The Soldier of Fortune franchise has always held a special place in my heart. Not because it was a well-designed shooter or because it had a deep and engaging story. No the real reason I have always loved the series is because I attain a sick satisfaction from watching body parts fly across the screen. In a day and age where gaming seems afraid of its own shadow it is nice to see a game that isn’t afraid to pepper the environments with dismembered body parts. Granted everything else about SoF Payback is entirely mediocre, if you enjoyed previous outings then this third installment will likely satisfy your primal urge to watch heads explode like watermelons.
Let’s be totally honest about this; the story is insipid at best. You are a hired mercenary who is double crossed by your own and of course payback ensues. The framework for the storyline couldn’t be any more predictable if it tried, but in a genre where story is sometimes only used to fill vacant loading screens it is ustifiable. To be perfectly honest outside of a few standouts I couldn’t tell you the last memorable FPS I played outside of the obvious Halos and Half-Lifes.
Developer Cauldron has instead focused on what made the first two SoF games so popular; intense amounts of blood and gore. And to their credit the carnage manages to entertain on a simplistic level for the short duration of the campaign. Arms and legs rain down from the sky after a grenade toss and shotgun blasts create waterfalls of red goodness that would send any videogame hating senator into a seizure. At times it can be almost comical to watch the appendages plummet from the sky, but it is always amusing. Plus if you are somehow offended by all of this there is an option to turn off the blood and gore, of course if you do that you are eliminating the game’s best feature as well as destroying any reason to play it in the first place.
Everything else about SoF Payback is extremely average which means if you are turned off by the gore there probably isn’t much for you to derive joy from. The campaign is a short trek that will last the average gamer around seven hours depending on the difficulty you play on and outside of some hefty Achievements there isn’t much incentive to keep you coming back. Difficulty in the game doesn’t come in the form of craft AI, but instead from not being able to pinpoint enemies and having them spawn randomly behind you allowing them a few quick cheap shots.
The AI is also guilty of complete stupidity more often than not. I can’t begin to tell you how many times an enemy ran straight past me only to come back around and try to melee me instead of taking the easy shot in the back. It is also frustrating that regardless of whether or not you can get a bead on them the enemies have no trouble sniping you with a shotgun from just about any distance. On normal difficulty you will not die often and bumping it up to hard only makes the game frustrating because of the aforementioned issues; thankfully blowing these brainless baboons into shreds is enjoyable enough to make you forget about it.
Your weapons of destruction are ripped directly from the set of any Sylvester Stallone movie from the 80s. Shotguns rip through enemies like hot butter, SAW machine guns tear through flesh like Swiss cheese, and grenades and rocket launchers create an avalanche of giblets that at times had me literally chuckling out loud. Yes this game is gruesome and for that I loved every minute of it.
Gore and violence can only go so far though and with terrible AI and a short campaign you may wonder what else there is to keep you occupied. SoF does come packed with an archetypal multi-player that neither insults or advances the genre. Standard modes are present (deathmatch, capture the flag, etc.) but without the gore found in the single player you will likely migrate to some of the other, more interesting shooters the holidays have to offer. It is also unlikely that you will max out a room as the number of players online is miniscule at best. So unless you have a group of friends willing to lay down the dough and rip online with you Payback may not satisfy your online fragging needs.
Visually the game isn’t innately awful but it does sport some rough patches. Environments are well detailed and the gore is presented in fantastic fashion. However, the frame rate tends to drop below satisfactory levels at times and the enemies look like they were ripped right out of an N64 cartridge. Animations on the other hand are passable and downright hilarious at times, especially when you manage to separate an enemy from his legs, but there are random glitches such as dancing legs after they have been removed, which only added to the humor of watching limbs fly around.
SoF Payback is miles from being a bad game, in fact if the season hadn’t seen so many AAA shooters all at once it could have gotten by on its gore alone. If you are a fan of the series and can handle some of the hang-ups found in this latest chapter then by all means snatch it up, I know I could use more people online to play with. However, most FPS gamers looking for the next best thing will find Payback a bit too much on the derivative side to warrant its full price tag.