Bring it Back! - Soldier of Fortune Edition

Written by gregsuarez on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 8:03 PM
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In a very special episode of Bring it Back!, we’ll not only talk about a game franchise that seriously needs to be resurrected, but also a once mighty PC development studio that has slipped into a coma of console mediocrity.

Once upon a time, there was a video game development studio called Raven Software, and it rocked. Raven lived in the giant, delicious cheese hills of Wisconsin, USA, and created some of the most awesomest games in the history of all things awesome. Raven was a studio that focused mainly on PC games, and while many of their titles eventually came to consoles, PC was their lead platform...

Until their parent company, Activision *sigh*, relegated Raven to the development hell of Star Trek and X-Men licensed games, forgettable shooters (Quake 4, Wolfenstein, and Singularity), and tiresome Call of Duty content, Raven turned out some of the most memorable PC games of the past 15 years. Heretic, Hexen, Hexen II, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast, and Star Wars: Jedi Knight – Jedi Academy… any of these games sound familiar to you? These were Raven’s babies. It used to be when news broke that Raven was working on a new game, PC gamers put down their mice and paid attention.

However, for all of Raven’s success, its crowning achievements – the two games the studio will always be known for – were Soldier of Fortune, and its sequel, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix.

First released in 2000, Soldier of Fortune was a first-person shooter that raised a flurry of controversy due to its extreme violence. While SoF was not the first game to depict graphic violence, the problem was the game’s violence was based in the real world, using real weapons, against human enemies. Instead of blowing imaginary aliens and monsters into piles of green goo with lightning rifles, SoF allowed you to blast off human arms and legs with realistically-depicted high caliber weapons, disembowel bad guys with shotguns, and eviscerate heads with sniper rifles and machine guns. The violence in the inaugural game was more over-the-top than realistic, but that was the point: pander to shooter fans’ basest instincts… it was a total “guilty pleasure.”

The game’s sequel was released in 2002. Double Helix provided a second helping of the first game’s buffet of gore, but this time with more realistic depictions. While the original game looked passable, the sequel used a new engine that featured far more advanced and realistic graphics (in 2002, at least). The gore was gorier, the blood was bloodier, and the violence was… violencier.

The original game used the Quake II engine with Raven’s own GHOUL SDK overlay for enhanced gore effects. The GHOUL kit allowed for precise hit zones on enemy models that could be exploited for specific effect. SoF2 upgraded to the Quake III engine, and used a new, more advanced version of GHOUL. By today’s standards, both games look downright archaic, although Double Helix holds up much better than the original. Neither game has modern features to which FPS fans have grown accustomed. There is no iron-sights aiming, no physics engine, no ragdolls, and some of the stiffest animation you are likely to see in a video game.

Neither game had very memorable stories. The first was about a global terrorist organization threatening nuclear annihilation, and the second was about a global terrorist organization threatening bio-warfare annihilation. In both games, you played as John Mullins, a soldier of fortune (DING! DING! DING!) working for a secret military organization called The Shop. Of course, you were the only thing standing between peace and the complete destruction of the entire universe. While the stories sucked and the voice acting was hammier than Easter dinner, the pacing and variety of level design (not to mention the visceral violence) are still inspiring people to play these games more than a decade later.

The games’ death animations were a personal favorite of mine. While it is difficult for me to go back to a shooter without ragdoll deaths, nothing quite beats shooting a terrorist in the neck, and watching as he gropes at the wound (which squirts blood), and falls to his knees while choking out gurgling death rattles. Or shooting a merc in the eye with a .45-caliber H&K SOCOM pistol, and watching as the back of his head blows off, and blood spurts from the wound in unison with his dying heartbeat. What was impressive about the GHOUL 2.0 kit used in the sequel is entry wounds were small, exit wounds were large and different calibers of weapons created the appropriate level of damage to the enemy model. Plus, the blood decals that spattered against walls and pooled under dead enemies looked really, really good, even by today’s standard; they were deep, crimson red with light reflections, and even though only 2D decals, they simply looked like blood.

The SoF duo were more than just violence simulators; they were excellent shooters that helped write the “FPS Bible” that modern games in the genre still follow today. Pacing was just right: blast your way through a level that was not too long and not too short, and then make your way to the next. Perhaps the best part of the levels was the diversity of their design. One level would take place on a snowy mountainside, and the next might be in a South American rainforest. One level would take place in an open outdoor environment perfect for sniper rifles, and the next would take place in cramped interiors perfect for shotguns. The games also featured a wide array of weapons based on real-world equivalents, and the player was able to choose his kit before each level.

