Soldier of Fortune for Dreamcast is a first person shooter released by Raven and Runecraft in 2001. Set during the tail end of the fighting in Kosovo in the late 90’s you play John Mullins; a mercenary with a gravelly voice and a bunch of guns who wants to shoot Neo-Nazis.
The story is bad. Most of the time while I was playing the flimsy pretexts predicating what I was supposed to be doing were so lacklustre that it was sometimes unclear what was going on. A skeleton of a story is there and I don’t meant it’s totally incoherent. What happens is that you will be playing when suddenly the screen fades out and dumps you in another room set during the events of a cutscene while things explode suddenly and then everything cuts to black followed by: “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” being flashed on a black screen. It’s a loose, flimsy narrative that barely does its job.
So, this game isn’t to be played for the story, however the gameplay is fairly solid. You are given a simple objective at the beginning of each level and it’s your job to shoot as many arms off as possible in pursuit of said objective. The game utilises a modified version of the Quake 2 engine that allows you to blow the limbs off of enemies in a hilarious display of dismemberment. It is actually kind of funny the first few times but as wave after wave of meat flies in your face it becomes a little stale.
Control is pretty excellent with the Dreamcast controller and the keyboard and mouse makes things much easier and very PC like. Playing with the Dreamcast controller you have to hold down L as a shift button which changes the context of certain buttons, however this is standard procedure for Dreamcast shooters.
Movement is fairly fluid and gunplay is satisfying with aiming being quite accessible. I had a lot of issues with certain things though. For instance, climbing ladders and jumping off of them to your left or right is a frustrating experience that causes you to plummet to the ground several times before you end up nailing it. Additionally, the promise of new pathways being opened is often dampered by the presence of poorly designed jumping puzzles that require you to flail around and grow increasingly frustrated while John struggles to find a place he likes to climb up onto on that pipe.
Enemy AI is not great. I actually ran through entire levels with a knife just running head first into enemies and slashing them to death because they would react so slowly that acting with total disregard for your own safety is actually a sound tactic. Later in the game AI improves with enemies jumping backwards or sideways while they shoot meaning the knife thing is a little harder to pull off, however the overabundance of ammunition, even on harder difficulties, means you are never really challenged very much by Soldier of Fortune. That said, the game is fun and if you have the inclination to blows some limbs off then the simplistic level design and dumb AI is easy to overlook.
One thing kills Soldier of Fortune for me; the load times. I played for one hour and 40 minutes for this review and 40 minutes of that was loading screens. I am not exaggerating. I sat and counted each loading screen and added them together and I had to collectively sit through 40 minutes of loading. Let that sink in. That is 20 minutes less than I was playing the game. The game almost had to load every minute it would let me play. That is absolutely inexcusable. To make matters worse, while the game was loading it sounded like my Dreamcast was screaming. I swear it was getting close to pouring gasoline on itself and setting itself on fire.
How are the graphics in Soldier of Fortune? Not bad actually. Textures are pretty hit and miss with some really nice, high quality textures every now and then but a lot of blurry ones. Characters animate fairly well when shot in their many damage zones but they just don’t look good. Everything is way too boxy to take seriously and although weapon models are pretty impressive, average geometry is seriously lacking in polygons and very angular.
It’s one of those Dreamcast games that looks kind of good sometimes but just lacks attention to detail and texture resolution. It’s certainly no Shenmue.
Do I dislike Soldier of Fortune? Absolutely not. I thought this game really had its moments. I like the concept of being able to blow enemies to high hell all over a room with meaty weaponry. It was fun at times and if the level design wasn’t so bland, objectives so homogenous and load times so mind numbingly unbearable the game would have certainly scored better. Soldier of Fortune is so full of missed opportunities and poor design choices that it feels like a rough port. It is rough, very rough and if you’re a fan of FPS titles then you might be able to overlook its issues and enjoy the game for what it is. I for one have a hard time doing that.