This week on Forgotten Gems we arent going back too far, a little over eleven years to be exact. Just before the launch of the Playstation 2, at a time when the PC gaming market was still strong and healthy. Soldier of Fortune was a first person shooter developed by U.S based Raven Software, known for realism within its shooting. Originally relesed for Windows in March of 2000 the title later hit the Playstation 2 and Dreamcast.
In Soldier of Fortune the player takes on the role of John Mullins, an American mercenary, or soldier of fortune if you will. Mullins takes his orders from a mysterious organisation known as the The Shop, who send Mullins round the world in a bid to stop a Neo-Nazi group from starting nuclear war. The game unfolds in various places around the globe. The games opening credits and first level take place in the New York subway system but Mullins soon finds himself in Uganda, Kosovo, Siberia, Iraq, Sudan, Japan and the game ends in Germany. Soldier of Fortune had a great sense of atmosphere, each location felt different and intriguing, from the heat of Uganda to the luxury penthouse in Japan. The game certainly had an engaging story, atmosphere and great locations, but these were not the main reason for it popularity. By far the most memorable aspect of Soldier of Fortune was the high level of gore throughout the game. Raven Software built the game on the Quake II engine but a modified version, adding the GHOUL damage model engine. This basically meant that the player could shoot an enemy in any part of the body and the blood and flesh would respond realistically, more so than most games. The player could shoot enemies leg clean off and watch them hop for a second in shock. Heads could be shoot off, disembowelment was common if enemies were shot in the stomach, a shotgun to the groin would see enemies grab themselves in agony before falling over dead. There was an extra level of entertainment in encountering each new adversary, as the player could observe the different ways that each bad guy would meet his (usually limb-less) fate. The gore within the game did not feel as though it was there to cause controversy, it felt more as the developers wanted to portray a more realistic interpretation of a shooting game. In reality bullets do horrible damage to the human body, and this is shown in the game. The game did not go out of its way to get a reaction in the same way that the Saw games or Postal attempt. The game came with options to disable gore and even a version of the game that came with the gore completely locked-out, known as Soldier of Fortune: Tactical Low-Violence Version. But as the blood and gore were one of the main draws to the game it would seem odd for anyone over the age of eighteen to purchase this censored version. Raven Software went on to develop more recent titles such as Singularity and the 2009 Wolfenstein as well as the classic Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, which also used the GHOUL engine. They are now a subsidiary of the mighty Activision and were involved in the development of the last two Call of Duty games. A sequel was released two years later with more of a focus on realistic tactical gameplay, taking inspiration from Tom Clancys Rainbow Six and Operation Flashpoint. Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix improved upon the gore and dismemberment of the first title with an updated game engine, in the form of a customised Quake III: Team Arena. Adding to the engine again, this time using GHOUL 2.0, which featured 36 gore zones, compared to the originals 26, allowing for a more horrifyingly detailed damage and dismemberment experience for the player. The third instalment in the Soldier of Fortune franchise was release years later by developers Cauldron, a Slovakia based company. The game was in no way a direct sequel and focused purely on the reputation for gore that the previous titles had acquired. Although the titles was a gore-fest the gameplay left much to be desired, but this was to be expected as Cauldrons previous sub-par obscure titles include The History Channel: Battle for the Pacific and Spellcross: The Last Battle. If you do need a fix of current generation gore, it might be worth picking up Soldier of Fortune: Payback as a budget buy, but it would be hard to justify for a full price purchase. As a side note Cauldron are also responsible for Cabelas Big Game Hunter 2010. Soldier of Fortune certainly stood out from other shooters of the time, and perhaps this was for the wrong reasons. But underneath the gore was a solid game that looked great, had and interesting story and had some great atmospheric moments. Sadly as Raven Software seem to be exploring other avenues of game development, it looks unlikely that there will be a true modern sequel to the original two games, one that could capture the atmosphere, locations and of course gore those brilliant titles.