It's been a little while since a Soldier of Fortune game has graced our presence. Now that Soldier of Fortune: Payback has been released, I'm wishing that we had to wait a little longer.
This game is a victim of "Rush to Release at Christmas Syndrome" if ever I saw one.
The story gives you a good indication of how bland the game is: an escort mission goes horribly wrong, and it's up to you (yes, YOU) to terminate an extremist plot aimed at throwing the world into utter chaos. Ugh. Cliché City. If that doesn't give you an idea of how unoriginal this game is, let me delve into the game a bit further.
Soldier of Fortune: Payback is a First Person Shooter, and the third game in the SoF series – but while the first two games were really groundbreaking at the time, the third one is a let down on almost every level – except one.
Soldier of Fortune games were best known for their excessive gore and dismemberment, and Payback does not disappoint. I don't think I've EVER seen this much gore in a videogame! Thanks to the many multiple "hit areas" on the character models, enemy bodies react realistically to wherever you shoot them. Shoot them in the foot with a shotgun, and that foot is long gone, leaving only a bloody stump. Throw a grenade at a couple of guys, and wish that they included an umbrella in your inventory, to stop yourself from being showered in a rain of blood and ligaments. Death and destruction in this shooter is so viscerally enjoyable, it almost redeems itself from it's not-so-enjoyable traits.
But there are so many of them, nothing can bring the game from out of the depths of mediocredom.
For starters, there are some escort missions that break up the action a little. This would be fine, if it wasn't for the fact that the game is bug ridden. If you were freed from a blood diamond camp, would you just sit in your cell and not move, even when being shot at? Would you walk halfway down a corridor stop dead in your tracks, and block your rescuer from moving in any direction? Nope, thought not. SoF Payback has many annoying glitches like this. What makes them worse is that once the civilian has stopped moving, you can't just reload the last checkpoint, but you have to reset the game, and restart the entire level from scratch.
Levels, while beautifully textured, are extremely linear. There is only one way to beat a level, and it's pointed out at you from the moment you the game starts. There is next to zero replayability due to the lack of freedom the player is given. While the levels are beautiful to look at, the enemies themselves are not. There's only so many identical people to shoot before you get bored, and it gets tricky to determine what's friend or foe when they all have the same face and clothes. The A.I. seems great at first glance, popping out from behind cars to take you out and working in packs to put lead in your face, but after seeing how enemies react exactly the way no matter what you do, you quickly realise that the game is merely jumping from one set piece to the next. This thought is confirmed when you hit the rare occasions of a section without set pieces, and the enemies all of a sudden become stupider than solar powered mining hats.
Fighting through idiot bad guys would be almost tolerable if the boss fights were decent. Unfortunately, they aren't. At All. Not only are the fights themselves very plain and unexciting, but they are also very easy, and have incredibly unsatisfying endings. Speaking of endings, Payback doesn't have one. For some reason, Cauldron HQ thought that this game would be a hot seller, and would warrant a cliffhanger ending. Oops!
Soldier of Fortune Payback was obviously a rushed release. With an extra six to eight months of work, it would have been a pretty good shooter. I want to like it due the its almost arcade style fun of blowing enemies into several pieces, but there isn't enough fun in the gore factor to warrant the purchase. Even online play gets boring after a few games (if you can find anyone to play with – i found only three players in the span of a month). If Payback was a budget game like it is on PC, then maybe I'd be a little more lenient, but for a full priced product, games like this do not cut the mustard, and should be avoided at all costs.
Soldier of Fortune: Payback is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language. This game can also be found on: PC, PS3.