Monday, March 27, 2023

Replay Review - Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix [2002]

Id Software licenced the id Tech 3 engine to developers following their own release of Quake III in 1999. Between 2000 and 2003 about 10 games used the proprietary licence with Raven Software producing several quality releases including Star Trek: Elite Force, Star Wars - Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (and it sequel Star Wars Jedi Knight: Academy), but the best one not involving two of the largest sci-fi franchises in the world was the sequel to the highly controversial, but instant classic Soldier of Fortune

After a prequel prologue, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix takes place a little after the events in SoF. The basic plot here is that John Mullins is placed on the trail to prevent a dangerous biological weapon from being unleashed on the world. His violent globe-trotting adventures bring him to Prague, Colombia, Hong Kong, Kamchatka and Switzerland among other locations and are actually quite varied for a game of this era. Levels include a Train Station, Cargo Tanker, Multi-level Russian Weapons Facility, Jumbo Jet and a busy Airport.

SoFII was a very different game to it's predecessor. The tone changed from mindless murder simulation with questionable politics and wafer-thin plot to more of a quasi-realistic action spy-movie game with global conspiracy punctuated with automatic weapons. In Soldier of Fortune Mullins was sent in to shoot and kill everyone aided by his buddy Hawk. With Hawk's death in that game, SoFII has Mullins mostly on his own save for a sequence where you have a squad of U.S. Marines cutting up the jungle with you, making me feel right at home. The gameplay takes a semi-stealth approach which unlike Sam Fisher's Splinter Cell missions a year later, stealth here is very badly implemented and you always end in a prolonged firefight. But it's Solder of Fortune, what would you expect?

Sadly the defining gore which made the original banned or censored in many countries was toned down a little for the sequel. Don't get me wrong, you could still dismember enemies with shotguns, suspend bodies in mid air with sub-machine gun fire as you riddle them with bullets and cut people literally in half with heavy machine guns, however the agonizing death screams of dying enemies was lessened and the animation of lower intestine poking through a ruined abdomen was very rare now and I think something truly artistic was lost. Additionally the controversial mechanic of the original game punishing you for killing U.S. civilians but allowing the death of Iraqi civilians without consequence was also removed and shooting any civilians is considered an instant fail in SoFII.

Soldier of Fortune writer Kenn Hoekstra penned a far superior story this time around which had all the hallmarks of a Bond movie and to his credit it can still be enjoyed to this day as something pretty unique in the FPS space. Of course as with any story it's only sold through the acting performances of its impressive cast including the great Todd Susman (Beverly Hills Cop II) as John Mullins with Mark Hamill (Star Wars), Earl Boen (The Terminator) Dee Bradley Baker (Star Wars: The Bad Batch), Nick Jameson (24) and Rosalind Chao (Star Trek: The Next Generation).

Final Verdict: It was nice to revisit an old school shooter of a bygone era with some of the most interesting examples of level design and array of locales in one game. While the gore was toned down from the original slightly, the gunplay and violence was and arguably is still among the most visceral video game violence ever released, earning several prestigious "banned list" positions or heavy censoring at the time.

Technicals: 15hrs playtime though GOG Galaxy in 3440x1440 @ 91FPS (Engine cap) via OGL on RTX3070Ti in Windows 11. No HDR.

Mods: ReShade for shader post-processing. Ultra widescreen fix. Ultrawide HUD fix. Ultrawide FOV settings enabled.

Bugs: None.

Availability: Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix is only available from GOG. Normal Retail price €9.99. Review copy purchased for €4.49 in June 2019.

Soldier of Fortune franchise

  • Soldier of Fortune (2000)
  • Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix (2002)
  • Soldier of Fortune: Payback (2007)

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