This is the point where many readers might wonder why I have yet to talk about Soldier of Fortune: Payback from 2007. There is a simple reason for this: Payback was a kick to the nuts of the SoF legacy and (worse) to the gamers that made the series so popular. Payback was not developed by Raven, and was published under Activision’s “Value” label. Aside from the emphasis on gory combat, there is no connection between it and the previous two games – no John Mullins, and no Shop. It was a generic shooter with a generic story (that I have no memory of) with a generic playable character with generic gameplay mechanics and generic graphics. There was no special “gore engine,” like GHOUL, included in the code, and the violence in the game was laughable. Any weapon in the game, from a pistol to an assault rifle, could remove any part of an enemy character model. It was as if the developers had never played the first two games, and only knew they should put gore and gibbing into theirs. If the game had a GHOUL-like mechanic, it would have given this otherwise tortuous game of whack-a-mole some kind of redemption.

I’m a simple man with simple needs, and all I need is a proper Soldier of Fortune sequel (appropriately called Soldier of Fortune III: Awesome Subtitle Here), developed by Raven Software, using a next-gen-worthy engine, featuring a brand new, advanced version of GHOUL, and bringing back John Mullins and The Shop. If Activision provides the game with the same kind of development and marketing budget as they do with each more-tiresome-than-the-last Call of Duty annual snore-fest, they will have their next huge franchise. Add some vehicular sections, and Call of Duty-like multiplayer support, and I guarantee no one will care about Medal of Honor ever again, and it would take a healthy chunk out of Battlefield’s market share. I believe people are growing tired of serious military shooters, and would be interested in a classic FPS experience – a freelance-one-man-against-the-world-style of shooter. If the attempt at a retro shooter fails, at least Activision still has Call of Duty.

According to Raven’s Wikipedia page, the studio is currently working on nothing that has been announced, and as of late, the only thing keeping them busy are Call of Duty add-ons (a supreme waste of this very talented dev house). Could they be working on a next-gen Soldier of Fortune?

Oh, God, I hope so.

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06:45 Mar-15-2013

Well, a new Soldier of Fortune would be the best thing to happen to gaming since Soldier of Fortune double helix..

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12:00 Mar-15-2013

...which was the best thing to happen to gaming since Soldier of Fortune. ;-)

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14:11 Mar-15-2013

...which was the best thing to happen to gaming. Ever.

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20:27 Mar-14-2013

There are no Man Hunt reviews? :D Why is there no Man Hunt on GD?

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02:34 Mar-15-2013

Create one

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05:14 Mar-15-2013

Im not good writer :D

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12:01 Mar-15-2013

One of the problems with Manhunt is it has an insanely sh!tty PC port that's not even supported by Vista or Win7.

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12:22 Mar-15-2013

I clicked that link and my SteelSeries Engine stopped working :D

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12:25 Mar-15-2013

Weird... it's just a link to Steam.
Windows must really, really hate Manhunt!

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12:28 Mar-15-2013

Censorship sigh...

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12:35 Mar-15-2013

Oh, I see.
The only thing I believe that should be censored is censorship.
That's exactly the kind of carefully thought out, "quality" idea you can expect to come from the intellectual furnace known as my brain. Or, as I call it, my "think ball."

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13:03 Mar-15-2013

I love how modest you are.

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13:35 Mar-15-2013

They should make remake of Man Hunt :D

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13:39 Mar-15-2013

They should make a remake of me since I'm so awesome.

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14:03 Mar-15-2013

The epicness of that comment is immeasurable :D

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14:08 Mar-15-2013

(If you really want to be true to the metaphor)
They should make a remake of you because you used to be awesome but now your mechanics are outdated and you're no longer nice to look at.

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14:19 Mar-15-2013

Ahahahahhahaaa, greg and Divayth getting it on... Again :D

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15:43 Mar-15-2013

@Divayth
That's what I was getting at! :-)

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15:49 Mar-15-2013

hahahahaha

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13:37 Mar-14-2013

I fondly remember playing this game with my classmates during tedious ICT lessons in high-school. Teacher never had a clue.
He would give us a task that would supposedly take 2 hours to complete. We'd finish it in 20 minutes and play SoF for the remainder of the class.
He was always so impressed with the concentration on the screen we displayed during his classes.

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14:16 Mar-14-2013

Good times...

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15:26 Mar-14-2013

I do the same thing except i play counter strike instead. teachers never had a clue till somebody stood up and yell "bull****"! to somebody killing him and now all the computer screens faced the teachers. I don't get what was so bad we were all getting excellent grades like straight A's. oh well i can wait till i get home.

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15:32 Mar-14-2013

I lolled so hard at the image of a student suddenly jumping up yelling bullshlt!
But yeah, there's always 1 who has to ruin it for the group.

