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The first Soldier of Fortune was nothing miraculous but the gameplay was solid. It stood out because of its violence and I think it was somewhat controversial. It contained over-the-top violence, over-the-top gore effects, and was basically the video game equivalent of a B action movie. The Soldier of Fortune series is the product of developer Raven Software, both of which seem to be forgotten in today’s shooty-shooty-bang-bang social gaming world. Let’s not forget that Raven Software is responsible for a lot of good to excellent games including Heretic, Hexen, Quake 4, and one of their most underrated titles, Wolfenstein, released in 2009. After a bunch of layoffs in 2010, the company decided to focus their attention on assisting with the Call of Duty series and from what I understand, they’re responsible for the Call of Duty 4 remaster. Developed by Raven Software and published by Activision, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix was released for PC in May, 2002 and that’s the version I played for this review. It was ported to Xbox some time later. From what I researched, they wanted this entry to be more realistic, taking inspiration from Operation Flashpoint and Rainbow Six rather than Quake. Now I actually own the retail version of this game and had to download the Gold patch which patches the game to the latest version, otherwise known as The Gold Edition which includes new content like weapons, a multiplayer mode, and more maps. Apparently, The Gold Edition was also available for retail but I think it’s rare since I couldn’t find a copy. For this review, I had to do a few things to get this game running in widescreen. I had to edit the game’s configuration files to apply a widescreen resolution and then I downloaded and installed the Widescreen HUD mod. To fix the field of view, I used HxD, a hex editor, to edit the game’s executable. You can adjust the FOV using a command in-game but the hex edit is a more permanent solution. I’ll also be taking a look at the following mods; the Weapons Mod v5 which adds a new weapons and re-balances existing ones, PerfectFX which enhances various effects like muzzle flashes, explosions, and fire, Bloody Chunks (v2) which adds more ridiculous gore effects, and Real Gore which works in tandem with Bloody Chunks for more realistic gore effects.
Once again you play as John Mullins, a mercenary working for an organization known as The Shop, and this time your goal is to prevent biological warfare by investigating and thwarting a shadowy organization responsible for a virus that will basically kill everybody if it spreads. That’s basically the gist of it. During some missions, you’ll work with Madeline Taylor, the woman introduced at the very end of the first game, but she’s really just a supporting character for plot purposes and doesn’t actually do anything. Yeah, the story isn’t very interesting, much like the first game, but what is interesting is that the John Mullins character is based on the real John Mullins, and he was actually hired as a consultant for the game. According to my research, he’s an ex-special forces soldier of some kind and served three tours in Vietnam. I guess you could say he’s like a real-life Rambo, especially if these games are any indication of what this man is capable of. The voice acting here would probably be better if the actual written dialogue wasn’t so piss-poor. There is some Hollywood voice talent here including Mark Hamill, Earl Boen, and Iris Bahr, among others. The story is on the same level as the first game. It’s not memorable, the dialogue is often cringeworthy, yet sometimes humorous, most of the characters are uninteresting, and it’s all just a setup so you can blow people away and that’s what Soldier of Fortune II is really about.
Soldier of Fortune II includes four difficulty modes – Amateur, Gun for Hire, Consultant, and Soldier of Fortune. There’s also a Custom difficulty mode which allows you set to the base difficulty, the limit of saves per mission, you can toggle on or off weapon inaccuracy, and if you want to limit your weapon carrying capacity. This game is all about the arsenal and there’s a decent variety of realistic weapons here. You’ve got assault rifles like the M4, AK-74, you can wield an M60, micro uzi, sniper rifle, M590 shotgun, USAS-12 shotgun, a grenade launcher, and different types of pistols, among others. Some weapons are exclusive to multiplayer like the MP5 and SIG 551, for example, but you can enter cheats to use them in the campaign. You’ve even got plenty of grenades at your disposal like multiple frag grenades, flash grenades, and incendiary grenades. The standout is the Objective Individual Combat Weapon, abbreviated OICW. It’s an assault rifle, it’s a sniper rifle, it has a grenade launcher and night vision, it highlights enemy threats, it does it all. Actually, it’s kind of cumbersome to use. You acquire it late in the game and its got this fancy technical readout when you zoom in which is just a pain in the ass to navigate. It’s not intuitive at all and I blame the controls for that. To use the grenade launcher, you have to zoom in, enable the laser, and adjust the range. You have to do this all with the keyboard and navigating through the readout in the middle of a firefight will most likely get you killed. Luckily, the M4 also has a grenade launcher that can be fired at the press of a button. Speaking of attachments, some weapons can be equipped with different attachments like a laser, tactical light, or silencer for the SOCOM pistol and the AK-74 can be equipped with a bayonet. Before the start of many missions, you can outfit John with two main weapons, a sidearm, grenade, and a piece of gear like binoculars, night vision or thermal vision goggles. Night vision is easily the most useful, especially late in the game but thermal vision can be helpful in some situations. As you progress through the campaign, more weapons become available to you for outfitting. John is also always equipped with a knife for good old melee combat and you can also throw knives at enemies to take them out quietly. Some weapons like the pistols and uzis can be dual-wielded and weapons like the assault rifles have multiple fire modes including auto, burst, and single. I would actually switch between these modes often because if you have weapon inaccuracy turned on, constantly spraying isn’t always the best approach. I wouldn’t say the ballistics are ultra realistic but different weapons are better for different situations and switching to the right firing mode can be the difference between wasting ammo or dropping enemies quickly. You can shoot through glass, cloth material, and the tutorial claims you can shoot through wood but I never succeeded in doing so, or at least killing an enemy that way. After you beat the game for the first time, I would highly recommend installing the Weapons Mod. It only effects the single player but enhances the experience ten fold. The weapons sound better, they feel better, the combat is more intense, and now I don’t want to go back to the vanilla game. All of the existing weapons have been re-balanced to reflect their real-life counterparts. Magazine sizes have been adjusted and damage and penetration are determined by the ammo types. In addition to the re-balanced arsenal is a whole new roster of weapons including new pistols, assault rifles, and submachine guns. Some of the weapons now have alternate variants with different attachments like scopes and silencers and many weapons allow you to activate night vision when looking through the scopes.
