Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix
The game’s primary strengths are awesome new Quake III: Arena–powered visuals, a heightened emphasis on story, much more attention to detail, and at least a few attempts at ingenuity. But the no-holds-barred, unflinching emphasis on rendering the bloodiest action possible on the PC is still SOF II’s primary calling card.
Once again, you fill the size-15 boots of one badass hombre known as John Mullins (based on the game’s “technical advisor,” who was a former soldier of fortune). A network of terrorists has its sights set on using a deadly bio-agent to hold the world hostage, and it’s up to you — working for “The Shop,” an ultra-secretive counter-terrorist group — to stop them.
Your efforts will take you on an all-expenses-paid trip around the world, visiting Colombia, Hong Kong, and Prague. Each locale serves up a well-varied mix of environments and baddies that you can blast to smithereens with 14 hard-hitting weapons, most of which have secondary firing modes. My personal fave has to be the fully automatic 12-gauge shotgun. Designed to eliminate scads of bad guys quickly in room-to-room fighting, this beast does its job extremely well. It’ll decorate the walls, ceilings, and floors with blood and chunks of flesh and bone, leaving a trail of body parts in its wake.
Raven’s proprietary GHOUL 2 system performs as advertised with its hit-specific damage modeling. Pop a guy (or gal) in the stomach with a shotgun, and they keel over in all manner of painful ways — lurching forward, groaning, and failing to keep their innards from spilling on the ground. You can use a password to lock out all the blood and gore, but if you do, you’re left with a pretty unremarkable experience.
The game’s greatest failing is its completely unbalanced AI. Most missions emphasize stealth, and SOF II gives you the ability to lean around corners and even go prone and crawl on your stomach. Problem is, the AI bad guys spot you way too easily, and they will nail your ass with impossible accuracy, particularly with grenades. I was continually spotted when there appeared to be no line of sight, and even when crawling behind cover — at night and in the rain, no less. Grenades — tossed by opponents who couldn’t see me, mind you — frequently landed in my lap. Needless to say, this hardship makes the game very challenging, even on the easier of the five difficulty settings.
Also, the “fortune” aspect I liked so much in the original SOF is gone, so there’s no cash to earn, no running tally of enemies waxed — no fortune to be made. It’s a big loss.
Still, if all you’re wanting in an FPS is frenetic, brutal, scarily realistic and bloody action, no game delivers these ingredients better. And the random-scenario and map generator is a cool addition, though the missions and maps it creates do look and feel a bit too, well, random in their construction. Fans of SOF will likely get a kick out of the updated gore factor, but be warned: it’s a tough play, with too few rewarding gameplay moments.