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18:06 Mar-14-2013

Ahahahhaa, indeed :D
I have a similar memory from school;
We always played CS 1.6 there and someone shouted "Who's gonna put up the server?" and the teacher asked "What server?"
"Linux server of course" ;)

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18:48 Mar-14-2013

Ha nice, my friend had a minecraft server he would run on his computer at home and we would play on it while the teacher was explaining what to do on Photoshop. yet i passed the class with an A.

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13:18 Mar-14-2013

The first SoF is pretty much unplayable on modern operating systems as it was written in 16-bit. Even Windows compatibility modes do not work. Pretty much the only way people are getting the game to run in Win7 is to create a VirtualBox partition using an ancient OS, and run it from there. SoF2 is completely playable for me in Win7. However some people have issues with it. Just Google the solutions.... there are a few of them out there.

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13:24 Mar-14-2013

The best we can hope for is Activision puts a small bit of effort in porting SoF to an x86 environment, brushes up the driver compatibility for SoF2, and releases both on Steam. I'd happily pay as much as $20 for each if I could get completely playable, trouble-free versions for modern OSes. I suspect most people would not pay more than $10, but I cannot believe it would take too much money and manhours to make it happen.

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13:10 Mar-14-2013

i don't know why this game crashes on my system

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13:19 Mar-14-2013

See my post above this one... it was meant for you.

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17:00 Mar-14-2013

Ya I see

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12:02 Mar-14-2013

By the way, the last picture in the article is what SoF fans felt like after SoF: Payback was released. The hand holding the gun is Activision.

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11:23 Mar-14-2013

You just reminded me of this game, I remember it but I've never played second mission, or one of the two campaigns.
:Q

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10:44 Mar-14-2013

SoF 1. My 2nd games after Counter-Strike 1.0. Missed this game, my father bought this for me & I was still a kid that time. Game violence doesn't affect me :D

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10:25 Mar-14-2013

i'm downloading SOF2 now

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09:49 Mar-14-2013

Oh man I freaking loved the first two SoFs :D
I think you invented some new words in your article, greg ;)

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11:43 Mar-14-2013

What do you mean? My language skills are filled with superbiosity. ;-)

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18:03 Mar-14-2013

My personal favorite: 'violencier' ;)

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09:44 Mar-14-2013

i agree with what your saying, but battlefield and COD are not serious military shooters there well unrealistic

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11:38 Mar-14-2013

I think I should have been clearer on this. I meant that BF and CoD have a serious slant, in that you play as a member of the Armed Forces and you have a rank and chain of command, and you usually fight alongside others in your squad.
When I talked about a retro FPS (in the vein of SoF), I meant a gun-for-hire "lone wolf" type who is militaristic, but not in the military, and who is able to blast through waves of enemies without an entire squad of friendlies fighting with you.
In my first draft, I called BF and CoD "military sims," but I changed that when I reread it, because ARMA they are not.

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11:51 Mar-14-2013

oh i see, great article by the way

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12:00 Mar-14-2013

Thanks! I've been playing SoF2 again here and there, so I was pumped to write this article.

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Can They Run... |

Ryzen 5 5600X 6-Core 3.7GHz GeForce RTX 3080 Asus ROG Strix Gaming OC 10GB 32GB
| Ultra, 1440p
Ryzen 5 5600X 6-Core 3.7GHz GeForce RTX 3080 Asus ROG Strix Gaming OC 10GB 16GB
| 60FPS, Medium, 1080p
Core i7-3770 4-Core 3.4GHz Radeon RX 580 MSI Gaming X+ 8GB 16GB
| 60FPS, Medium, 1080p
Core i7-3770 4-Core 3.4GHz Radeon RX 580 MSI Gaming X+ 8GB 16GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 720p
Core 2 Duo E8400 3.0GHz Intel Q45 Express Chipset 4GB
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Ryzen 9 5900X 12-Core 3.7GHz GeForce RTX 3080 Asus ROG Strix 10GB 32GB
66.6667% Yes [3 votes]
| 60FPS, Medium, 1080p
Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz GeForce GTX 1060 Gigabyte Windforce 2X OC 6GB 32GB
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i5-2400S 2.5GHz GeForce GTX 1060 Gigabyte Windforce 2X OC 6GB 7GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 1080p
Core i7-8750H 6-Core 2.2GHz GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB 16GB
| 30FPS, Low, 1080p
Core i7-8750H 6-Core 2.2GHz GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB 16GB
| 30FPS, Low, 1080p
Core i7-8750H 6-Core 2.2GHz GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB 16GB