Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone








As we see computer technology continue to move ahead in leaps and bounds, PC based video gaming reaps the benefits by giving gamers the most realistic gaming experience possible. That definitely can be said about the latest release from Activision Games, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix. With one of the most realistic damage modeling systems, weapons, and enemy AI setups for an FPS title, SoF II comes about as close to a real combat scenario for a game that you're going to get with today's gaming technology.

FPS titles have been considered the most violent form of video gaming for quite some time, and most likely deserve such recognition. Since the early shooter days of Doom and Wolfenstein, gamers have had the chance to roam the halls of futuristic dwelling or ancient building, blowing away enemies 1st hand with an assortment of armaments, both real and imagined. Up until the last couple years, the images seen of these games on one's monitor were cartoonish to an extent, not lending itself to any sense of true reality. Blowing the head off of a freakish monster-like aberration just isn't too likely to happen in your neighborhood, now is it? With the continuing development of computer systems (mostly due to the demand in the world of gaming) we're seeing games continually produced for the market with a more realistic edge to them. Though the imaginative monsters and in-human villains still pop up from time and again in an FPS shooter, the trend to real-world and lifelike gaming scenarios is continuing to take precedence within the genre. The latest FPS release from the critically acclaimed software development team at Raven Software is a testament to that trend. Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix is one of the most realistic shooters on the market to date, giving players a sense of realism that goes well beyond anything released before it. Some might even think that the game is almost too realistic, especially parents of younger children that are fans of FPS titles.

The sequel to the 2000 release of Soldier of Fortune, SoF II once again gives players the chance to experience the covert-operative themed gameplay that made its predecessor so popular. Once again, gamers don the role of John Mullins, the real-life military consultant who works for the top-secret anti-terrorist group known as 'The Shop'. As Mullins, players must take on multiple covert and action based missions ranging from hostage rescue, to intelligence gathering, and even your typical bloody FPS carnage ridden 'search-and-destroy' scenarios. As players continue through the mission, the story of bio-terrorism continues to develop, forcing Mullins to confront enemies in various real world locations, such as Prague, Colombia, Hong Kong, and even Kamchatka. An arsenal of real world weapons are also at Mullins disposal, including the M590 Combat Shotgun, the AK-47, the M60 machine gun, and even Micro-Uzi's.

Though an FPS by definition, SoF II goes beyond the typical 'shoot-em-up' atmosphere that tends to clog up the gameplay of most similar titles within the genre. Though the running gun ethos that made the original game so popular still remains, the designers of SoF II have incorporated a system that combines strategy, stealth and combat tactics that challenges the players into thinking out his or her attack plan before running into the fray. The advanced AI system that is used in the game adds to the challenge is a completely positive way. The lifelike reactions that come about from the enemy units are in direct response to the players actions (i.e., attacking/defending or stealth/non-confrontational). Gamers can choose to sneak up on enemies, taking them out quietly with a silenced pistol or knife, or pull out all the stops and declare war by opening fire with an assault rifle (with all of the consequences that are attached). Reaction of the enemy unit to your actions depends upon the caliber of the enemy unit (ranging from combat hardened soldier to hired thug) as well as difficulty level of the current game. Additionally, players can choose to make use of newer stealth elements like hiding in shadows to avoid confrontation all together. Again, having multiple options in the main gameplay really adds quite a bit of depth to the title, making it that much more enjoyable and less than ordinary for a FPS.

The advanced AI system isn't the only feature of SoF II that mimics real life situations. The weapons and control of them found in the game have an extremely realistic feel overall, more so than in similar FPS title. Rifles, pistols, and other ranged armaments found in the game give an authentic 'kick-back' when in use, allowing short bursts and single shots the greatest chance of hitting a target while longer held fire tends to go astray. Reload times also have a more realistic timing to them as does weapons change ups: players must actually wait for Mullins to cock the weapon in hand before being able to use it. During the course of the game, players also have the chance to use mounted weapons onboard helicopters, tanks, and other vehicles as the game. Though not as realistic as the other weapons found in the game (unlimited ammo, etc.), it still adds to the combat excitement.

SoF II features an enhanced version of the familiar Quake III Arena game engine, adding some extremely realistic tweaks to its overall presentation. By incorporating GHOUL II technology in the games core design, the developers at Raven Software have given their latest title a life-like feel that goes beyond our expectations for an FPS. The animation and model rendering system provided an extremely detailed character skeleton animation system, allowing for lifelike movements as well as a per pixel hit locations. In laymen's terms, GHOUL II gives SoF II some of the most realistic damage modeling for a game ever. Instead of wounds showing up in the center of a target no matter where you've hit, SoF II allows for real damage to accrue at precise points of impact. For example, if you shoot an enemy with your pistol in the leg, visible damage will occur on the leg. If you shoot the head, the same thing (but with greater damage). The weapon of choice and range from the target also dictates how much damage will be dealt to an enemy unit. For example, if you shoot a target in the leg at close range with the shotgun, you'll blow it off, splattering the area with blood and giving you a clear view of the exposed bone fragments left of the appendage. Also adding to the realism, the enemy unit will scream horrible death throes before falling to the ground in death. If you take out the enemy at close range in the head with less powerful ranged weapon, you can actually view grayish brain matter within the fallen victim. Grisly as all this may seem, the game's realism setting can be controlled with the use of a Violence Setting setup at the beginning of the game, allowing for minimum to maximum carnage within SoF II. A parental lock can also be established on the title, allowing parents the ability to set a password system for the Violence Settings.

The single player mode of Soldier of Fortune II contains roughly 25 missions within its structure, each with their own set of goals, enemies, and strategies to complete them. Each of the maps found within the game were very detailed and extremely realistic, giving you the sense that you were actually in the location of the mission. One of the best maps was the Kamchatka mission, putting players in the wintry areas of the former U.S.S.R. The effects from the falling snow and gusty winds were incredible to view during the game. Another interesting element from the single player game comes in the form of a 'Random Mission Generator' that can be found on the main menu. Adding an immense amount of replayability to SoF II, this feature allows players to enter a randomly generated mission, each with its own terrain and set of goals that need to be accomplish in order to finish the game. Again, this is one of the most unique features we've ever seen in an FPS: kudos to the developers at Raven Software for this little gem.

The standard multiplayer option comes standard with SoF II, and contains your basics components for Internet and LAN based play. The basic MP games include the standard Deathmatch Team Deathmatch, and CTF games as well as a Team Assassination game (last team standing wins the game) as well as a Team Infiltration game (allowing teams to use stealth in order to win the game). For the most part, the gameplay of SoF II MP is rather standard and straightforward. The only exception happens to be the insane amount of pre-made skins included in the game, which numbers somewhere in the thirties. Almost every character found within the game (both civilian and military) can be found in the setup process of the game, giving players an extraordinary amount of choice when it comes to tailoring an MP character.

All in all, playing Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix was an enjoyable experience. As a FSP, this game stands tall over the competitors, especially when it comes to realism. Though the gore levels can be high at times (as in real life) for the weak of stomach and children alike, the gameplay itself is immense, forcing players to not come up with a strategy in order to overcome the opposition and complete the goals found within a specific level. Again, it's nice to see a FPS that makes you use your mind for a change instead of mindlessly blowing up everything in your path.

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