Check out our video review:
Violence in video games has been controversial for some time now and as more and more violent games are released, previous games get swept under the rug. Soldier of Fortune is one of those games. Developed by Raven Software and published by Activision, Soldier of Fortune was released for PC in February, 2000. It was eventually ported to the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 in 2001. For its time, Soldier of Fortune was an extremely violent game that allowed players to blow off enemy body parts in a satisfyingly gory fashion. The game actually came with password-protected options to disable all gore and evidently there’s even a version of the game that locks out all violent gore effects.
For this review, I played Soldier of Fortune for PC using the Soldier of Fortune Plus mod. It enables you to play the game on modern systems, supports widescreen resolutions, new configuration settings, new commands and cvars, and it forces full-violence mode because it’s 2017 now so who really cares anymore. There’s even a dedicated server version of SoFplus that allows for additional game modes, among other options, but I didn’t even bother with the multiplayer so this review will cover the single player only.
The story in Soldier of Fortune is nothing special and you’ll probably lose interest very early on. You play as John Mullins, a mercenary working for an organization known as “The Shop” and need to thwart some kind of terrorist conspiracy involving nuclear weapons. You get to see Sadaam Hussein at one point which is really a sign of how old this game is now. You’re always partnered up with your buddy “Hawk” who will assist you during most missions but only during scripted events. You’ll travel to all different locations around the world including New York, Siberia, Iraq, and even Japan. Every mission has a set of objectives like rescuing hostages, destroying things, and eliminating terrorists. No matter what the objectives are, you’re always just trying to get from point A to B without dying. Failing an objective results in an immediate mission failure and I only managed to do that twice. I killed two innocent people by accident and I guess they were hostages. But other than that, I don’t know if it’s possible to fail any other objectives unless you die I guess. After completing a set of missions you’ll visit The Shop where you get a briefing of your next assignment and can equip yourself with weapons and gear. The voice acting is not very good and the entire game feels a lot like an 80’s action movie in many ways which really isn’t a bad thing. It’s like a B-movie. It doesn’t dip as low as anything with Steven Seagal in it, minus Under Siege, but it feels more like a Chuck Norris movie.
The weapons and combat are the real highlight in Soldier of Fortune since almost every weapon can blow an enemy’s limbs off without a problem. It doesn’t matter if it’s a combat shotgun or a .44 Handgun, you can easily blow an enemy’s head off or at least put enough bullets holes in him to almost mimic the death scene of Alex Murphy in RoboCop. The violence is extreme, over-the-top, and downright hilarious. With that said, all of the weapons feel satisfying to use and you acquire the best weapons late in the game. The Microwave Pulse Emitter can electrocute enemies and it’s alternate fire will expand an enemy until he explodes into a bloody pile of gibs. It’s awesome. Other than that, it’s your typical arsenal of weapons including shotguns, a couple of submachine guns, a rocket launcher, frag grenades, some handguns, a sniper rifle, heavy machinegun, a flamethrower, and a knife.
The enemies are made up of your typical terrorist thugs and bad guys but they’ll vary in appearance, depending on the location. Other enemy types include dogs, turrets, tanks, and even helicopters. As you progress through the game, some of the enemies will begin to carry better firepower like rocket launchers, and those guys are just bullet sponges. On the Medium difficulty, the AI ranges from “can’t hit shit” from two feet away to pin-point accuracy from a mile away making some deaths just feel unfair. The draw distance kind of sucks by today’s standards and there’s a couple of sections where fog will obstruct your view of what’s ahead but enemies in the distance can still shoot you. It does get annoying but these areas are few and far between. Most of the time you’re traversing through corridors, rooms, and small open areas. During the final set of missions all of the enemies carry the deadliest weapons in the game and it’s a just drag to get through, with a lot of trial and error. There’s five difficulty modes to choose from and they all contain different parameters including how many times you can save during a mission, enemy toughness, and carrying capacity. You can even select a custom difficulty mode where you can adjust these parameters yourself. I thought that was pretty cool and it does add a bit of replay value.
Throughout the environments are medkits and armor scattered around. Medkits can be stored for use later and you even equip medkits and armor from The Shop before deploying. Other gear includes grenades and even night vision goggles which I think I only used twice. The environments all kind of feel the same but the varied locations keep them interesting all the way through and there’s plenty of bad guys to shoot. It always feels like you’re doing the same shit but at least the extreme violence never gets old. You’ll always be pressing buttons or blowing your way through structures, sometimes you’ll need to climb things, and each mission is fairly linear. Several times I got stuck because I didn’t know what I had to do but it’s not like you’ll ever have to backtrack because you missed something. There’s no key hunting or scavenging for items to progress so if you get stuck it’s probably because you’re not seeing something like a button or switch or maybe you need to turn a valve or blow something up.
By today’s standards, Soldier of Fortune looks dated but some of the visuals can be improved thanks to the additional configuration options of the SoFplus mod. The textures are sharp and crisp, enemy death animations are dramatic and humorous, and nothing really looks terrible by 2001 standards. Even the sound effects are pretty good. All of the weapons sound powerful and booming and the sound work matches up to the satisfying gunplay. Listening to a rocket explode on impact is only made better by the visual spectacle of an enemy exploding into pieces. The sounds of a shotgun blast can be followed by an enemy’s arm being blown off, accompanied by him screaming in agony. It’s great stuff. The music is nothing special but usually matches the aesthetic of the location you’re in and ramps up when the bullets start flying.
I will admit that without the extreme over-the-top violence, Soldier of Fortune would just be a generic shooter running on the id Tech 2 engine. I guess you can say the violence really does carry the game. But the gameplay is fun and that’s the most important thing. The gunplay is very satisfying and, yeah, many games since Soldier of Fortune have improved gore effects, including Soldier of Fortune 2. But even so, there’s something about Soldier of Fortune, a charm. I can’t say it’s nostalgia for me because I only played this for the first time maybe five or six years ago and I never beat it until now. I really enjoyed my time with Soldier of Fortune and you can get it pretty cheap now so I would recommend you check it out. Sadly, this series seems to be forgotten but I do hope this and Soldier of Fortune 2 make their way to Steam and/or GoG. Soldier of Fortune: Payback, however, can go fuck itself.