Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix Preview

We get an exclusive look at the Xbox version of Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix.

Soldier of Fortune II has finally made the jump from the PC to the Xbox, and from the looks of it, the Xbox version successfully reproduces almost everything that made the single-player and multiplayer aspects of the PC first-person shooter so fun to play. In the game, you assume the role of John Mullins, a member of a top-secret agency who's sent to various locations around the world to combat terrorists. Interestingly, John Mullins' real-life counterpart (who shares the same name, was a Green Beret, and could probably kill a man five times before he hit the ground) helped in the development of the game by providing his input on various aspects of the gameplay.

Soldier of Fortune II successfully reproduces almost everything that made the PC first-person shooter so fun to play.

The single-player campaign begins with a flashback in Prague, where you'll start to familiarize yourself with some of the basic gameplay mechanics. In fact, you'll have to learn quickly, because there are three or four guards posted just outside the small alleyway where Mullins makes his entrance. Since the first guard is about 15 feet away from his buddies, you'll have an opportunity to use some stealth. Like in other games that feature stealth mechanics, sound is an important factor in successfully getting the jump on an enemy. So, if you're running up to the guard, there's a higher chance that he'll turn around and start shooting. Conversely, if you slowly stalk the guard, you can get close enough to use one of your knives, which can be quietly plunged into the back of the guard's skull without the other guards even knowing there's a problem. Using the butt of your equipped weapon is also effective, but the guard you knock out will eventually recover and start firing. Another important thing to realize is that guns are really loud, and the second you fire one of your weapons, you're going to alert most, if not all, of the guards in the immediate area.

You'll find that the Xbox controller does a pretty good job of handling the PC controls.

But when that does happen, you'll find that the Xbox controller does a pretty good job of handling the PC controls. The game uses the basic Halo first-person shooter controls as the default, so you can move around with the left analog stick and view the environment using the right analog stick. The weapon and item inventory can be accessed using the D pad. You can also perform a variety of other actions as well. For example, when you're up against a wall, you can use the D pad to peek out around a corner and fire at enemies while maintaining cover behind the wall. Crouching is another valuable skill that comes into play during heated firefights, allowing you to take cover behind boxes, couches, or other small objects. It's also useful because you'll find that most enemies like to stay in a crouching position when they're firing, so you don't have to adjust your aim if John is already in that position.

Not all the missions in Soldier of Fortune II are of the typical first-person shooter variety. At various points in the game, you'll have to jump into a vehicle (like a truck or a helicopter) and man a massive gun. When this happens, Soldier of Fortune II almost turns into an old-school arcade shooter, with enemies popping out from behind doors and other objects in the environment. One of the early missions of this type places you in a car chase where you're on the back of a truck, and what makes this situation particularly fun is that you can either shoot the troops on the enemy trucks or target the engine of the trucks themselves, causing them to explode.

In some missions, the risk of detection is so great that you won't be able to fire your weapons at all. The mission at the Prague train station requires you to pick up some papers from a contact and then quietly escort a VIP onto the train without alerting any of the guards. If you want to be especially careful, you can take out a few of the guards using your knife, but it's best to avoid confrontation unless it's absolutely necessary.

Stealthy killing is one of the keys to success in Soldier of Fortune II.

There's no question that the main single-player campaign in Soldier of Fortune II offers a variety of different missions, but to add even more diversity, the game also includes a random-mission generator for the single-player campaign. Obviously, you won't get the story arc of the main single-player game, nor will you get maps that are quite as detailed as those in the main portion of the game, but the random-mission generator works pretty well. You can set the type of mission (assassination, demolition, escape, or infiltration), the location (snow, jungle, desert, or hills), the time of day, and the difficulty. The time limit and the selectable inventory can also be toggled on or off.

It's worth pointing out that the AI in Soldier of Fortune II is pretty solid. While you will occasionally see an enemy soldier walk right up to you without seeming to notice you, most of the time they're pretty good at spotting you, firing a few rounds, and then taking cover. The enemies also do a good job of determining where you are in relation to the environment and will try to sneak up behind you if you're not careful. In addition, some enemies will even overturn furniture (like tables) and use it as cover, so you'll definitely be kept on your toes throughout much of the single-player game.

There's nothing like a loaded gun to set things right when stealth fails.

If you're tired of the single-player campaign and you feel like some multiplayer competition, Soldier of Fortune II will have plenty to offer. The game's multiplayer mode contains all the standard Xbox Live features, such as quick match, optimatch, and create session, as well as a number of different match types, including deathmatch, capture the flag, infiltration, team deathmatch, elimination, and demolition. There are also options to view your friends list and download new content.

Visually, Soldier of Fortune II doesn't look quite as good as its PC counterpart. There are some strange color-banding issues in the first level, and the textures and character models don't look quite as sharp. Also, in the current build of the game, cutscenes that were done in real time on the PC are now full-motion video. Still, the weapon models look quite good, and there are plenty of cool little effects, such as the damage model for the enemies, which actually registers hits to different parts of the body, causing the enemy to react accordingly. Soldier of Fortune II is scheduled for release in June.

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