Mercenaries really like guns and Payback doesn’t play keep-away: over 40 real-life firearms are yours for the discharging, from itty bitty pistols which dismember at a prudent rate, to big bad RPGs, which, well, you know. Different guns produce different amounts of visual damage and unique, unscripted physical reactions. Players will have a choice of several weapons at the beginning of every level, so they can decide if they like their butchery slow, fast, or slow then fast.
A busy mix of scripted AI events (i.e. AK drive-bys from the back of pickup trucks and bad people popping out of dusty windows) and path-finding AI that likes to chase you and call you names contribute to a real sense of being in extremely dangerous places. If the levels we saw are any indication, you’ll have plenty to shoot at in environments modeled after places where real people actually do have plenty to shoot at (Activision is mum, but we think it rhymes with “a rock”). Don’t be surprised if there’s a lack of social commentary, and if there is, don’t be surprised if you can dismember it.
Two shitstorms could swirl out of Payback: the shrill one about video game violence and the sad one about armies for hire in Iraq. Whether any controversy around the game’s Thanksgiving release pushes SoF out of the shadow of next month’s prettier and better-known Call of Duty: Modern Warfare remains to be seen. Gamer interest in Payback should largely hinge on whether producing a preposterous amount of gore with a preposterous amount of real-life guns is enough to sustain an otherwise standard console FPS.