Graphically, Soldier of Fortune: Payback
is a mixed bag at best and, at worst, a very ugly mixed bag.
Parts of the game look somewhere between good and fantastic. Individual death animations can sporadically be quite good but the animations are used too much and the game starts to suffer as a result because the main appeal is the gore. By and large though the death animations are over done more than over used.
Shooting someone in the leg or arm will send a the limb bouncing clean off and non-illegal torrents of blood will rush out. Now, I’ve never shot off someone’s arm so I can’t speak on the realism of the blood, but I do happen to have eyeballs so I can reliably tell you that it doesn’t look very good. It just kind of gushes lamely.
The environments of the game aren’t especially interesting—the usual selection of deserts, jungles and caves for the most part—but they do look on the higher end of average. Unfortunately, that’s somewhat marred by the dodgy brightness settings which meant that the game either looked washed out or too dark. The game constantly feels like it is trying to force HDR and bloom down your throat by the bucket-load.
The depth of field is noteworthy too in that it takes over the entire screen at certain points – especially when you try to reload your gun. On the one hand the depth of field effects are nice and they do add a bit to the game in some parts, such as sniping or using scopes when the peripheral vision becomes blurred out. Unfortunately, it's another part of the game which is overdone and having it swamp the screen when you reload a pistol is neither realistic, pretty or fun.
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Also the level design fluctuates wildly between enjoyable romps through jungles and terrorist encampments to incredibly dull and unrealistic Man vs. Helicopter and Infantry battles which are centred around villages where RPGs and grenade launchers seem to occasionally sprout out of the ground. What fun.
At times it’s obvious that Soldier of Fortune
has a nugget or two of graphical capability in it, but it’s let down by unreliable maps and lazy animation. Unfortunately, the gameplay quickly follows suit and although the game is fun for the first level or two it quickly degenerates into a chore.
The difficulty is worth noting too. On easy the game is playable and you’ll find yourself dying once or twice, but not all that much as the game uses a recharging health system similar to Halo 3
. Bump it up to normal or hard though and the game suddenly gets a lot more intense. At first, you think that’s only natural, but playing on through the game it soon becomes apparent that the difficulty curve is disproportionate to the amount of time spent playing and that you’re often being slaughtered before you’ve had chance to assess the field of battle.
For me though, the story is the biggest falling point of Soldier of Fortune: Payback
. I wasn’t exactly expecting a masterpiece out of the game, but something vaguely intelligible would have been nice. All they would have needed to tell me is that my daughter has been kidnapped or that somebody set up the bomb and that would have been enough.
Instead, I suffer through parts of the game where I’m told to kill ‘The Moor’ and Al Adin. I turn a corner and there they are! Talking! In plain sight! Quickly, a cutscene wrests control from my grasp and my character starts gazing at them both through the sight of his fully loaded rifle. It’s a clear shot, but instead of pulling the trigger my character starts talking to his intelligence officer about how much he wants to kill them. She tells him he should kill them.
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A pause. I keep watching them through my sniper scope.
They walk away, notice the player and take cover. Al Adin gets in a tank, The Moor runs off in a helicopter. It takes more than twenty sniper rounds to the head to kill Al Adin, after which I manage to somehow chase after the helicopter (the screen just fades to black) and start shouting at The Moor. I tell him I want to kill him. Again though, instead of taking the clear shot I’m forced into waiting and having to bring the helicopter down while fending off infantry. I get bored and wander away for a bit.
That last part was real-life by the way, not in-game action.
My opinions don’t really matter though – I accept that. The reality is that Soldier of Fortune
is still going to sell to a load of teenage kids who love the fact that you can blast holes in people and it’s still going to be looked at with scorn by most everyone else.
For what it is worth though, let me just say that although Payback
starts off well and lets players run around gunning ‘til their hearts are content, it very quickly gets old. The gimmick of gore soon wears off and then it’s clear exactly what Soldier of Fortune: Payback
is – a mediocre game riddled with lazy design choices, cut corners and gameplay elements that got old long before I was even born.
It may be good for the first five minutes and it may have a continued macabre charm for some, but most gamers would do best to avoid Payback
entirely unless they’re sure that they too can get their cash back.