Soldier of Fortune is one of those weird franchises that has skirted around the edge of some fairly serious controversies without ever really entering into it and suffering the wrath of angry mothers and Californian lawyers. It’s almost as if these ire-worthy groups have noted previous Soldier of Fortune games as being pretty intense, moaned lightly and then turned over and focused on something else – Carmageddon or Manhunt, for instance.
I’m not sure why that is, but Soldier of Fortune 3: Payback has followed pretty much the same trend. The game has quietly showcased such things as explosive dismemberment and has subsequently been banned in Australia, but the rest of the world has seemingly just shrugged and moved on.
Look, there’s an arm on the floor. Oh well, nevermind.
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The games have been lambasted and praised in equal measures in the past – some gamers praising the satisfying feel and awesome A.I of Double Helix, while others decried the over-the-top gore and occasionally faulty game balancing. Will Payback manage to be something a little bit special, learning from the criticism of past games but retaining the appeal, or will the game fall into a hole of boring, gimmicky gameplay? There’s only one way to find out and that’s to jump in and start blasting limbs off, so let’s get to it.
The story to Soldier of Fortune: Payback is pretty limp. In fact, it’s not just limp – it’s completely flaccid, like a really fat pig with all the bones and muscles sucked out.
The game starts off with the briefest and most uninteresting of introductions. You’re a mercenary who, upon opening a briefcase which contains a PC, is briefed on a mission to protect boring pointless character number one from faceless militants and terrorists.
Honestly, it’s so poorly explained and put across that I can’t really give much more detail beyond that. Neither the manual nor the introduction does anything to establish who your character is working for or why this gravely-voiced cardboard cut-out is constantly talking to a predictably affable young American intelligence coordinator. I did quickly pick up enough information to be thoroughly bored though.
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Colonel Miller, whoever he is and whatever army he is working for, promptly turns around betrays the player by the end of the tutorial and players are forced to fight him. Despite the at least semi-consistent semblance of Hollywood-realism throughout the game thus far, Miller manages to take ten or so point-blank shotgun blasts to the face even on Easy difficulty.
Looking over his corpse, you discover a weird tattoo with obvious Nazi/terrorist symbolism and, despite the fact that the player is (I gather) working for an only-for-profit organisation, you soon set off to try and bring the terrorist cell down. Later on a lot of it starts to tie in with Chinese oil pipelines.
It’s boring and barely even tries to provide a context to the violence but, I suppose, that if you play a game like Soldier of Fortune: Payback then you probably aren’t going to be all that interested in the story of the game – which is a good thing too because, if you hadn’t gathered, the plot and narrative are pretty flat and dull. Trying to follow the quote-unquote twists and turns feels like being constantly stabbed in the funnybone with a spoon.