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It might not have been universally loved as a singleplayer game, but Soldier Of Fortune II is making a killing online. Although it’s far behind the online popularity of Half-Life and all its modded incarnations, it’s in the same tier of popularity as the other main contenders -just behind Medal Of Honor and Return To Castle Wolfenstein, and catching up all the time. With no pretensions of rewriting multiplayer shooters or offering a sophisticated, thinking fragger's battlefield, So FII inhabits the middle line between Counter-Strike's subtle, teambased 'realism’ and Quake Ill’s fast-paced killing-frenzy. Which is the best way to attract two very different sets of audiences. At the slower-paced end of the spectrum is the Infiltration mode - in which one team must infiltrate the opposition’s camp and retrieve a briefcase, while the other defends it.
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It’s the most popular mode by far, mainly because it’s the most team-oriented. the maps are well balanced and the action can still get quite frenetic despite the emphasis on tactical play. At the manic, oh-my-god-there-go-my-brains-again end is the Team Deathmatch mode, where you’ll find yourself respawning every other minute, sprinting like crazy in search of a weapon and generally cackling with glee before dying.
Its greatness lies in running around with up to 63 other players -that’s right, 63 - in a frenzy of gunshots and grenade blasts. Incredibly, there's hardly any lag on an ADSL line even with full servers. Deathmatch is good but not quite as much fun (as is Elimination, a team last-manstanding mode), while Capture The Flag suffers from random generated maps.
This might sound great in theory, but most maps tend to look the same, and they’re all too big and fog-ridden. It does mean at least that all players start on an even footing and it is possible to find servers with no fog, although the framerate drops dramatically. Version 1.1, apart from fixing lots of single-player glitches, includes a handful of new maps and, more importantly, a whole new mode called Demolition. This takes the game further into CS territory, since it’s basically a plant the bomb/defend bombsite scenario. It’s also the least popular mode at the moment, and it can be hard to find games running, though this might change as people get used to it.
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The player animations are a bit rigid for the pace the matches are played at, but it's not really much of an issue, and you do get lots of different realistic costumes to go with the settings. Somehow, Soldier Of Fortune II manages to use real weapons and still be intensely entertaining - something that many Quake III and UT mods never really were. And with the modding community already buzzing with projects it seems certain that So FII is here to stay.
So turn up the gore factor and keep a mop and bucket handy. Raven Software scraps high fantasy for a gory first-person shooter that aims high on the stomach churning factor. You play as real-life mercenary John Mullins, a former Vietnam vet tasked with retrieving four stolen nukes while blasting any assorted scum that get in his way.
The real John Mullins, as opposed to the fictitious one depicted in this game, is noted for providing insight on the gun-for-hire trade. The game lends its name and theme from Soldier of Fortune magazine, a pro-military editorial paper that covers world conflicts, gun reviews, anti-gun control rants and gory first hand accounts of combat from people who lived to tell the tale.
It’s a magazine that isn’t solely directed at mercenaries (although it’s the self described ‘journal of the professional adventurer’), but appeals to a much broader audience of army servicemen, police officers, war buffs or people who just take a visceral joy out of reading about blood and violence. As a PC game, Soldier of Fortune has much of that same appeal mixed with an over-the-top budget blockbuster theme. It looks and plays like an action movie, made to feel more so with levels that involve hijacking a running freight train or defending your sidekick while he disarms a time bomb.
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The game is divided into ten missions that take you to famous war-torn hotspots like Iraq, Russia, Kosovo, Sudan or Uganda. Although some historical backdrops are provided, like the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, these are treated only cosmetically. Your enemies are as stereotypical as bad guys get – arab terrorists, white skinheads, black gangstas and lots of Russians line up to die miserable deaths courtesy of Raven’s patented GHOUL engine. GHOUL is a hit detection system that takes combat to the next step; a system that enables you to shred off body parts in spectacular fashion, leaving enemies cowering in a jumbled mess while they slowly give away their last dying breath. Some of the heavier weapons can dismember foes to lifeless pulps in no time, while the low caliber stuff can incapacitate or disarm, if needed. Shoot an enemy in the crotch and it’s a priceless show the first time. Shoot his thumb off and he’ll drop his weapon, rendering him harmless.
Although the initial uproar that So F generated might have been blown out of proportion, there’s no denying that this game absolutely revels in causing virtual misery. Bad guys frequently plead for mercy and there’s no reward for sparing them.