home > review > Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix Review
GamesFirst! Online since 1995
ups: Lots and lots of gratuitous gore; good multiplayer; some enjoyable running and gunning; great sound; mostly good AI.
downs: Stealth mode implemented poorly; graphics are fairly mediocre; plot?

|| Get Prices

Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix Review
game: Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix
four star
posted by: Rick Fehrenbacher
publisher: Activision
date posted: 09:10 AM Fri Jun 28th, 2002
last revision: 11:42 PM Thu Oct 27th, 2005

Advertise on GamesFirst!

The first Soldier of Fortune is best remembered for its GHOUL engine, which allowed one to blow off an enemy\'s body parts with admirable anatomical accuracy. Plug a bad guy in the leg, and he\'d hobble around; put a round in his head, and he\'d go down with a bullet-induced and extremely gory cerebral hemorrhage. Moms everywhere hated it. It\'s also remembered for . . . well, nothing, really. SoF wasn\'t by any means a bad game; it was just-other than the splatter factor-a competent but uninspired first person shooter. Solid but not spectacular, it was the singles hitter, the possession receiver, the cute girl\'s kinda cute best friend of first person shooters.

With Soldier of Fortune 2, Raven has decided to up the ante. Rather just another good time shoot \'em up with spectacular gore, SoF 2 aspires to be something more; to that end, it actually contains elements like a plot and a stealth mode. Unfortunately, the plot is vapid and the stealth mode unworkable. You\'ll soon enough find yourself ignoring both of them and just blowing stuff up. The poor implementation of these elements, rather than complementing what the game does well, actually draws one\'s attention to what it doesn\'t do so well, and thence to how far short it falls of the benchmarks set by other recent FPSs\' like Deus Ex or Medal of Honor or No One Lives Forever or Ghost Recon. Frankly, it\'s kind of embarrassing. It\'s also an injustice to SoF2, which at its heart remains a good rave-on shooter with a decent multiplayer component.

In Soldier of Fortune 2, you take the role of John Mullins, a mercenary employed by a shadowy organization dedicated to the elimination of terrorists. With bio-terrorists on the loose, you\'ll soon find yourself trotting the globe as you seek to find Mr. Big and put an end to his threat to all humanity. Mostly this consists of going to ostensibly exotic but rather prosaically rendered locations, killing a bunch of bad guys and solving a few puzzles, and being rewarded at the end by a boss fight and another piece of the big picture. As one can tell from this pr�cis of the game\'s plot, there\'s nothing much original here, and one can happily skip all the cut scenes and still enjoy the game. In fact, if you do skip the cut scenes you can avoid such dialogue as this, taken from actual gameplay. \"That was close.\" \"Yeah, too close.\" Man, I wish I\'d thought of that.

Gameplay is strangely schizophrenic. When it consists of nothing more than traditional damn-the-torpedoes fun and gunning, it\'s pretty enjoyable though utterly predictable; when it strays into the more sophisticated territory of \"stealth missions\", it becomes almost laughably unplayable. First of all, the stealth mode is poorly implemented-let me count the ways: you can\'t toggle stealth mode on and off from the keyboard, which is a pain; once an alarm is activated, you can\'t turn it off; maids can see you right through walls; though you can pick up bodies and move them around, there\'s rarely any point to it; though you can crawl around on the ground, there\'s rarely any point to it. This poor implementation leads to a lot of frustration when attempting to sneak around; you\'ll get spotted a lot. Eventually this frustration will lead you to just say \"screw it,\" let the damn alarm ring, and shoot everything in sight. You may well be surprised to discover this works extremely well. This begs the question, \"why include this stupid stealth mode in the first place?\"

Enemy AI is usually pretty good; bad guys huck grenades, take cover, and retreat when wounded. They\'ll ambush and snipe from cleverly-concealed positions. Again, enemy AI is not at its best when playing stealth missions. Sometimes goons will seem to possess x-ray vision; sometimes they\'ll ignore silenced shots shattering glass right in front of them.

Graphics are good; the Quake III engine has certainly had better-looking games wrung out of it, but SoF II\'s graphics are perfectly serviceable. What they are not is inspired. Though you\'ll do a lot of traveling about the world in SoF II, most of the game\'s levels are surprisingly generic and bland. Though the outdoor levels are an exception, there\'s a certain sameness to most of the game\'s settings. Though there are of course changes to the details, the streets of Prague are structured and play a lot like those of Hong Kong; the crate-filled holds of a freighter much like the crate-filled bays of a warehouse. The game\'s range of colors is, as per most Raven and id games forged from the QIII engine, a bit muted-a little more color wouldn\'t hurt.

And oh yeah, the GHOUL 2 engine does a bang-up job of rendering severe bodily hurt. Head shots are especially gory, and wounded enemies behave in what one supposes are realistically limited ways. Of course, you\'ll get desensitized to all the game\'s blood and guts after about 15 minutes of gameplay, and after the novelty wears off may well find yourself wondering about the aesthetic and entertainment value of point-blank crotch shots.

Most of the characters are pretty nicely drawn, though one would expect that from a game whose real claim to fame is the anatomical correctness of its wound effects. And I may be alone in this, but does anyone else think that John Mullin looks a lot like a buff Cliff Claven?

SoF II does have great sound-guns sound realistic and voices are well-dubbed. It\'s the one part of the stealth package-which demands excellent sound-that is in any way exceptional.

Soldier of Fortune II\'s multiplayer is actually pretty darn good; it includes game modes such as death match, team death match, CTF, and-most fun of all-infiltration. The number and variety of multiplayer maps is somewhat limited, but there is quite a healthy SoF II multiplayer community out there, and it\'s easy to find a game. SoF II also contains a random mission generator; since the game\'s levels seem pretty randomly generated themselves, it seems kinda redundant.

I have a few other quibbles with the game; it takes a pretty healthy machine to run, and the single player missions can vary wildly as to quality and level of difficulty. But mostly I\'m disappointed that the game\'s designers didn\'t focus on what Soldier of Fortune does well-quasi-realistic first person action-packed shooting. The game\'s poorly executed attempts to be something more than that just draw attention to what the Solider of Fortune II really is-a lot like Soldier of Fortune. And that\'s pretty good.

Rick Fehrenbacher (06/28/2002)