I assume one of the ways the developers attempted to make the game more realistic is by implementing stealth mechanics. You can view your Personal Audio Detection device, abbreviated as PAD, on your HUD and it basically informs you of how much noise you’re making. John can walk, run, crouch, go prone, jump, and lean left and right. Walking, crouching, and going prone make the least amount of noise and the idea here is to sneak up on enemies and avoid detection. However, the stealth is very simplistic and somewhat broken. The first time you encounter a stealth section, it’s forced upon you, as in if you’re detected, you immediately fail the mission. This is not a good representation of the stealth mechanics because it’s not forced upon you in any other mission, at least not on the difficulty I played which was Gun for Hire. The tutorial claims, if enemies detect you, they’ll run to an alarm and set it off. Now there’s two problems with this. 1) That’s complete bullshit. Once you’re detected, the alarm is immediately triggered. You cannot prevent it. And 2) you cannot disable any alarms. Once they’re triggered, they remain active for the rest of the mission. You have to be mindful of searchlights and cameras as well, both of which can be destroyed with a well placed shot. You can even pick up bodies and hide them if you’re so inclined. If you really want to use stealth, you’ll need to bring a silenced weapon or rely on your knife and throwing knives. Every single stealth encounter offers no freedom, or so it seems. There’s the right way to do it and the wrong way. Basically, there’s a set path of where you should go, what enemies you should eliminate first, and the entire process is very trial-and-error. Considering you can’t really hide or deactivate alarms, if you get caught, you’ll need to either continue on all guns blazing or load a quicksave and try again. Outside of the first stealth encounter, I would recommend going into every mission all guns blazing because it’s lot more enjoyable. Soldier of Fortune II is an action game at it’s core. The stealth seems like a rushed addition and isn’t implemented very well and this game is far from any kind of tactical simulation.
On your quest to stop terrorism, you’ll travel to all sorts of locations around the world including Colombia, China, Russia, Texas, Switzerland, and you’ll even infiltrate and destroy a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Every mission has you going from point A to B. Most missions are split up into different what I’ll call levels, broken up by brief loading points. All of the environments are linear in structure but offer plenty of wide open spaces to engage enemies. Things like buildings, structures, and even vehicles can be used as cover and some objects can be destroyed like crates and explosive barrels, for example. The environments are filled with health kits, armor, weapons, and ammo. You can also acquire these things from fallen enemies. Other than that, there’s no real collectibles to find or secrets to uncover. John is equipped with a tool kit that allows him to perform various functions like picking locks, cutting through fences, and even disabling trip wires. With that said, there’s some environmental hazards you should avoid like trip wires, fire, hot steam, and obvious stuff like that. Sometimes you’ll come across a gun emplacement which you can use to annihilate enemies but the enemies can also use it to annihilate you. On your journey, you’ll be completing all kinds of objectives like assisting soldiers in the jungles of Colombia, acquiring key cards to gain access to new areas, planting explosives, and even rescuing hostages. There’s two sequences that have you manning a turret and shooting at enemies. Some missions aren’t really missions at all but, instead, have you walking around interacting with NPC’s for story purposes. One of my gripes with the missions is that it’s not always clear what you need to do to proceed. While the level design is linear in nature, some environments include rooms off to the side or different paths that lead to different things and it can be easy to forget what you’re supposed to be doing because most of the time you’re killing enemies. During gameplay, you can bring up a list of your mission objectives but it doesn’t exactly tell you how to accomplish any of them. Sometimes you need to do something special to progress like blowing something up or decoupling train cars, for example, and these things are not always obvious.
