A Drab, Moody, Run-n-Gun Affair...

User Rating: 6.5 | Soldiers of Fortune SNES
"Soldiers of Fortune" ("The Chaos Engine" for PAL Regions), is top-view run-and-gun style shooter - a game along the lines of "Gauntlet". Immediately, players will notice that this game has quite a dark mood - the introductory sequence speaks of the corruption of "time and matter", as well as a descending "cloud of chaos". Our enemy in this title is the eccentrically titled "Baron Fortesque", the self-claimed grand-inventor of the games title: The Chaos Engine. So, the stakes are very high from the outset of this largely unknown shooter.

Who would you send on this mission? Who could possibly take down the Baron and his Chaos Engine and make it out alive? Well, thankfully, the player is given a fairly generous choice of protagonists. Suitably designed (we are in the Victorian Era, by the way) and well-imaged sprites of a band of mercenaries are the game's heroes. A choice of two of the following is available:

The Mercenary.
The Brigand.
The Gentleman.
The Navvie.
The Thug.
The Scientist.

So, for a 16-bit third-party shooter, this was an impressive choice of characters.

Players are then thrown into the deep-end. The first level, a muddy swamp riddled with strange looking ogres and giant toads, is quite a challenge. You will notice that the fire-power you are equipped with, although quite weak, shows some pretty good potential, (in fact, if you save your money well, the shop, which can be visited every two levels, will let you power-up your gun very extensively). This is one of the main draw-cards of the game - the collection of money from killing enemies is great to collect for buying various upgrades for your character. It's always a hard decision as to what to spend your cash on. What's more important, more lives, or health/weapon upgrades? Aside from this, the core gameplay of powering through the levels, busting up the "Nodes" (electrically charged piston-type things that power-up the exit), is exciting enough.

The eight-direction movement of the gameplay works OK at first - lining up your enemies and letting rip is fairly satisfying. I did notice however that during the later levels, things got a bit cramped. And the collision-detection is quite unforgiving. Getting around those corners AND wiping out the hordes of groaning monster-guys can be, well, near impossible. And, in retrospect, the general blocky-like control of the characters does seem a little crude. You are sometimes forced to move forward to turn, and that gets frustrating.

The overall mood of the game is very unusual. As mentioned, it is fairly gloomy, and the washed-out and dark palettes reinforce a kind of decaying atmosphere - the busted up walls and columns throughout the game add to this sense of ruin. (Be sure to shoot at anything that looks suspicious, as there are many hidden items and shortcuts). Oh, and treasures, too. Adding to the stand-out mood is the great (albeit repetitive) soundtrack. The music (by Richard Joseph), adds that futuristic touch to the game, which come to think of it, is quite anachronistic. The digital voice samples like "Food!", and "Player Saved!" are nice touches, nevertheless it is not quite clear who is announcing these events. This effect seemed more like a "Super Smash T.V." addition rather than a Victorian-age game's - but anyway.

One thing that should be noted is that this game gets VERY difficult. Power-up all you want my friend, but it won't do much good against these insanely bullet-resistant enemies - they really do spawn much too suddenly for my tastes. Walking along a corridor innocently enough? Too bad. Let's have a mob of enemies spawn super-fast, just to have them fly at you much quicker than your rate of fire can handle. Not to mention the sluggish speed of most of your mercenaries.

At the end of a good session with this game, I feel that there is something missing in it's design. I must say that it is] difficult to control, and the gameplay is quite repetitive. It's best points are in it's mood - the drab scenery (strangely enough) and progressive soundtrack really do stand out in my mind. The enemy content of the game is really quite extensive, tough and menacing. Beginners may find themselves switching this one off - it's not a very kid-friendly game, but as an adult now, I see it's aesthetic as something quite unique.