Bet on Soldier is a sci-fi-themed first-person shooter that takes place in a crazy war-torn world where the primary form of televised entertainment is one-on-one gladiatorial battles that break out in the middle of an otherwise normal battle. While that might sound like just the sort of gameplay and plot hook that might drag in all of you people waiting patiently for a game based on The Running Man, Bet on Soldier is a collection of half-baked ideas wrapped in a buggy mess of an engine, and the end result is a very bad game, overall.
Each mission begins with a soldier loadout screen where you can purchase weapons, various types of armor, and mercenaries to assist you along the way. You'll also choose which champions you'd like to face in each mission. This is where the whole Bet on Soldier concept comes into play. When you encounter these champions, the game breaks into a cutscene that plays the intro of a TV show called Bet on Soldier. These battles are treated like a televised sport, but they boil down to your trying to win as quickly as possible to earn more money. The solo battles are dull and fairly lifeless, plus they're jarring and intrude on the rest of the game.
The rest of the game is all about keeping your armor in good working order. You can do this by using conveniently placed reload and repair terminals, but this costs you money. Thankfully, you earn cash for every kill, and unless you're horrible at shooting people in the head--which is pretty easy here since the artificial intelligence doesn't seem to understand the concept of finding good cover--you'll always have plenty of money to work with. Alternately, you can hire an engineer to come with you. He can repair you at any time, but his light armor means you'll have to protect him. Since the mercenary AI is only marginally smarter than the enemy AI, this isn't always easy. We ran into several occasions when our backup got hung up on a wall and wouldn't proceed until we ran back through half the level to get him unstuck.
Armor is more than just a number near your health bar. Bet on Soldier also gives you a large metal riot shield, which you can put out in front of you when using a one-handed weapon. It slows you down a bit, but considering you can just as easily get headshots with a pistol as with a scoped rifle, the pistol is plenty powerful. Anyone with a steady hand should be able to nail headshots from great distances, since the enemies tend to stand still when you aren't directly in front of them.
In addition to its dreary, repetitive single-player game, Bet on Soldier has a multiplayer component that attempts to bring the betting in by letting you place "bets" on your ability to take out specific enemy soldiers. It's also a class-based mode that lets you upgrade through multiple levels by spending money. Unfortunately, the combat itself isn't exciting, so all of this is fairly moot. Also, finding more than one or two servers running at once is rare, so don't expect to find a great deal of online competition.
While it's not a particularly compelling game even when it's running properly, Bet on Soldier is also dragged down by a series of nasty technical issues that aren't fixed by the game's version 1.2 patch, including one that caused the game to crash to desktop every time we tried to start a game, change the resolution, or do just about anything else. On a different but similarly outfitted machine, the game ran without crashing, but it was prone to seizing up for seconds at a time. And the long load times' static or black screens had us wondering if maybe the game had crashed anyway, and then it would finally start up a minute or two later.
Once it's up and running, Bet on Soldier does have some decent graphics. The player models are at least technically impressive and it makes good use of lighting and shadow effects, even if the design side of the game's visuals leave something to be desired. It's a proficient but bland-looking game that never seems to run at a stable frame rate, even on a machine that well exceeds the recommended system requirements. The speech in Bet on Soldier is a source of hilarious unintentional comedy. Imagine a native French speaker learning English from someone with a British accent and then attempting to sound like a hard-ass general from Texas. The constant accent shifts occur not only from sentence to sentence, but even word to word in some cases. It's completely insane, and it's one of the few compelling things about the game. Beyond that, the music is lackluster, and the basic sound effects are pretty bad. The scraping metal sound that plays when you walk is supposed to invoke the sound of a heavily armored trooper on the move. Instead it's just grating. You're also constantly panting and wheezing like an asthmatic. Considering you're supposed to be a trained soldier and the best of the best, carrying all that armor around shouldn't make you sound like you're constantly about to collapse.
It's buggy, it's ill-conceived, and it's even totally unplayable on some systems in its current state. If you think Bet on Soldier is a recipe for a game worth skipping, you're exactly right.