Soldier of Fortune: Payback Review

Russ Bondi

In 2000, the PC gaming industry was graced with Soldier of Fortune, one of the first modern warfare games of its time, and a game Activision based on real life mercenaries who were heavily influenced by the Soldier of Fortune magazine. Setting it apart from other shooters back then was the blatant depiction of realistic torture, dismemberment and gore. Two years later, Soldier of Fortune II Double Helix was released not only for the PC and the Mac, but for the Xbox as well. Soldier of Fortune II did a better job at picking up what was lacking in its predecessor and now, nearly five years after Double Helix, we're given Soldier of Fortune III: Payback.

The player assumes the role of Thomas Mason, an unaffiliated mercenary. Thomas Mason is given orders to carry out an escort mission and soon finds himself in a heap of trouble when a terrorist group intervenes. Eventually what started out as a typical escort mission quickly escalated in to hell. From Asia, to Africa, to Eastern Europe, Thomas is forced to come into contact with barbarous cut-throats, whilst trying to stop a terrorist plot that will almost certainly cause world-wide pandemonium. For a game that mainly excels in multiplayer, it has the strongest story line of any of the franchise's previous installments. Sadly, I don't know if that's saying much.

It's a bloodbath!

The campaign is definitely Payback's weak point, regardless of the decent plot. Then again, I believe that can be said about its predecessors as well. With very little depth, it's hard to appreciate it. The missions are short and give little direction on how to complete them, making it very possible for players to be stuck wondering where to go for an exceptional amount of time. The opposition AI is very unintelligent throughout and despite that, they can get very irritating when in large groups. They're very easy to dispose of but are sprawled all over the map which allows for a challenge in some situations. The largest flaw in the single player is its lack of precise hit boxes. For a game that relies on precision in order to dismember an enemy many players will find this very disappointing; not only are the hit boxes deformed, the frame rate exacerbates the situation. Once a player comes in contact with a large group of enemies they'll find themselves lagging and skipping all over the place. Personally, I think these issues could have been easily avoided if they put more time into addressing them as it's very noticeable the moment you step onto the battlefield.

Sadly the gore is dialed down when you step into the online arena because the trademark gore, dismemberment and post death-animations seems to have been dumbed down. Much more blood will be shed with each bullet that rips through the enemy, although over Xbox Live the battlefield is substantially cleaner. This is a shame really, since the gore is Soldier of Fortune's only big selling point.

Bless this mess

The game offers nothing new to the gamer and is very similar to the other dozens of next-gen first person shooters released on the Xbox 360, and is no different than any other Solider of Fortune game. Nothing notable is added other than a larger array of weaponry available, ranging from sub-machine guns to projectile explosives. Online gamers are rehashed with most of what is available in many other first person shooters such as Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Elimination, Team Elimination, and Demolition. Payback is your conventional first person shooter with the added feature of dismemberment, which is nothing to complain about. One pretty neat addition is what I like to call the 'last chance' feature; depending on where you’ve been hit, you'll fall to the floor and with your single last gasping breath you're given the chance to try and kill your attackers with your pistol. This seems to be implemented in a few games lately, most notably in the superb Call of Duty 4, and does nothing more than to make the game more interesting.

The controls shouldn't be difficult for anyone who's familiar with shooters, and if you own a Xbox 360, chances are you've played a few in the past. With just a tap of the right trigger, bullets will soar towards the cut-throat extremists and hopefully blow off an arm or two. The only odd controls are fire mode select and crouching. Players are usually accustomed to using the left thumbstick to crouch, however this is performed by pressing down on the D-pad in Payback. As for fire mode select, each game has its own way of allowing the player to choose that, but in Payback, your fire mode is also selected by using the D-pad.

Explicit graphics have always been a huge part of the Soldier of Fortune franchise, mainly due to the gore. Because Soldier of Fortune was one of the first modern warfare games of its time it is almost customary to set the bar. The original makers of Soldier of Fortune definitely managed this but Payback failed to deliver this time around, although it's got some of the best gore depictions in a game to date. The environments are nothing memorable, in fact they are a bit pathetic. They seem like nothing more than a Counterstrike port and are very simplistic at best.