The enemies in the game are primarily made up of your typical thugs, goons, militant hit squads, and even dogs. The enemy appearances vary, depending on the location, and the enemies encountered late in the game are equipped with better firepower and body armor. The enemy AI is decent, nothing special. Enemies will run around, shoot at you, throw grenades, I think they’ll even throw back your grenades if they can, and they’ll take cover behind objects. As for their stupidity, many times they’ll throw grenades that bounce of walls and they end up blowing themselves up and they’ll often remain in position even if they’re being shot repeatedly. Now the combat, itself, is actually quite enjoyable. Besides being able to dismember enemies with a well placed shotgun blast, injured enemies will limp around, I think you can shoot weapons out of their hands, that or they drop weapons randomly, and unarmed NPC’s will pick up weapons and use them against you. You’re always up against numerous enemies so taking cover is essential. I would often find an object to stay behind and lean around corners to pick off enemies. But the moment you hear a grenade bounce, it’s time to run because most of the time, they manage to throw one right at your feet. Enemies will often throw smoke grenades and it can actually be quite effective since the smoke will cover their numbers and positions. There are some really cool sequences late in the game where you’ll see enemies repelling down ropes and breaking through windows, like when a hit squad infiltrates the hospital to take out one of John’s friends, and the whole thing just gives off this cool action-movie vibe. Granted, it’s all scripted, but still cool nonetheless. There are some areas where enemies seem to put you down instantly if you’re not careful and it’s not always clear that you’re fighting a “boss” character but you’ll learn rather quickly after they drop you immediately upon detection. There’s two of these boss-type NPC’s in the Hong Kong mission, they appear simultaneously, and they’re just bullet sponges. There’s another encounter with a boss-type NPC that requires you to shoot the electrical panel behind him and, of course, he’s standing in water. The actual clear-cut boss battles involve you shooting down enemy aircraft.
In addition to the campaign and multiplayer, which I didn’t try, is the Random Mission Generator, which I will now abbreviate as RMG. The RMG allows you to select the type of mission, time of day, location – jungle, snow, desert, or hills, you can set the difficulty, if you want the mission to be timed, and most mission types give you the option to choose your own weapons and gear. Finally, you can generate a seed which determines how the terrain is laid out. Assassination missions require you to eliminate a specific target. Infiltration missions are always set at night and require you to infiltrate enemy bases and steal intel. Demolition is the only mission type where you’re accompanied by an NPC soldier for reasons I don’t understand and your objective is to blow stuff up. The Escape mission involve you breaking out of an enemy prison. Once you’ve completed your objective for any of the missions, you’ll need to make your way to the extraction point. Upon completion of the mission you’re provided a ranking based on your performance. I’m going to be honest, I think the RMG is an awesome concept and provides and excellent amount of replay value. However, it could have been better. What is here is very basic. For example, it would be nice to determine the amount of enemies, the enemy types, maybe what types of weapons they wield, and stuff like that. More location types would have also been welcome. No matter which location type you choose, the environments all feel the same and that’s probably the biggest issue with this entire mode. Every missions is usually a large, mostly empty space with some hills and valleys, very little foliage, a few trees here and there, random structures that just look out of place, maybe there’s a large wall with enemy snipers, and all of the buildings have very similar interiors in both appearance and layout. Hell, many interiors for multiple buildings within the same mission are exactly the same. I do think the RMG was somewhat innovative for its time, at least for a 3D first-person shooter like this, so maybe it’s just a product of its age but it just feels very bland and bare bones by today’s standards. It’s still good fun and gives the game plenty of replay value. If you just want to blow away bad guys and have some fun without going through the campaign, the RMG is a good option, but it definitely could have been better. I’ve been looking high and low for a mod that overhauls this entire mode or at least provides more customization options, mission types, better terrain generation, even new locations but I have yet to find anyhing. Either, it’s not possible, or nobody really gives a shit about the RMG, but I think it has potential.
