SoF2's salute to guns, guts, and glory is even more noisy, gory, and entertaining than the original...

User Rating: 8.9 | Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix PC
While playing through the original Soldier of Fortune one more time a few months ago, I was reminded of just how interesting a first-person shooter can be when game designers go in whole-hog on the character damage model. At the risk of sounding macabre and bloody-minded (then again, who plays FPSs for the jumping puzzles?), seeing the tragic effects of a point-blank shotgun blast on a person’s extremities tends to excuse any amount of repetitive combat far more than the innocuous little puffs of red that represent a direct hit in T-rated titles. Raven’s GHOUL system did remarkable job of keeping SoF’s fun but relatively uniform corridor crawls interesting with some over-the-top graphic carnage that made every encounter a bit more dramatic.

I expected more of the same from SoF2, and am happy to report that John Mullins’ worldwide terrorist safari features even more ragged stumps and avulsed jawbones. The scenarios in which The Shop’s favorite mercenary reduces an entire room full of hostiles into a gurgling pile of broken corpses usually involve some of the best duck-and-cover, spray-and-pray, or retreat-and-defend gameplay to grace the Quake 3 engine. SoF2’s excellent character detail extends beyond violent dissection to a genuinely impressive set of facial expressions, although the wide glare of everyone’s articulated eyes and the occasional oddly-bobbing noggin were evocative of a spooky marionette. Raven was also able to coax the game engine into rendering the most effective and detailed jungle thicket to ever to appear in a shooter (until Vietcong upped the ante on riotous foliage a year later, just before Far Cry completely stole the show the year after that).

SoF2’s settings and environmental effects were well-done in other areas, as well. The blinding snow of Kamchatka lent a special purpose to the wonderful OICW rifle’s infrared function. The rainy deluge in Prague and on the deck of the Seaward Star actually prompted a psychosomatic soaked-to-the-bone chill in me as Mullins trudged through it. Even the offices, labs, and other close-quarters indoor areas ripe for flashbangs and shotgun blasts were appreciably detailed, albeit with fairly commonplace furnishings.

Overall, SoF2 is very much like the original in terms of its gory gameplay. The inclusion of stealth sequences was a regrettable mistake, but total furtiveness was thankfully only mandatory during one of the early levels in Prague. The on-rails sequence that preceded it, as well as the helicopter ride during Mullins’ Colombia junket, were very satisfying, loaded with lots of noise and frenetic activity and things that go boom. Soldier of Fortune 2 isn’t very old, so it still holds its own among more recent titles. I recommend this game for any grownups who aren’t squeamish about stepping over the burst torsos and detached limbs of roomfuls of virtual people. Those who enjoyed the original may agree that the Raven team successfully transferred that title’s hyperviolent take on Chuck Norris-style paramilitary justice into a flashier engine with better enemy AI and edgier firefights.