Review by Chimpyeinler

Reviewed: 01/20/04

Just makes the grade

Soldier of Fortune 2 is a study in counteracting positives and negatives. In other words, it seems that for almost every good thing about the game, there is something negative to counteract it. In the end, however, the positives just manage to eak out the negatives as far as the game's worthiness.

In short, Soldier of Fortune 2 is a first person shooter which tries to straddle the gap between Tom Clancy-style ''realistic'' shooters, like the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games, and straightforward action-oriented FPS games a la Halo, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and the Jedi Knight games. Soldier of Fortune 2 was released on the PC over a year before it came out on the Xbox. The conventional wisdom is, of course, that any FPS is better on a PC because of the higher resolutions available, the accuracy which comes from the mouse/keyboard control scheme, and the existence of a mod scene. On the other hand, I've found that playing a well-adapted console FPS sitting back on a couch is often more fun than playing hunched over a keyboard in front of a small computer monitor, provided, of course, that the controls are appropriately modified for gamepad use. So how does this port stack up?

As I said above, this game has plenty of positive aspects.....matched by negative ones. For every atmospheric and well-designed level such as the rain-soaked, lightning flash-riddled nighttime Prague opener or expansive and lush Columbian jungle settings, there seem to be as many instances of horrid, so-called ''natural'' textures and cardboard cut-out trees. For every great idea such as the inclusion of the entertaining random mission generator (which generates random outdoor levels using some pre-fab structural elements for the interior parts), there is a poor decision such as the decision to make multiplayer online and system-link only, and without bots. For every cool weapon option, such as the dual Uzis or heavy machine gun, there are almost as many moments of frustratingly buggy damage detection in which a sniper shot to the head somehow registers as one to the shoulder. Most frustrating for those who have played the PC version (and went for this version because of bizarre slowdown issues on their computers), the correction of some frustratingly cheap difficulty issues went too far, and resulted in the removal of too many enemies from the Xbox version, instead of a mild, difficulty-level dependent tweaking. I understand why the port would ratchet the difficulty down a bit, having spent far too much time staring at the load screen on the PC version after getting consistently triangulated by seemingly unending ranks of guerilla fighters in Colombia. Nonetheless, there is no need to cut out half the enemies in the jungle missions, when only a slight reduction would do. Speaking of loading screens, this game has some of the worst loading times for an Xbox game that I've seen. There will be times when you will think that the console has frozen up during loading, only to find that it was just poor loading times. The sound is also a mixed bag- while the ambient jungle noises, local dialect, and sparse music are nice, I have to question the inclusion of the death rattle/choking sound effects when you kill someone. It goes beyond tasteless, and into the downright disturbing. So does the amount of gore, which seems to be one of the marketing points for this game. Despite what they think, I doubt that most people playing this game are doing so to see as much blood and human suffering as possible. We just want a bit of reasonable violent escapism, right?

As a result, this is an exercise in contradictions. So why do I give this game an 8 (even if just barely)? It's simple- the game still provides entertainment value. First of all, the one thing Gratuitous Games actually got right in the porting process was a fairly good control system. One can actually run and aim with some degree of accuracy and smoothness.

Another great move was porting over the Random Mission Generator. It would be criminal of me not to mention this, as it seems too many people aren't even aware that this exists for the solo player. True, the texturing in the surrounding hills and natural elements is abominably reminiscent of the N64, and there is a generic, sparse quality to the levels (which can have one of 4 themes- desert, hills, jungle, or frozen tundra, and can be daytime or night-time levels). Even so, being able to start up a plug and play prison escape from a jungle POW camp, or an assasination mission in the desert, and have no idea of how the terrain will turn out, or where enemy killzones will pop up, gives this game a single-player replay value beyond what most games can offer. The single-player campaign is no slouch either. While some of the 50+ missions are really no more than interactive briefings, the levels have a good deal of length, and nice variety. Unlike some other games out there, you'll find yourself in a variety of different areas and situations, including fighting alongside US soldiers in the jungle, sneaking around a cargo ship on the high seas (a la Metal Gear Solid 2), engaged in urban combat in Hong Kong, and assaulting a remote enemy complex in the middle of a snowstorm. The game should last a long time if you play it at a reasonable level of difficulty. For those who (unlike me) have Xbox live, there are various multiplayer maps available, even if the reputation of SOF2's game-matching code seems to be questionable. And of course, there are those glorious guns, ranging from clumsy and noisy old machine-guns, to the overly complicated OICW, an assault rifle which looks like it comes straight out of Robocop. Unfortunately, there's no flamethrower, but what the hey.

In the end, this game will be one which won't wow you, like Halo might, but which you'll probably find yourself picking up and playing weeks or months later, for some quick and violent thrills. For those who tire of the Tom Clancy games' ''hyper-realistic'' approach, but want something with a contemporary military theme and some degree of pseudo-realism, this is probably what you're looking for.

My score- 8/10 (by a hair)

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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