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of Fortune II: Double Helix
Score: 6.5 / 10
Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, Brute
Force, Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War, and Ghost Recon are
some of the most notable Xbox games featuring clandestine soldiers of
fortune/mercenaries/ultra-secretive military strike forces as their lead
characters. Joining their ranks is the first-person shooter Soldier of
Fortune II: Double Helix (SoFII), a port of the well-received PC game
from last year. Unfortunately, SoFII on the Xbox comes up shooting
blanks with a very mediocre adaptation that has few redeemable features
outside its strong multiplayer Xbox Live presence.
High-fiving worthy features imported over from SoFII’s PC version start
with the credible storyline. You get to lace up the combat boots as
mercenary-for-hire John Mullins, another in the long line of gruff and
tough Duke Nukem-type characters.
Mullins gets most of his work from The
Shop, an underground operation inconspicuously hidden beneath the depths
of a city bookshop that does all the “dirty” work that the CIA and other
worldwide governmental agencies can’t handle. Mullins is signed on to
trace the insidious path of a deadly germ-warfare virus and those
involved in its creation and planning to use it all around the globe.
Mullins’ pursuit of the virus gives the developers an opportunity to
include many varied levels for gamers to play including city streets,
cargo ships, South American jungles, and snow-covered regions.
But while all those exotic locales add up to 50-odd missions for the
single-player story campaign, SoFII starts to have some of the
vulnerable chinks in its gameplay armor exposed within its single-player
experience. Yes, it’s true there are plenty of missions to occupy you,
but it’s a real stretch calling some of these “missions.” SoFII has some
of the absolutely worst gameplay mission levels ever designed since
video games have been around. Get this for an enthralling action-packed
“mission”: you must walk the halls of The Shop searching for the right
elevator and door to get you to the office for your meeting with the
head honchos and to learn your assignment details. Just wandering the
halls looking for the right elevator and door to enter. No enemies to
fight. No time-clock to race against. Nothing. Just looking for an
elevator and door.
Too exciting for you? How about the “mission” that has you walking
through a germ-proof plastic tunnel in the unlucky town that was
actually used as an experiment for the deadly virus. Again, no enemies,
no threats to your well-being. Just walking leisurely through the tunnel
to the field laboratory. No wait, it gets more exciting.
There’s the mission that requires you to walk across the street and ring
the doorbell of the bookstore that acts as the cover for The Shop. There
was a individual walking around that I wasn’t sure about. He looked like
he most likely was a Shop lookout, but since I wasn’t sure, I shot him
dead. I wasn’t penalized for shooting him, still gaining admission to
The Shop without incident or mention of my homicidal tendencies.
Mixed with these action-packed “missions” are ones that are just plain
annoying. After buddying up with a separated elite military unit, you
must do the required mission objectives in the exact order needed or the
unit commander will actually shoot you. There’s no direction as to what
you need to do first, and it takes more than a few attempts trying to
complete it before you actually get a clue as to what needs to be done
in what order, but until you figure it out, your reward for helping the
military unit search and rescue their captured teammates is a bullet in
the back of the head.
I even tried to shoot the three members of the unit, thinking that would
alleviate the bullet headache I was being inflicted with, but even
though there was no one around to shoot me, the game actually killed me
because I hadn’t played the mission correctly. I was literally left to
ponder out loud: if these missions were actually in the PC version of
SoFII, then how could it get such high review scores? There are more
than a few missions like in the jungles of Columbia and the surprisingly
enjoyable mission that places you at the helm of the gun in an attack
chopper attacking enemies below, that are smartly designed and do
actually compensate for, in the words of Comic Book Guy from The
Simpsons, the “Worst. Videogame missions. Ever.”
Making matters worse is the bad graphics that strain your eyes. The Xbox
is capable of some great graphics and SoFII on the PC was commended for
its visuals, but it’s clear that there is an aging graphic engine behind
the looks of SoFII, because they aren’t up to today’s standards.
On top of a shoddy appearance, the enemy artificial intelligence comes
up 12 inches short of a foot in a lot of areas. While the enemy will
hide behind objects, too many times they’ll display bad judgment when
trying to eliminate your hide from the face of the earth. Some
apparently suicidal chaps will rush at you despite your gunfire at them.
In other areas of the game, some enemies, usually in the distance posted
as a sentry, are obviously looking right at you, but do nothing. You can
take all day lining up a headshot with your sniper rifle, but yet they
will still never move until they crumple dead after you shoot them.
Speaking of headshots, the only good graphical touch is the gore that
occurs when you shoot enemies square in the head, especially when zoomed
in at 20%. The head explodes away from the body in a realistically
bloody mess and at that magnification, you get the full visual effect.
SoFII does have a few more saving graces that rescue it from being a
total disaster. It has one of the most impressive collection of weaponry
in any shooter game, with more than 25 items to help Mullins complete
his task. Featured are numerous pistols, rifles, machine guns, rocket
launchers, and a vast selection of incendiary devices. Although the
rifles and machine guns are the more effective weapons, the ability to
use two pistols at one time packs a pretty impressively powerful punch.
What really raises SoFII from the ashes of mediocrity is its magnificent
multiplayer gaming via Live. A worthy rival to Ghost Recon and Castle
Wolfenstein in Xbox Live play, SoFII not only has a myriad of
multiplayer online modes immediately familiar to Counter-Strike veterans
such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Elimination,
Infiltration, and Demolition, it also features incredibly large maps.
There’s so many areas of a map to explore it’s easy to get lost,
especially after getting fragged and re-spawning in an unfamiliar area
in the map. But it also allows for better ambushing of unsuspecting
enemies and also increased effective team-based combat with plenty of
take-cover quarters for prolonged firefights. The voice communication
function through the walkie-talkie takes some configuring to get it to
work properly in-game, but other than that, SoFII’s multiplayer gaming
SoFII’s single-player mode has little to offer Xbox gamers that they
can’t get better in other titles. There are just too many other good
games to buy instead of the flawed SoFII. Its multiplayer mode offers
all those Castle Wolfenstein and Ghost Recon players an alternative
similarly designed title to hit the online battlefield with, so only
those with Xbox Live should really consider adding SoFII to their game