Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix, by MacPlay
Posted: 29-Nov-2002

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: MacPlay Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: GAMES

Soldier of Fortune II puts you in the role of John Mullins, a military specialist trained in a vast assortment of weapons, anti-terrorist strategies, and how to be a badass. Your mission in the game is to hunt down a terrorist group that is using a new bio-weapon called the Gemini Virus. The task will take you across multiple continents and real-world locations, requiring the use of both stealth and full-out assault.

Soldier of Fortune is an adrenaline rush, and currently the only software I have that has encouraged me to boot up under OS X (it only runs in OS X). Due to productivity needs and personal preferences, I am not compelled to use OS X, and only boot up in it when I absolutely have to. After I received Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix, built for OS X, I found myself compelled to boot up in OS X daily. After completing the game, I returned to OS 9, but fond memories of the game still linger with me, like an exciting memory of my own personal history. Was I playing a game, or did I really just save the world?

Game Play
Soldier of Fortune (SoF) is a first person action shooter built around the character of John Mullins, a military special agent. While the story is very captivating, what really makes this game shine is the graphics, sounds and realistic physics. The realism in this game far surpasses anything I have ever played on the Mac or PC. The graphics and sounds are awesome, really pushing the envelope for a first person action shooter. It also pushes the envelope on system requirements, as you won't be playing SoF with anything less than a 400 Mhz G4 and 128 MB of RAM (and I'd recommend double of each).

As the story unfolds, you find yourself taking on different missions, and within each mission are different tasks that need to be completed. Some tasks are given at the beginning of the mission, and others are revealed as you go along. With the exception of the beginning, where you start with a minimal supply of weapons, each mission starts with a mission screen where you decide which weapons you want to start the mission with (each mission also provides a suggested list of weapons). From pistols, to shot guns, to automatic rifles, there's plenty of hardware to choose from.

The tasks involve many different kinds of things, from meeting someone, to locating an area, blowing something up, infiltrating a building, or an assasination. This game does a great job of integrating the story with the action, and there is lots of variety. I never felt like I was just doing the same thing but in a different place. The stealth missions were a real challenge, and the sense of sneaking around so that you are not discovered adds a lot of suspense to the game.

The graphics and the sounds are two key factors to what makes this game so realistic and thrilling. I remember the first time I was running through the jungle, and the leaves from the ferns and other plants slid by my face so realistically that I could almost feel them brush up against me. The character graphics are photo-realistic, and close-ups show an amazing amount of detail. In fact, in-play graphics are so well done that the game utilizes them for the cut scenes that are played through out the game.

The ambient sounds and the music also add much to the action and suspense. Each mission takes place in a different location, and in different countries, and SoF does a remarkable job at making the characters feel true to life. There are dozens of different phrases that characters shout out in each country in the dialect of that country. I never really understood what most of the phrases means, but the accents were authentics, and after a few encounters, you quickly learn which phrases in each language indicate that a grenade has been tossed at you.

The feature of SoF that really blew me away was the physics of the game action. Virtually anything you shot at had an effect associated with it, and the effect was different depending upon what you hit. Once I was on a machine gun and had already cleared the area, so I expended the remaining bullets at a bunker wall and proceeded to spell my name. That was really cool. When striking another character, there are all kinds of effects, whether wounding an arm or a leg, or a shot at the groin (amusingly the character immediately covers the groin with both hands as he screams in pain), or a head shot that takes the enemy out immediately. You shoot someone in the arm, and they drop their gun and run away; but soon after, they pick up another gun left by someone else, and return to the fight. You shoot someone in the leg, and they limp around, still firing at you. Toss a grenade in a group of enemies, and one of them usually picks it up and throws it back at you. Using strategy, you learn how to toss grenades so that at least one of them blows up and takes out the enemy.

