Activision had kept the release of Soldier of Fortune: Payback pretty low key, especially in comparison to it’s other first person shooter game Call of Duty 4. The two games are similar in that they both offer first person shooting action in modern environments, however SOF Payback offers a more gritty and perhaps, comical approach to proceedings.
You play a mercenary for hire in SOF Payback as you travel the globe hunting down the bad guys. A routine mission goes wrong and it thrusts you into a world of deceit, power mongering and a whole lot more. Actually it’s a great excuse to let rip with the various primary, secondary and grenade weapons. Prior to each mission you are able to select for the aforementioned weapons slots an assortment of weapons such as SMGs, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, Pistols, Assault Rifles and more. As you complete missions, more weapons become available. What is nice is being able to customize each of the Primary and Secondary weapons, with things like rifle scopes, silencers and even things like grenade attachments. It’s all very rewarding to be able to choose the style of play you will adopt prior to the missions, remembering that weapons such as shotguns are far more effective in close quarters than longer ranged weapons such as sniper rifles. It’s your choice and basically you have to get the job done as you see fit.
SOF Payback takes you to various locales ranging from waterlogged cave tunnels to open jungles, and even a brothel (which sounds like they have the builders in doing some work). I think the first thing that is going to hit you once the game begins is the fact that the violence (a major feature in the series) is a little over the top in the most gruesome of ways. In some respects it’s actually quite rewarding to see that your weapons have some real power behind them, but on the other hand it does feel a little out of place when a single bullet from a SMG can decapitate an opponent or lop off limbs with ease. The effect of shooting felt more akin to weaponry you would find in futuristic shooters – but who am I to complain. After a while, the violence does lose its appeal because there’s only so many times a shot off limb is going to be amusing. In the game’s defense, the enemy reactions to being shot are pretty good, as often wounded enemies will stop firing at you and either bleed out in shock, or run away. I really liked this feature and wish more shooters would utilize it as although SOF Payback is far from realistic, it’s these AI actions that create more believability in the game world.
The general gameplay is very much go here, kill him, go here and shoot these guys, with very little else. There’s no variation on the theme and I guess it’s a no nonsense shooter. The level design is pretty linear and there really isn’t much room for deviating off course if you should choose. I also found that players who opted for a more stealthy approach, wouldn’t really see any benefits in doing so, as the AI knows your position regardless of silenced weapons.
As you progress through the story, you’ll come across various boss characters that are tougher than the usual enemies, and won’t succumb to getting limbs blown off in a single bullet. These guys are a welcome addition, but by simply using the knife melee attack on them makes victory come a little too easily.
SOF Payback has some reasonable graphics in general as you fight in the Jungles, inner city, the outdoors, caves the interiors such as the brothel and a nightclub. There are some glitches especially when things like dead bodies start to flail on the ground long after death which apart from being a little spooky, feels a bit unpolished. Although Perfect Dark Zero also suffered from similar problems. These moments can be amusing, but they are glitches all the same and shouldn’t be what gamers focus on. So it is quite amazing that these are present and the developers simply allowed them to pass. On a plus point, the animations seem rather fluid and as I mentioned earlier, injured foes do die rather gracefully at times when they stop or hobble before they bleed out.
The sound is average at best as you’ll get the usual assortment of gunfire, screaming voices, explosions and some typical action music that does little to lift the mood considerably. The voice acting is also in the same vein and is functional at best. The leading character sounded a little too forced for my tastes but I guess you don’t get to hear him too often during play.
SOF Payback is a pretty short game and on the normal difficulty won’t take competent players long to complete. The Hard difficulty isn’t that much tougher either and will barely test the most skilled of players until the latter portion of the game. Other than a few achievements, there really isn’t much incentive to replay the single player portion of the game.
SOF Payback features an online mode where players can duke it out with other gamers from across the globe in deathmatch, elimination and bomb defusing modes. These are actually quite fun, despite the whole game feeling like a poor mans Call of Duty 4. I had some reasonable games, but the biggest problem is finding other players to play against. Another problem is the fact that with so few players, if you have a game with 4 people in and one person quits, then the game simply shuts down for everyone. This is very annoying. With better online games available, it just seems the masses of online players are elsewhere, which means the will to wait in lobby after lobby does diminish quite quickly.
Soldier of Fortune: Payback is fun the first time through, and for completion hungry gamers a second stint on the hard mode might provide some enjoyment. However, the game really does feel like a one trick horse and perhaps relies too heavily on the dismemberment and beheadings rather than more inventive gameplay. If you like shooters, and are tired of the many others available on Xbox 360, then SoF Payback is most certainly worth a rental. However, do not be expecting a complex game as it’s as simple as they come and over far too quickly to be considered anything but a filler title.