Friday, January 24, 2020

Retro Review: Soldier of Fortune [2000]

Note this review includes experiences only made available with the SoFplus Mod

It's the 20th Anniversary of easily one of my all-time favourite First Person Shooters - Soldier of Fortune, so I thought as I had purchased it from GOG during a recent sale after thy had finally secured the publishing rights in 2018, it was time to take it out for a spin.

Soldier of Fortune is a truly dumb game, it's plot is insane and would have been laughed off the pages of a comic book in the 1980's, let alone accepted in one of the first videogames which rang in the new century. The story such as it is makes you feel like you're in a classic '80's action movie, probably starring Chuck Norris. It's filled with cheese and tropes from TV, movies, comic books and other video games but the gameplay is sublime and it's what has brought me back now again after what I reckon is about 10 years since I last played.

Soldier of Fortune is considered a classic example of the FPS genre and a fantastic example when looking at a game of that era. It shares a lot of aesthetics with 3D shooters of the time like Deus Ex, SiN and Half-Life - clearly developers were still coming to terms with the possibilities the new 3D engines were affording them, and each developer was keen to add their own mark on the genre in order to stand out. One way for Soldier of Fortune developer Raven Software, was to make the whole game a gun-porn lover's wet-dream. It was one of the first games (with the like of Counterstrike and Rainbow Six) to take the majority of it's arsenal from real-world weapons as opposed to the previous efforts of the genre like Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem 3D which feature mostly sci-fi or otherwise fantastical weapons. The second, and by far the more important hook was adding the GHOUL damage engine to the Quake 2 FPS engine to create something unique - one of the bloodiest shooters ever released!


You see, most First Person Shooters did not (and most still don't) depict intense graphic violence. When someone was shot there was perhaps a texture change where "blood" appeared on their clothing. If one was lucky, a pool of blood appeared under a fallen body. Even when games began to incorporate rudimentary rag-doll physics - a "body" on the floor my 'jerk' if you deliberately emptied the clip of your assault rifle into your slain opponent; it most certainly didn't react like it would in reality, i.e. explode against the wall with blood, flesh, bone and internal organs freed from the confines of the body as you spat white hot leaden death at it. This tame approach taken by most developers ensured that FPS games were at least released everywhere as very few of them are banned, but Raven and Activision eschewed this for Soldier of Fortune.

Soldier of Fortune had GHOUL. From Wikipedia: "The GHOUL engine enables depiction of extreme graphic violence, in which character models are based on body parts that can each independently sustain damage (gore zones). There are 26 zones in total. A shot to the head with a powerful gun will often make the target's head explode, leaving nothing but the bloody stump of the neck remaining; a close-range shot to the stomach with a shotgun will leave an enemy's bowels in a bloody mess, and a shot to the nether regions will cause the victim to clutch his groin in agony for a few seconds before keeling over dead. It is possible to shoot off an enemy's limbs (head, arms, legs) leaving nothing left but a bloody torso." What this does not tell you about though is the death screams. Even though Earl Boen, Todd Sussman and Michael Clarke Duncan are heard, the game's voice acting is so-so, but enemy death screams are magnificent, it really does sound like you've just blown a guy's limb off, or set him on fire as he writhes around on the floor screaming. 


Soldier of Fortune naturally sprouted much controversy and was banned in many territories. Notably it was labelled an "adult motion picture" and was rated as a pornographic film in British Columbia, while in Germany, it was placed on the Index List of the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons. This was all despite an option in the menu where one could turn off the violence/gore effects as one can in many games. There was also a version produced which entirely and permanently locked out the violence/gore called Soldier of Fortune: Tactical Low-Violence Version, but I know of no pussy who was subjected to it.

The game primarily uses the Quake II engine and so shares lineage with Heretic II, SiN and Daikatana. Playing today I'll agree it's aged significantly but if one applies the SoFplus mod, you get to tweak graphics features including playing in widescreen resolutions, but beware that you may get some slight hall-of-mirrors effects on screen edges as the game was ever only designed for 4:3 aspect ratio. The game ran with no significant issues on Windows 10 1909.

While entries in the Hexen and Heretic franchises helped establish Raven Software, it's with Soldier of Fortune that they truly made their mark and allowed them to develop more notable games later such as a sequel Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix as well as significant FPS entries - Star Trek: Elite Force, Star Wars - Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Quake 4. They have a significant role to play today in the Call of Duty franchise and I'm glad I took a nostalgic 9.5 hour journey back through one of my favourite games to remember where they came from. 

Soldier of Fortune Platinum is currently only available on GOG for €9.09 but watch out for frequent sales.

The SoFplus mod is available here:

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