watching this stuff after the recent attacks on the US and the subsequent warring overseas? Frankly, if I want to see sickening blood and guts, I'll turn on the TV. The visuals, sickening as they may be, are high enough quality, but the framerate stutters at times. You can turn off the gore, which leaves us with a good enough example of FPS, albeit not as strong as Timesplitters or a post launch title like Red Faction. Character models are detailed, and the environments look good, but nothing to knock your socks off. The sound and music is fine, with ambient sounds that increase the tension and some real racket from arms fire and explosions. The cutscenes that play in the game's engine come up to show events between levels and sometimes critical happenings mid-level.

While FPS games have gone more and more toward sensational, far-out storylines that can either accentuate great gameplay or cover up a pile of poop, Soldier of Fortune takes us back to basics. No need for aliens, futuristic themes or other time-traveling, body-morphing activities. When you take on the role of John Mullins, you're not just stepping into videogame fiction. Mullins is a real guy, with real credentials and the kind of military record that makes terrorists sit up and take notice. So, for those who like their gaming connected to the real world, Soldier of Fortune sits on the same ground as Tom Clancy's games and any of your garden variety historical strategy titles.

The success of a character is only as good as the story behind the character, and this is where Soldier of Fortune breaks down a little, IMHO. Mullins may have the resume to beat among military elite, but he still seems to be shooting his way through the kind of predictable levels we've seen many times before. Apart from Mullins, we have the tie-in to Soldier of Fortune magazine, profiling guys with guns for hire as long as I can remember. The idea of playing covert operatives is nothing new for PS or PS2 owners, as we've had Gabe Logan and Snake to please us, not to mention the other 'team' titles like X-Squad and Eidos' Project Eden. So, the most unique aspect of Soldier of Fortune turns out to be the detail put into the action, such as the way enemy teams will move in on you, and the weapons. The multiplayer additions for this Gold version include more Deathmatch levels, but I have to say that an already taxed engine starts to scream in protest with another player involved. If you like the setting and backstory of games like Rogue Spear, this will fit right into your gaming world view, and if you like blowing people's arms and legs off and watching them writhe in pain on the floor, you'll get all you need here.

Soldier of Fortune gives you several ways to customize control and adjust difficulty. An 'effortless' setting for difficulty means you can pretty much go all Schwarzenegger on people and they won't even fight back. A slightly less handicapped setting will give enemies a fighting chance, but they still won't put up much fight. A problem starts to show up as you dial in the higher difficulty settings, with enemies that just don't act smart. They seem to either be on perpetual alert, or they just stand around like statues. Sometimes, shooting at them doesn't even raise the alert, and you have to walk into a room to get the right reaction. This reminded me too much of quirks we see in 3D action games, the kind of poor AI that greatly limits my suspension of disbelief. In a game that's trying to be realistic, one would expect enemy AI to be better.

Game Mechanics:
This is every bit your classic FPS control scheme, and those wondering about play with the standard controller can rest easy. Sure, mouse and keyboard are supported, but there's little need to part with your precious DualShock, in my opinion. Analog feels smooth, and the camera has enough swagger in it to suggest real motion. PS2 owners who stopped at Timesplitters will definitely feel the difference in this camera, since Timesplitters often had a floaty feeling that made moving around feel like you were on rails or wheels. All the important actions are mapped to the controller intelligently, and you can modify or change what you don't like. One neat feature is the ability to look around corners and even shoot around them when applicable. It's not as elegant as the way the camera moves automatically in Metal Gear Solid, but when you come to a wall or are sidestepping up to the edge of an object, you can tilt the camera down to expose a slice of the view into the next room or around the object. This is one motion that might be more easily executed with a keyboard/mouse combo. Since holding position, pushing the look-lock button and moving the camera is already a task, think about trying to aim and shoot! It ends up being easier to just jump around a corner and start blasting, even if you create a stir, than to try sniping around corners.

Using all the weapons, from a knife to heavy artillery and of course the requisite sniper rifle, is great fun. Much work went into making the experience realistic, and enemies will surprise you when they come on strong packing as much heat as you do. I especially like the scene early on when you're surprised in a room and a bad buy starts shredding the closed door with his shotgun. Little touches like this are what Soldier of Fortune is all about.

In the final analysis, Soldier of Fortune falls short of greatness, but provides more than enough entertainment to PS2 owners, especially those who didn't have a chance to play any of the PC versions. Of course, the entertainment value is somewhat dependent on your stomach (or desire) for strong violence and dismemberment, and your interest in the mercenary theme. Problems with the engine seem to point either to issues in the original or conversion quirks, but watching excessive in-game loading or actual framerate drop-outs doesn't make for happy FPS'ers. Purists will buy it up without hesitation and have a good time, but there are more than a couple FPS games I'd consider over Soldier of Fortune if you're looking to try FPS on PS2.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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