Soldier of Fortune II Double Helix - PC - Preview

Conspiracy and terror ­ both are required elements if a first-person-shooter game is going to score big. And that’s what Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix delivers.

The preview of this PC game, from Raven Software and Activision, was engaging, fast-paced and featured a variety of environments that made it visually delightful ­ as well as visually intense.

Though, at the time of this writing, the game has not yet been rated, it seems evident that it will pick up the same Mature rating as its predecessor for the animated blood and violence. Those who are a little squeamish can tone down the level of destruction your avatar will unloose upon the enemy through a pre-game setting.

Here is the storyline behind SofFII: The game begins with a cable news company reporting on developments in the mercenary-based government element known only as The Shop. It seems that those in power are denying the actual existence of this elite unit, but members of Congress, who seem to have evidence that it does exist, want some control. The story breaks during a segment on bio-terrorism, more specifically, the development and use of biological weapons of mass destruction.

All this is unveiled during the install of the game. And with that background, SofFII really takes off.

Does The Shop really exist? Well, your character is John Mullins, a consultant who works for that organization. But The Shop is more than an elite group of soldiers ­ this is an anti-terrorist unit, a rescue unit, in short, it takes all the anonymous and dirty assignments that are best kept away from the public eye. (For those who have experience in this particular genre, you may see many similarities to Red Storm’s Rainbow 6 games.)

The single-player game involves a series of scenarios which eventually lead to the international conspiracy being perpetrated by a terrorist organization. There is hostage rescue as well as covert search-and-destroy type missions that unfold in locales such as Prague, a jungle in Colombia, an ocean liner, a Hong Kong prison and Kamchatka.

The gameplay is rather straightforward. Controls are keyboard based, weapons are aimed and fired with the mouse. Of course, there is a lot more to it, such as stealth, outfitting your team, and strategy in how you tackle the scenario, but this game is quite user friendly. In the single player mode, though mission based, the action is of the "run-and-gun" variety.

When it comes to the graphical elements, this can be a very gory game. Headshots can blow the target’s head clean off. But as stated, in the game set-up, the violence and blood can be toned down. Raven has used the Quake III Arena graphics engine to product visual elements that are very good. Thanks to Raven’s GHOUL II rendering system, the animations are solid and realistic. This touch of realism, not just in character movement, but in the overall approach to the game is most welcomed. You can actually camouflage yourself, crouch low in jungle grass and have targets walk unsuspectingly right up to you before you need to pull the trigger.

Another innovation is the ROAM Terrain System, which will allow players to ride and fight from armored trucks and helicopters.

The mission generator will create random terrains, which does boost replayability.

This program features multiplayer options modeled on the standard array of deathmatch modes, but does a nice spin on the capture-the-flag style of play. One team attacks and tries to steal the objective, the other tries to eliminate the attacking squad.

Because it was a preview version, some stability problems were encountered, but count on those being cleaned up when the game is released in the near future.

Despite the high level of violence, Soldier of Fortune II is a taut FPS game that not only looks very good, but also plays well.

The press release that accompanied this preview copy contained a quote that summed up the idea behind the game:

"The original Soldier of Fortune broke new ground with its unrelenting action and gritty portrayal of combat," said Larry Goldberg, executive vice president of Activision Worldwide Studios. " In the sequel we want to extend the experience with more accurate damage modeling, detailed environments and a strong emphasis on action."

Mission accomplished.

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