Soldier of Fortune: Payback Preview
What is Soldier of Fortune known for? Brutality, plain and simple. The original shocked everyone with its over-the-top violence, and Cauldron came under fire in much the same way Rockstar did with Grand Theft Auto III. Therefore, it became a cult phenomenon, and it was no big surprise to see Activision resurrecting this franchise for the new generation; Soldier of Fortune: Payback is right around the corner. Even less surprisingly, the game has already been banned in Australia, and that may not be the last territory to refuse to classify Payback. This thing is so loaded down with blood and insane dismemberment, it's gonna get all kinds of negative attention from the media, anti-game activists (how come Jack Thompson hasn't tackled this one yet?), and concerned parents everywhere. Of course, if everybody would just abide by the rating, we wouldn't have any problem, but hey, they need something to blame for kids going ape in school.
We could start with the graphics or the story or something, but does it really matter? Who the hell is buying this game for cutting edge visuals, a wonderfully orchestrated soundtrack, or a gripping story? Nobody. But just for the sake of accuracy, we'll give you a brief rundown of the stuff that remains secondary to the gameplay: you will assume the role of a mercenary who works for "The Shop." You head out to enforce your will because...well, because it's what you do. You will face all kinds of resistance, and during your adventure, you'll see some pretty disgusting things. This will make any God of War or Resident Evil title appear tame in direct comparison, because Payback will reset the bar for just plain silly violence. If you examine this game closely, you'll notice the control and style isn't radically different than any other FPS; in fact, it will play just about the same as any other shooter coming out this holiday season. However, the biggest difference lies not in the releasing of bullets, but what those bullets do when they make contact with human flesh.
The reason this game is going to catch so much flak is simple: the result of a bullet, while probably over-exaggerated, is actually quite realistic, and that translates to a serious amount of gore. If you shoot someone in the arm, there's a good chance he'll lose his arm below the elbow. You can blow off the bottom part of a guy's leg if you shoot out the kneecap, and he'll flop to the ground in agony. If a bullet rips through a foe's neck, he'll clutch at the wound as blood clearly spurts all over the place. But just because you inflicted a seemingly absurd amount of damage, your opponents won't die immediately (unless you removed the head, or something). They'll crawl along the ground, still trying to shoot you, attempt to find cover if they can no longer walk, and in general, leave themselves susceptible to even more punishment. It's a guarantee that one of the reasons Australia cited "high impact violence" in their refusal to give a rating to Payback is due to this aspect. A player could theoretically continue to shoot off limbs even after the enemy has basically given up.
This is the kind of thing the ratings people might deem as unnecessary torture, which is why our Aussie friends will have to import this game if they want to play it. However, as we said before, you're looking at some pretty impressive physical accuracy. Unless the bullet nails a vital organ, a human should be able to survive for at least a little while (especially if they're wearing body armor of some kind), so don't expect an easy blood-soaked romp. No, these guys can deal with a lot of pain, and they're hell-bent on finishing you off. Considering this is the case, we do expect a significant amount of difficulty just because your opponents refuse to accept death. We also wonder how different each of those enemies will be, and whether or not we'll have to use strategy when dealing with something like an elite soldier. For example, if a particularly nasty foe is wearing a chest plate of some kind, do we have to target the arms and legs to deal damage? To us, it seems like a logical step to take in development; it adds appreciated - and perhaps essential - depth.
And how will you go about causing such massive pain and destruction? Well, while the standard FPS structure remains, Activision is including another feature that will force players to use a bit of preparation. You'll be able to choose between a bunch of primary and secondary weapons at the start of each mission, which is good, but it begs the question: does this mean we won't be able to replace those weapons with any others we find during the mission? Or are we simply limited to the number of guns we can carry? With over 40 true-to-life weapons in the game, we'd like to think we wouldn't be too limited when it comes to carrying inventory; realism is great, but hey, we want our options in battle. Remember the likes of Doom III or Unreal Tournament 2007, where we could carry whatever we picked up? Yeah, that wouldn't work in this particular situation, but having so many weapons at your fingertips is always crazy fun. We're just saying. On the other hand, we do like the idea of preparing for missions ahead of time because it's more like Ghost Recon.
As for the rest, Payback should boast plenty of different environments, which will give the player plenty of opportunities to experiment with the diverse weaponry. You won't have a lot of crap cluttering up the screen, either; the health system is just like the one we find in Call of Duty- no HUD health display or meter. We assume the screen will flash red or there will be some sort of warning when we're close to death, but we can't really be sure at this point... It doesn't really matter, though, so long as we can take cover and regain our lost energy. The focus will be squarely on offense, and it'll be up to you to deliver the total smack-down during just about every second of gameplay, and that's a concept FPS fans can really wrap their heads around. The original Soldier of Fortune was far from a perfect game, and subsequent installments definitely weren't flawless, but they were all entertaining. Of course, that entertainment was a little sick and twisted, but adults are entitled to a bit of stress release, aren't they? Damn straight we are.
Activision must've been keeping Soldier of Fortune: Payback secret for a while, because the official announcement for the game only came last week, and it's scheduled for a November 13 launch for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Let's hope they come through and deliver the bloody action in spades.
10/24/2007 Ben Dutka