Game: "Soldier of Fortune: Payback"
System: PC
Genre: Action
Published by: Activision

Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Posted: 2/27/2008

Review: Years ago, Raven Software decided to develop a First Person Shooter that was less about blasting robots and demons in outer space, and more about reducing earth-bound humans to bloody corpses. Thus was borne the original Soldier of Fortune. They did everything they good to capture the lifestyle of a soldier-for-hire. They even hired John Mullins, an actual mercenary, as a consultant. As a FPS, it was pretty average. The thing that really stuck out about the game, however, was the detailed level of gore that showed up on character models as they were wounded. Gaping bullet holes, severed limbs, disembowelings, and even more detailed gore in the sequel. After the second game, the series went off the radar, and it was assumed that virtual John Mullins' adventures had come to an end. Well, it turns out they had, but there was more mercenary work to be had.

Activision had acquired Raven Software years earlier, so you would think that the two companies would have worked together on Payback. Not so. Instead, they contracted the work out to Cauldron, a company operating out of the Slovak Republic. Admittedly, they were unfamiliar with the SoF series, but they've made some good games... well, they've made some games in the past, so Activision decided to let them have a go at the series. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. To begin with, there is no real story for this game. You play a generic, tough-talking mercenary guy, and you are dropped into each mission with very little explanation. The very name of the game implies that revenge is going to be a central plot point, but instead, the game introduces the concept in the first mission, when your partner kills the person you were supposed to protect, and then resolves the issue when you kill said partner moments later. The rest of the "payback" is you going to all the classic realistic FPS sites (desert, jungle, big city, etc) to undo the network of, let's say terrorists, that your partner worked for.

Games like this typically rely on action more than story, but the developers managed to foul this up even worse. Before each mission, you can select from a wide variety of real-world guns, but each type of gun (pistol, shotgun, machine gun, rifle) is all but identical to every other gun in the same class. You can try to mix it up by putting accessories like silencers and laser sights on your guns, but there's little point to this, as there is no stealth system in place, and the AI is bad enough that most times you can get away with just mowing down enemies as they appear, heedless of strategy.

The developers must have been at least subconsciously aware of this failing, as they have tried to make up for the brainless AI in other areas of difficulty. Most notably, they failed to balance any of the weapon damage. Your character has health that will regenerate if left alone long enough, but enemies in the back half of the game will routinely pack shotguns and machine guns that will literally kill you in only two shots. My personal favorite, though, were the handful of moments when attacking enemies would become completely invulnerable to bullets. I would lay on the trigger, and the bad would run down the stream of bullets to club me to death with his own seemingly empty gun.

And topping off all the fun I've described thus far is the sound. The voice acting is bad, which comes as somewhat of a surprise considering the previous games employed talented VA's like Cam Clarke and Mark Hamill. What was even more surprising was that all the in-game VO's sound like they're being broadcast through a WWII-era transistor radio. To think that a publisher as big as Activision wouldn't even shell out the dough to pay for decent recording equipment...

No, you know what? It isn't that surprising that Activision was being cheap there. When you play Soldier of Fortune: Payback, and I highly recommend that you don't, what you're playing is not a game. It is a shameless, half-assed attempt by Activision to make more money on a decent series that fans will wish had remained dormant. The whole game looks, sounds, and feels cheap. You can tell that Activision wanted to spend as little money as possible to make SoF: Payback. At the same time, they still feels justified in asking no less than $39.99 for the game. I got a used copy off eBay for $15, and I still feel ripped off. Even if you loved the first two games, there is absolutely, positively no reason for you to ever play this one. Ever.

Overall rating: Whole
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

Mr. everywhere
Feb 28th, 2008, 01:35 PM
FIRST BIZZATCHES!!!!!! jk. but all in all i tried this game and it wasnt too bad. still sucked but not too bad. but an awful game i can tell u is turok. that game sucks. duel wield shotguns that take five shots point blank to kill someone? bullshit. laser rifle? sucks. and dont get me started on how weak your player is to die so easily.
Sexy Ham Beast.
Feb 28th, 2008, 04:13 PM
I actually like the first Soldier of Fortune.Story Mode sucked but the online play was great.
Suicidal Chipmunk
Feb 28th, 2008, 04:37 PM
this game sounds...horrible...truly,truly horrible...
Hitler's Canoe!
Feb 28th, 2008, 06:07 PM
I agree this is a pretty awful game by any standards. Shame really considering how good SoF2 was. I guess the only consolation is that Raven are apparently hard at work on a new Wolfenstein game.
Feb 28th, 2008, 09:38 PM
Don't you just love it when a game series is handed over to a completely different studio.
Fake Shemp
Feb 28th, 2008, 10:22 PM
II was fantastic - looks like I stay away from this one and just stick to COD4 though...
Feb 29th, 2008, 04:42 AM
Another reasonably good franchise down the drain with little hope of a serious return
From the Home of MST3K
Feb 29th, 2008, 07:33 AM
You'd think that Slavs, what with their soviet history and mandatory military service, would be more interested in making a game all about guns.

Live and learn, I guess.
per sempre vigilante
Mar 1st, 2008, 12:31 AM
Wow. And they even ripped off the cover from Zero Tolerance.
Prince Appalling
Mar 1st, 2008, 01:48 AM
Don't you just love it when a game series is handed over to a completely different studio.
Just like what they did in Call of Duty 3.
Mar 1st, 2008, 04:28 AM
and guitar hero 3
and master of orion 3
i hope fallout 3 doesn't follow the same pattern
Suicidal Chipmunk
Mar 1st, 2008, 01:22 PM
guitar hero 3 is till good though...so, you can't really compare it like that.
Mar 1st, 2008, 07:44 PM
sez you