Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix Review
By Jimmy Goldstein |
In case you haven't heard, Michael Clarke Duncan is dead. Yup, he stained his beige tank top and military pants real good when he went and got his neatly shaved bald head blown clean off by a guy who would probably hate Serpentor and Destro, given the chance. Of course this cranium obliteration was only in the fictional world of PC gaming where he, as Hawk, and his killer Decker symbolized Soldier of Fortune. The two characters embodied 2000's violent but arcadey first-person shooter that involved decimating the ranks of heavily armed Nazis with microwave guns and going on a vengeance trip against a nuclear warhead wielding chump with his own submarine, army, and designer line of armor now sold at Bloomingdale's.
But like Hawk, all of that is long dead. Soldier of Fortune II involves dispatching far fewer fanatical Bavarians and Slavics with microwave guns, but necessitates a much higher number of South Americans and general people be slaughtered with real world weaponry. More than that greater slant toward authenticity and believability, SoF II is a vast improvement upon the original in nearly every respect, but that's still an improvement that has to compete with other titles in today's marketplace, titles that perhaps feature more, better. How will it fare? Pretty darn well actually.
Not content with laboring as a professional whittler, leather tender, or postmen like most gritty and surly middle-aged men of his type, John Mullins likes the action, and lots of it. A mercenary by trade, Mullins hires himself out to the highest bidder with intentions of quelling threats P.C. governments might not be able to handle by traditional means. This involves mucho killing. Primarily, his discretely delivered and tax free paycheck currently comes from "The Shop," a very secretive, technologically advanced, and in-the-know consortium of vicious do-gooders who will go to no end to protect their beloved United States. Hell yeah!
What begins as a simple VIP rescue in Prague many years ago quickly escalates into something bigger, badder, and potentially far more deadly. Chemical warfare is the name of the game, and somebody is already unleashing this new plague in small doses that obliterate entire villages. Go in, kick ass, kill everyone, and try and find out what's going on, if there's time.
Not nearly as pretentious as the long-winded and heavy-handed Metal Gear Solid, Soldier of Fortune II doesn't attempt to cram down hours of pointless prattle designed to convey some tripe moral insight someone once had while eating a sandwich on the toilet. ("Cloning is bad! I'll make a game!") And if it did, that thankfully got lost in the shuffle. No, Soldier of Fortune II's story is one of an action film. It uses real world settings, premises, and matters of concern to create immediacy and intensity. It's important to find out what's going on in order to discover who's behind it all so that he can be promptly murdered, thus saving the innocent children of America, and I suppose other countries. Simple, to the point, and pleasantly delivered, it's like a James Bond film, but without all the glitz and pointlessness. Ever wondered why Bond didn't just go and murder Dr. No? Clearly he's no good. Just shoot him already and save the time. Why play the charade? Soldier of Fortune II follows this ideology, only it's necessary to get to the point before the shooting begins. I don't want to give away more of the plot, so I'll leave with, "Talk about finding bad. Find bad. Kill bad. Talk about finding next bad. Kill him too." No frills, but plenty of thrills. Besides, this rather long game has got the Joker himself, Mark Hamill, in it.
Soldier of Fortune II is a bit rushed. Already suffering from a couple of delays and being beat to retail by its force empowered brother, this sequel comes plagued with a lot of annoying, but minor bugs and questionable design decisions that could have benefited greatly from further balance, testing, and development.
This is an action game -- a straight up first person shooter. Anyone can then see the problem: this type of title can become redundant. Recognizing this, Raven attempted to solve the problem by implementing two fundamentally different play styles to augment the straight running and gunning. In come stealth and on-rails shooting. The latter is for the most part done well. Naturally the vast exteriors scrolling by at blinding speeds aren't going to look nearly as good as the articulated buildings and bases of SoF II, but they run fast enough and are scripted well enough to be entertaining. Later on into the game some pretty exciting rides occur, delivering on exactly what they were designed to do: break up play and add diversity.
The problem is with the "Stealth" missions. Like Elite Force and Red Faction, they are poorly developed afterthoughts that actually hamper play and frustrate more than please. I detest instant failures and trial and error. I absolutely abhor that kind of copout gameplay, and Soldier of Fortune II has some of it, enough anyway to displease me and dissuade those with tempers and egos. See, me and you, we're real gamers. When we see a bunch of difficulty settings, we skip right over the first two (sissy and pansy, respectively) and pick one from the harder settings (normal to us is hard for everyone else, and then there's our, "I have no life and will play until my eyes bleed," which of course equates to "don't even try it" for everyone else). But playing like we do means contending with limited saves, and in trial and error situations, this thoroughly sucks.
In most of the stealth missions, the second someone spies Mullins, or is in anyway alerted to his presence (uncovering a corpse, pistol whipped foe awakening, camera capturing his image, etcetera) the alarm sounds and the quick load button gets depressed. If the game doesn't just flat out fail the mission and force a restart, the insanity that ensues most definitely won't be survived. Think endless streams of heavily armed evil punks. You heard me, this happens the instant he is uncovered. No running to push an alarm button, no hesitation, no phone call to the superiors... Instant alarm. Forcing players to go stealth and then punishing them so harshly when they are uncovered is just wrong.
And the other minor bugs, while not nearly as debilitating, also aggravate. Invisible and impassable barriers often prevent progress. A lot of times I couldn't walk up stairs, I'd have to run. And some areas, like a few in Colombia's bridge section, couldn't be traversed at all. Furthermore, the game crashes quite a bit. On varying computers and operating systems there were inexplicable failures and file corruptions. Some were remedied with a restart and others required files be ripped from the CD, overwriting those on the hard disk.