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Soldier of Fortune: Payback

Some questions popped into my head after spending about 15 minutes playing Soldier of Fortune: Payback. They were, in no particular order:

* Is it possible for a human being to die in that position?
* Can I ever run out of ammo?
* Is it morally reprehensible to laugh at a fleeing enemy after I’ve shot their arms off and they’re screaming?


I wish I had only spent 15 minutes with Soldier of Fortune: Payback, but I went against my better judgment and unfortunately suffered through this game for another few hours. During those first 15 minutes, I was still chuckling with the absurdity of the gore, hadn’t quite noticed the brokenness of the game’s mechanics, and had yet to get frustrated with performance issues and abysmal A.I. But once I stopped laughing, I started to recognize how poor this failed FPS really is.

In Soldier of Fortune: Payback you play as a mercenary named Mason who is out for revenge after being double-crossed. This prehistoric action hero is more Duke Nukem than Gordon Freeman and comes complete with a bag full of shitty one-liners, a gruff voice over that tries way too hard to sound like Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer character, and a take-no-prisoners attitude. Mason is only interested in killing as many terrorists as possible, regardless of the collateral damage, which means you’re going to kill lots and lots of generic goons and blow up a lot of red barrels.


Mason’s mission will take him to all of the terrorist hotspots that Americans love to fear, including China, the Middle East, and Africa. And not only does our hero fight through these generic terrorist hotspots, all of the terrorists he kills are carbon-copies of typical terrorist stereotypes. Even worse, you’ll often kill a few hundred random goons per level, but there are only about two or three enemy models to lace with bullets, which means you kill the same guy about 60-80 times per level. You’ll shoot through wave after wave of head-scarf wearing Middle Eastern terrorists and then blow up wave after wave of African terrorists wearing aviator sunglasses. Perhaps the terrorists were actually using a secret army of clones that will be revealed in the sequel, but I highly doubt that.

The storyline thinly ties all of these locations together through intelligence usually discovered after Mason is finished blowing up everything in sight (you rarely actually gather any information yourself). Mason’s handler, a woman named Decker who sits in a communication center thousands of miles away, has access to so many seemingly endless databases of intelligence files and satellite videos that it makes the storyline hard to swallow. While the actual real world struggles to locate terrorists camps and shut down terror cells, Mason and Decker seem to know where every terrorist is at all times. Decker was even able to find the specific set of keys I needed to find in order to open a random door on a sprawling base in Africa. She was even helpful enough to set up a waypoint marker so that I could find them easily. And people fear the US government. It’s clearly these secret mercenaries that we need to worry about.


With this generous waypoint system that leads you directly to whatever objective you need to complete, plus incredibly linear levels with no branching paths, combined with absolutely no need for strategy or technique when bullets are in endless supply, you can almost run into any room and simply close your eyes and spray at random and probably live to tell about it. Almost. In some areas you can run, without cover, into swarms of enemies and escape unscathed. You may not even need to strafe, just simply standing and spraying lead is enough to defeat the brain-dead foes. Most enemies are more concerned with getting to the location their script tells them to run to and will often run into a pile of their dead friends despite the position clearly being compromised. Respawning enemies during boss battles reinforce and demonstrate this pathetic lack of artificial intelligence, as they’ll often respawn and do exactly the same thing as the guy they replaced did.

Then, on the flip side, are the absurd boss battles against terrorist leaders. If you hadn’t played a first-person shooter since the original Doom, these battles might seem acceptable, but in the modern age of first-person shooters, they just don’t cut it. The game was already pushing the envelope in terms of believability when it gave us Mason, the terrorist killing machine. It completely obliterates any reality or seriousness (the storyline actually tries to convince us that this is real and plausible) when you have to pump a couple hundred bullets into a guy’s head in order to kill him. It’s just an absurd, dumb, and lazy mechanic that shouldn’t be in any first-person shooter anymore, let alone one in a franchise as storied and praised as the Soldier of Fortune franchise.


Furthering the antiquated feel of the title is the lack of proper FPS mechanics. While the game has the glossy graphics of a modern game, the whole thing plays like it was designed ten years ago. You can’t lean around corners, which limits the amount of cover that you can use. The lack of cover furthers the “run in and kill, stop thinking!” mentality of the game. You also can’t make adjustments to the graphics outside of resolution. This isn’t always a problem, but there were times where I saw heavy fluctuations in my framerate at times and in most other games, I would have been able to make the necessary adjustments to prevent this.

Honestly, I’m tired of talking about this. I’m even tired of playing it. While I make it a goal to play every game I review to completion, there’s just no way that I am going to waste more my life playing this awful waste of time. I really loved the first two games in the Soldier of Fortune franchise, but this entry is a smear on an otherwise excellent, entertaining franchise. It’s just dumb, illogical, and lacks any of the improvements that the genre has made in the last ten years. Even Soldier of Fortune (and especially Soldier of Fortune 2) feels more advanced than this game. I don’t understand how a company that makes FPS games could have thought this was worthy of a release, let alone at full-price. Soldier of Fortune: Payback is not worth your time. The heavy gore may seem enticing, but as soon as you get over blowing someone’s brains to bits, there is nothing else to keep you entertained or even remotely interested.

2 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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