Visually, Soldier of Fortune II looks much better than the first game but its age definitely shines through. Facial animations are really stiff and the actual character animations, like how enemies move around, is wonky as hell. In fact, the entire game is very unpolished and quite buggy. Sometimes enemies will just slide around environments and dead bodies will often get stuck in upright or weird positions. The flashbang effect is only reflected within the 4:3 aspect ratio which is noticeable when playing in widescreen but considering the game was designed with this aspect ratio in mind, I can let it go. I noticed objects stuck in the environments and every now and then I would get stuck in the environment at random. I noticed an issue with shadows extending into mid-air when the shadow setting was set to projection but setting it to blob resolved the issue. I also noticed some issues with pathfinding whenever you have to follow or interact with a NPC. The actual gore effects are really cool and are basically what define this series. You can blow off enemy heads and limbs, use your knife to slice dead bodies, and enemies will dramatically scream in agony upon the fatal shot. The death animations are scripted, dramatic, and just cinematic in nature and they get the job done. After a shot to the torso, the enemy may slowly kneel to the ground before falling over to his death. Enemies will sometimes crawl along the ground before dying. And if you pummel an enemy with bullets you can see them gyrate with each shot before falling to the ground. The Bloody Chunks and Real Gore mods are a must if you want even more over-the-top gory violence. The blood looks more realistic, bodies can be turned into bloody stumps, pools of blood contain guts, and, like the name implies, bloody chunks will fly through the air upon an explosion. It’s cool stuff. The PerfectFX mod just makes cosmetic changes but also shows how changing little things can make a big difference. Muzzle flashes are brighter and there’s new crisp looking bullet decals. With the mods working together, sparks will fly, a haze of smoke will fill a room after an intense gunfight, smoke and debris will fly through the air amid the gunfire, and basically every firefight is now a crazy cool spectacle. As for the sound effects, everything is as expected. I do like how you can hear the impact of bullets on enemy body armor. The default weapons sound alright and have a pop to them but they could sound a little more powerful. Fear not, though, the Weapons Mod puts the default weapon sound effects to shame. Gunfire sounds loud, powerful, and echoes with each shot, unless, of course, your gun is equipped with a silencer. With the new and enhanced particle effects, increased over-the-top gore, and improved gunfire sound effects, every firefight feels and looks more hectic and intense than anything experienced in the vanilla game. As for the music, it’s pretty forgettable in my opinion. I’m not sure how much music is even in the game. I know there’s at least one tune because you’ll hear it multiple times but other than that, there’s not much to talk about. Performance-wise, the game ran fine. It crashed on me once during my time with the vanilla game. During my time with the mods, the frame rate dipped when there was a lot of particle effects but it only occurred once. Other than these things, the game ran fast and smooth and nothing really killed the experience.
Raven Software aimed for a more realistic experience but in the end, I would say Soldier of Fortune II has the same over-the-top style as the first game. It’s violent, gory, and downright fun. I enjoyed the varied locations, the action, and satisfying gunplay. It’s one thing to shoot an enemy dead and another to pummel him with bullets from an assault rifle and watch his body turn into a bloody corpse. And that’s real highlight of these games. Violence. However, it’s not just violence for shock value. Soldier of Fortune II is actually a pretty fun action game. I think most people enjoy these games for the multiplayer but the actual campaign isn’t too bad. Sure, the story sucks but you don’t really need to know what’s going on to enjoy the campaign. Just like the first game, this, too, feels like a B action movie in video game form. I felt like Rambo running through the jungles of Colombia blowing away every bad guy in my path. I felt like John McClane as I put down terrorists and rescued hostages in the airport in Switzerland. I felt like Casey Ryback as I navigated the Seward Star, turning bad guys into corpses. And most of the time, I felt like I was John Matrix as I blew away everything in sight. With the mods installed, these feelings were enhanced even further. The Random Mission Generator is an excellent addition, albeit very barebones here, and increases the replay value significantly, especially if you enjoy the gameplay. Nowadays, you really can’t look in any direction without seeing a game with procedurally generated environments, specifically if you’re big into indie games, but I think having this as an extra game mode of sorts is awesome and I feel that more developers should think about including modes like this as an extra.
Soldier of Fortune II is unpolished, buggy, and it was clearly rushed out the door for whatever reason. More time in the oven or even just a few more patches could have done the game wonders. However, despite its issues, it’s not a broken mess or unplayable. It’s enjoyable and many of its issues can easily be overlooked, especially if you don’t take it seriously. I think with a few more decent entries and some additional character development, John Mullins could have been a more memorable character and held his own, right up there with the greats like Duke Nukem and Doomguy. Whether or not these first two games are based on or meant to depict real-life combat missions, John Mullins is portrayed more like an action hero from the 1980’s or 90’s than an ex-soldier turned mercenary who’s meant to be taken seriously. Considering these are video games, that’s not necessarily a bad thing and we all know the best action movies were released during those decades. Soldier of Fortune II isn’t a realistic game, it’s not a tactical game, and I wouldn’t even say it’s a stealth game. It’s an action game with plenty of shit to shoot and I get the vibe it’s a very underrated title. I don’t know what the consensus is on this series but in my opinion, I think it’s better than the first game and it’s my favorite entry in the series. It’s a shame that the sequel, Soldier of Fortune: Payback, killed off the franchise because I would have loved to see more entries like this. Definitely check it out if you enjoy action games or first-person shooters. It’s a lot of fun.