If you were fortunate enough to grow up in the ’80s and ’90s, then blockbuster action movies were almost like a religious process. I, for one, spent an exorbitant amount of time watching legendary flicks like Die Hard and Predator again and again. And more often than not, at least one such movie would air on the TV during weekends. Released back in 2000, Soldier of Fortune effectively emulated action movies in video game form.
My first introduction to Soldier of Fortune was on the Dreamcast, and at the time it was unlike anything I had played before – mostly because of the game’s blatant no-fucks-given portrayal of violence. Its plot focused on a neo-fascist terrorist group led by the ruthless Sergei Dekker. Right from the start, the group steals a number of nuclear weapons from Russia with the intent of selling them to third parties. And as for Dekker, clad in full body armour, he looks like a character from DC Universe and makes for an exceptional villain.
A group of mercenaries known as “The Shop” are assigned to terminate Dekker. Assuming the role of the moustached badass John Mullins, you’re sent on missions across the globe to prevent nuclear warfare and thwart Dekker’s plans. Admittedly it’s not a unique plot, with a lot of cliches and a predictable narrative. But you don’t necessarily watch action movies for the plot, do you? The Shop disguises itself as a regular bookstore and consists of two other members – John’s trusty partner Hawk and the store’s operator Sam. Before missions, you’d visit Sam to obtain intel and customize your loadout.
One of the early missions involves an action-packed traversal across the roof of a running freight train to disarm a nuclear warhead. Sounds simple enough, right? Did I mention that you must also take on a bunch of armed terrorists, all the while evading fire from an assault helicopter? No? Well, there you go. But it only gets better from there on out and the final showdown against Dekker is an action spectacle to behold.
John Mullins himself is the video game embodiment of every movie superhero from the ’80s and ’90s: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris… feel free to insert your own favourite action star. He was always there to save the day, always magically dodging bullets, and always leaving the scene with a giant explosion behind his back.
Evidently, first-person shooters used to be different. Even though their impact has dwindled, franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield still dominate the market: franchises which focus on realism, weapon feedback and multiplayer above all else. And only some, like Doom, still retain some of the magic of the “good old days”. Today, Soldier of Fortune is a relic of a bygone era, but back in the early 2000s it was at the top of its genre.
Soldier of Fortune stood out from the crowd thanks to its gruesome dismemberment mechanics; every body part could be shot or blown off. Each shot left bullet marks and enemies reacted differently depending on where you shot them. Shoot a thug’s hand and he loses his ability to fire back. Giving his legs a blast from the shotgun cripples the poor soul, whereas a well-aimed shot to the head from a magnum blows it right off.
If you shot them in the crotch, they grabbed it with their hands miserably whilst slumping to the ground. And sometimes they would squirm before bleeding out to death. Explosive arms, like grenades, left nothing but a pile of steaks lying on the ground. Simply experimenting with this mechanic was exceptionally entertaining and I often kept shooting at a corpse just to see the various ways it would react. I need help.
And to keep things varied, progressing through the story added new firearms to the store which subsequently became available for use. From lightweight handguns to heftier shotguns and Rambo style machine guns, there was something for any taste.
Soldier of Fortune was everything a teenage male could dream about: big guns, a badass protagonist and violence – a boatload of violence. And due to that, the game stirred quite the controversy upon release. Granted, not quite to the same extent as Manhunt, but big enough to warrant the highest age rating in Germany, preventing minors from acquiring it. Not this minor, though (mwahahaha).
Thankfully, these days Soldier of Fortune is easily obtainable on the cheap via services like GoG. Time hasn’t been kind to the game’s visuals, however: character models look angular and textures lack detail. But while not as precise as some modern shooters, the dismemberment mechanics in Soldier of Fortune amply compensate for any ageing.