The gore level can be controlled so that blood and guts are not displayed, but I had my game on high gore, which also added to the intensity. You could literally sever limbs with the right shots, or even blow someone's head off, and the bloods trickles out, sometimes even spurts (like an artery was hit), complete with the spurting sound. Actions allows besides walking, running and shooting are jumping, crouching, crawling, and leaning. I remember many scenes where I was behind a building, and the enemies were behind other buildings, and we were all leaning over to take a view, take a shot, and then retreat back behind the building. It was just like out of a movie, and felt incredibly real. Sometimes you couldn't tell the cut scene movies apart from the action. In once scene, you are being extracted on a helicopter. At first I just stood there and watched, but then realized that I was still in control of the character, and I proceeded to man the helicopter machine gun and shoot at enemy targets as we flew by. There were other instances like this throughout the game, whether a helicopter, a truck, or a gondola.

Besides the standard single player game, SoF also provides random missions and multiplayer games. The random missions let you pick what type of mission to play (assassination, infiltration, etc.), as well as other aspects of the map (day/night, terrain type, etc.), and then randomly generates the map. These are timed missions (or you can turn off the time limit if you prefer) where you must achieve your goal and then find you extract point. These games are like taking a single task out of the main game and just focusing on that, with the exception that you cannot save your game in this format. You must complete your mission, and if you die, you have to start over again. It's a great way to become better at navigating your character, but it can be more frustrating as well. I couldn't review the multiplayer aspect of the game because every time I went to GameRanger to look for another player, there was no one there.

There just isn't enough time or space in a review to illustrate all that SoF has to offer, but it's been a long time since I remember enjoying a game this much. SoF is not without it's problems, however. Both in the random missions and the main single player game I occasionally had the program crash on me. Being that it is a native OS X application, it didn't affect the system, and I was able to start the game right back up, but it was still annoying. I found that as I got deeper into the single player game, the crashes were more infrequent (in fact, past the halfway point, I don't recall the game crashing at all). The saved game screens were a little quirky. When selecting the game to load, it is supposed to show a still from the saved game to help remember where that saved game took place. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't. Also, as you move the cursor from saved game title to another, I also noticed that the background screen was still active, so the cursor was affecting the background as well as the foreground. And as a minor nitpick, when loading a game you first select the saved game, then click load the game, and then are given but another prompt to verify that's the game you want to load. That in my opinion was just one click too many.

In terms of game play, I am hard pressed to find anything I didn't like, but there are a couple of things that stand out in my mind. Neither of these are a criticism to the game play in general, but are very specific to different time points in the game. One is when I was infiltrating the mansion in stealth mode (trying not to be discovered). After finally getting into the building, there was one point where I had to use my silencer on the maid because if I let her see me, the jig was up and I became toast. Due to the realism of the game, I did not like being put in a position of taking out an innocent. It was the only point in the game that required it. The other game event that was not my favorite were the fights against the helicopters. The first encounter of a helicopter fight, you can only take it out by a cannon in a building. This set me up to believing that the weapons that I carry would not take out a helicopter. Hence, in the second encounter on a rooftop, I ran around for literally hours (days really) trying to find some room, some button that would clue me in. Every once in awhile I'd take some shots, but they did not appear to have any affect. After a long long time, I finally concluded that I had to take out the helicopter with my weapons, and it was extremely difficult. Providing some clue that I needed to take out the helicopter would have saved me a lot of wasted time, but taking out the helicopter was still not my favorite. It appears the last two helicopter scenes were meant to be climatic battles, but they just were not that much fun to me. Perhaps if it were possible to shoot a grenade into the helicopter rather than hitting it with well over 300 long metal jackets I would have enjoyed it more.

Summary
With its integrated story, physics, graphics and sound, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix was more than I ever imagined a first-person action shooter could become in terms of realism. Parents will need to be careful about the gore control for the young ones, but for adults, SoF scores a home run for suspense, action, intensity and realism.


Pros:

  • Photo-realistic graphics and crisp high quality sounds
  • Well integrated and captivating story
  • Realistic physics
  • Random mission generator

Cons:

  • Some instability problems
  • Quirky screens when loading saved games
  • Helicopter scenes needed some prep, and can be tedious
  • Why did they make me shoot the maid?


Overall Rating:

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice