Soldier of Fortune: Payback Review
By Jimmy Goldstein |
The first two Soldier of Fortune titles on PC were excellent (and gory) shooters. Those who fondly remember Raven Software's first-person shooter may be excited to give Soldier of Fortune: Payback a try. Be warned: Raven Software had nothing to do with this title and it shows in almost every area. What remains is the gore -- and for that, developer Cauldron went wonderfully over the top. But it is, unfortunately, only the excessive brutality that stands out for Payback. In every other way it is an average shooter.
In Payback, you play as a mercenary who has been double-crossed. That's really about as deep as the story gets. All that matters is you have a moral justification for dissecting terrorists and guerillas with the insanely powerful bullets from your guns. The story, like the on-screen button prompts and pre-game menus, is second-rate. But, this is a shooter, so a story is often seen as a nice bonus. What really counts is that it's fun.
To its credit, Soldier of Fortune: Payback is fun in certain moments. Though you are often surrounded by enemies (many of whom are often difficult to see), it never translates to intensity. That being said, there are few moments where my heart rate jumped. The fun comes in performing vivisections on every enemy on screen. Arms and legs blow off, heads explode like watermelons at a Gallagher concert -- it's like a slasher flick with bullets. This is the equivalent of the recent footage from the new Rambo movie. There is something sadistic, but oddly pleasing, about blowing off limbs. There are some guns so powerful that you can actually send bodies flinging sideways until they bounce of trees or buildings. I can't deny that there are many times I was laughing out loud.
That giddy fun doesn't hold up in the long run. Despite being a fairly short single-player game (5-7 hours on normal difficulty), the high level of violence isn't enough to keep Payback interesting from start to finish. After a while the poor AI and cheap shots you take from enemies become too much. If terrorists were really like their counterparts in Soldier of Fortune: Payback, then we would have nothing to fear. These guys are just plain dumb. Enemies run straight at you (and sometimes past you) without firing; an enemy coming up from behind will attempt a melee attack rather than just cap you; and these idiots turn and run back towards a grenade. Even the terrorists want to put the Havok engine to work by having their limbs go flying.
The majority of Payback is fairly easy to beat. There are a few rough patches that might give you some trouble, but until the last pair of levels, you will usually die because of cheap AI tactics rather than because you suck at the game. Enemies often spawn behind you, in areas you already passed, and will then take potshots at you from behind. And they hide too well in the jungle or the dark. At times I had to swing the reticule left and right until it turned red just to figure out where an enemy was located.
At least you are given plenty of weapons in which to cause destruction. Modeled after modern-day weapons of war, Payback's arsenal includes more than two-dozen guns. You'll be able to tear through enemies with the SAW, blow heads clean off with a variety of shotguns, and make things go boom with a grenade launcher. The only issue with the weapons is that you only get to restock your weapon a few times in the game. The likelihood that you will start with a sweet assault rifle and still have ammo in the chamber by the third level is unlikely. That means you must ditch this weapon and pick up an enemy's. Not a bad thing, but with limited restocking of ammo you really don't get to enjoy the variety of weapons made available to you at the start of each game section.
As with gameplay, the best thing Payback has going for it visually is the gore. The limb-tearing physics are great. Who cares if they are almost cartoonish in nature -- seeing legs flying around the screen is hilarious. The textures for some areas have some nice detail, but there are some severe pop-in issues. Enemy animations are weak, save for when they are crawling on the ground with a leg blown off, slowly bleeding out. Otherwise, it's an endless string of stock characters with a limited set of motions. It should be noted that there are no advanced options for graphics setting. You can select resolution and nothing else.
The multiplayer is a sad offering for a PC gamer. The limit is 12 players, which suggests that PC gamers weren't given much consideration in the development of Payback. For some reason, there is no way to communicate with others in game. No chat is supported. The multiplayer modes are the same thing you have seen from dozens of other shooters (deathmatch, capture the flag, etc.). With some lag issues popping up and the lack of brutality seen in the single-player campaign, Payback's multiplayer may be passable on a console, but it's fairly worthless on a PC.