Farewell to arms!

All that can be forgiven when you see the dismemberment system as previously mentioned and the single player has the better end of the gore, no doubt, but either way shooting off someone’s limbs is a great stress reliever.

The audio aspect of the game isn't much to brag about. It's got what it needs to be acceptable… the sounds are realistic with respect to the environments, bullets, voices, screaming, and vehicles. The best part is probably the bullets; they sound very realistic compared to other games where they sound very, for lack of a better term, plastic. The natural sound effects such as birds, water, and such, are all realistic enough to convince the player that they really are in the area depicted. As for the vehicles, they are not bad, but the only problem is there are some instances in which there's no depth or distance given. If a helicopter is close to you, it will sometimes sound as if it’s right beside you even when it's moved away, or vice-versa. As for the screaming, when you shoot off a limb the enemy let out little shouts of pain which never seems to get old.

The multiplayer aspect is easily Soldier of Fortune’s greatest strength. With a wide variety of character skins and weapon choices it's almost impossible to dislike the multiplayer that Soldier of Fortune puts on the table. Much like the single player campaign, players are allowed two large weapons for their primary and secondary, a pistol, and two grenade slots. This many weapons seems a bit useless due to the fact that the multiplayer is very fast paced. The 'Last Chance' feature definitely adds a sense of tension to the game, which is a very uncommon feeling to many fast paced shooters. Sadly, as mentioned numerous times, the multiplayer end of the game got the smallest amount of gore. I think in all honesty this should have been reversed. With such a buggy single player, there's no reason to put emphasis on their signature feature and it would’ve made more sense watching copious amounts of blood spill online.

Due to the fact that this is more of a multiplayer game, and always has been, I think that's the excuse for more than 50% of the achievements to be multiplayer achievements. The single player achievements are mostly based around completing missions on various difficulties along with a few dismemberment-related goals and such. But the rest are all online achievements, making them slightly harder to attain due to the low online community numbers at the time of writing.

The game is definitely not something to get excited over unless you're familiar with the franchise and don't mind a small community of online players. Unless you consider the game to have a high replay rate for the single player, there's no other reason to buy it as it can easily be completed within one rental period. Sadly, I was hoping for much more from a Soldier of Fortune release. As many of us have learned in the past, there's no reason to get excited for any game because in the end, you can be let down; Soldier of Fortune III: Payback, is definitely a good example of this. If it wasn't for the online multiplayer, Payback would be nothing more than a drinks coaster.

The audio in the game isn't anything extraordinary. It's passable, and does nothing to hold back or hurt the game. The highlights of the audio are the voice acting and the natural sound effects. The disappointment lies in the automotive sound effects.

The gory dismemberments are the highlights of the visuals in Payback. Nothing else in the game is memorable or worthy of mentioning. It's all very much the same as what we've seen with mediocre first person shooters lately. That's not to say they're bad, they just lack that wow factor.

With a common background knowledge for first person shooters, there shouldn't be any difficulty in learning how to play this game. However, the skewed hitboxes can cause much frustration.

Soldier of Fortune III: Payback has a wonderful plot. The downside is the bugged single player, the terrible framerate, and the sometimes glitchy audio. The only great part about the game, is the timeless multiplayer which has so much to offer.

The achievements are definitely one sided. There is a very small amount of achievements for single player, and a plethora of online achievements. The online ones may take the player a very long time to achieve and the single player goals may call for playing through more than once. That being said, the achievements are definitely not easily attainable.

Though Soldier of Fortune is a very successful franchise, it seems as if the console ports just don't hold up as they should. It's really sad to see the franchise fall behind on its debut on the Xbox 360 but hopefully we'll see some patches and some downloadable content that will give this game more recognition and a much needed boost.

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