Find your fortune...with an array of large guns...
I usually reserve my Retro Reflection pieces for pre-2000s era games, preferring to enlighten you, our audience, on the pixelated games that stood out before the advent of Quake III graphic engines and online multiplayer fiascoes.
But sometimes, there’s a retro itch that just needs to be proverbially scratched. A certain game that left more than an impression on me, not just for its over-glorification of violence but through its depiction of the world’s conflicts. Bear in mind this was all well before Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, in the world of off-the-books military mercenaries. I’m talking about Soldier of Fortune.
Named after the real life firearm-celebrating magazine of the same name, Soldier of Fortune follows in the boots of mustachioed Vietnam veteran John Mullins (a real-life war hero and former black ops soldier), who has taken up work as a “consultant” (read: mercenary) for an anti-terrorist group known as The Shop. Mullins is assisted by his seemingly roided-up partner Hawk, who serves as the typecast black friend who either needs rescuing or helps Mullins’ catch the cronies, depending on the mission.
From the first prologue mission in a New York City subway station, it quickly becomes apparent why this title turned so many heads back in 2000; the gore. Not just blood and guts (which was already well established in FPS games) but how the human character models would separate when shot with various guns and calibre of bullets. The GHOUL engine let developer Raven Software assign damage models for 26 different parts of the body; head shots with a powerful gun would usually make the head explode entirely, leaving a bloody, squirting stump. A shot to the hand would or forearm would have your enemies clutching the wound and slinking away to cover. A shotgun blast to the crotch would make them keel over and die while cupping their balls. There was literally no end to the combinations of dismemberment, and for the ultimate demonstration you could shoot bodies on the ground until nothing but a punctured torso remained.
The more things change…
The year 2000 was a great one for FPS games with the likes of Deus Ex, Perfect Dark and Thief II all entering the history books. Though it wasn’t anything groundbreaking at the time, Soldier of Fortune‘s plot of a lone gunman taking on a paramilitary group stealing and selling nuclear weapons was still a reasonably fresh approach that hadn’t been done to death yet.
As the most badass of The Shop’s mercenaries, Mullins is sent in to get the job done (pardon my action blockbuster trailer voice) by going after a Neo Nazi group in Germany and chasing down the leader – a villain by the name Sergei Dekker – through various countries around the world. The missions see you shoot your way through locations including New York, Kosovo, Tokyo, Basra and others with some interesting level designs. The mission in Soroti, Uganda for example, sees you moving through the pipes and sewers of a slaughterhouse, the blood and remains of livestock squelching under your feet. The levels are tactical in nature, meaning that stealth options should be considered over the usual run and gun, however most encounters usually end up as all-out firefights.
Yet one the coolest things about Soldier of Fortune was that real-life mercenary, John Mullins himself, was hired as a consultant during the game’s development. Involvement from military experts is commonplace now (just look at any Tom Clancy title), but few former soldiers would agree to both their name and face being inserted into the game. Many draw a strong resemblance to CoD 4‘s SAS hero Captain Price to Mullins’ bushy mustache and boonie hat, but Infinity Ward has never admitted to using the veteran soldier’s face as base for the Price model.
The franchise did see two sequels in SoF: Double Helix and SoF: Payback, both which improved on the GHOUL gore engine. Double Helix did get a positive reception but by the time Payback came out in 2007, Call of Duty had already taken the throne of popular FPS games. But as a fresh IP, Soldier of Fortune held its own, stacked up against the plethora of World War II shooters that were so popular at the time.