Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix

In the words of that great bard Boy George, "war is stupid, and people are stupid". Soldier of Fortune is, by this definition, stupid – but unnervingly it’s also a lot of fun. I say unnervingly, because unlike the kind of games I usually play, this one is a bit on the real side. Rather than killing aliens, orcs, or hordes of the undead, you’re killing honest-to-goodness people. In order to get into the theme of the game, I looked at the Web site for the real soldiers of fortune. Soldier of Fortune magazine – the inspiration for the game – has long been a beacon for soldiers, mercenaries, all kinds of Special Forces and, sadly, the living-with-their-mums wannabes. Killing machine
The fact that many of its readers aren’t really soldiers of fortune doesn’t mean that a great number of them aren’t real live guns for hire in private armies. You really don’t want to mess with these guys; come to think of it, you probably shouldn’t mess with anybody who aspires to be like these guys… so perhaps I’ll shut up. Anyway, if you’re a frustrated killing machine and your flat feet have held back your career, this is a perfect opportunity to experience the life of a heartless, fearless upholder of justice/marauding crusader. The game starts, as all these games do, with a little training. You run through the ins and outs of the arsenal of weapons and play the part of John Mullins, a reallife Green Beret and member of an A Team in ‘Nam. He then went freelance, set up "training camps" and ran operational missions around the world. His career is now more legit, he owns a (non-toxic) ammunition company in the US, is a successful author and screenwriter, has an MBA, speaks four languages, and has a hat full of medals (mostly Purple Hearts). This guy is a real-life action man, who helped put the game together. Training involves getting to grips with an array of real-world weapons. There are no rail guns, laser cannons or tesla rifles. You have M4s with M203 grenade launchers, a Heckler & Koch MSG90A1 military sniper rifle, and the standard US-issue SOCOM pistol. You also have a steel commando knife for silent, close-up cutting and gutting. Once you’re familiar with the weapons, it’s time for the real action. The first mission is in Prague, where you’re chasing down a gang of terrorists who are trying to stop the civilized world from going about its business, for whatever reason. Thankfully, the game doesn’t delve too deeply into the politics of the covert black ops that the game portrays. Politically, I’d be a bit concerned about taking a war on terrorism to Hong Kong, Prague, Columbia, or even neutral Switzerland. For those with weaker constitutions, there are limits to the amount of blood, guts and gore on show. You can toggle blood, death animations and dismemberment on and off, or lock them off permanently if the kids are practicing their sniping skills. Realism
The motion capture used for the game is very realistic. Even without the blood and dismemberment there is something creepily real about the way a shot soldier will fold and try to crawl away when hit. This game is not for sissies, the politically aware, liberals, vegetarians or those of a sensitive nature. If, however, you want to desensitize yourself from the horrors of today’s world of random snipers, suicide bombers, terrorist attacks and the like, this could be the answer. Gameplay uses the tried and trusted Quake III engine, so you may already be familiar with the controls. If not, they are easily customized. Weapons can be changed with a scrolling mouse wheel, and second-weapon functions are accessed with a right-click. You could use the keyboard, but I always end up remapping the keys myself. I won’t give the plot away, but there is plenty of stealthy sniping and SWATstyle storming. As the game progresses it becomes harder – as Simon Le Bon once sang, it’s "about as easy a nuclear war". One of the truly excellent features of the game is the amount of fun to be had once you’ve finished the missions and saved the world. There’s a mission generator, which randomly creates missions and terrain, so there’s no need to assassinate the same guy twice. Also, the online-gaming feature extends the useful life of the game indefinitely. The usual death match, capture-the-flag and last-team-standing games are available. And, there are plenty of arenas with jungle mountains, dingy backstreets and creepy warehouses. Doubtless, there are people creating even more terrain and scenarios to get together in and kill people in. The online side of Soldier of Fortune is, compared to other online games, very easy to get involved in. It’s a separate application, so just launching it gives the option to search for servers – choose one and you’re instantly transported to the jungle, or wherever. If you get shot, then you have 15 seconds to wander like a ghost through walls – an ideal opportunity to take a look at who shot you. Then you’re reborn back at your base because, as Tony Hadley once sang, "you’re indestructible".


The realism is a bit unnerving – with full blood and gore enabled I shot somebody’s head off – excellent sniping. However, as I watched my enemy fall to his knees with a bloody stump where his head should have been, I realised that it was a real person. I was playing a stranger online, and I shot his head off, and it was fun. But is it healthy? This review appeared in the Expo 2002 issue of Macworld.

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