Nov 20, 2007
If the original Soldier of Fortune games are remembered for anything - and let's be honest, they probably aren't - it's probably for being those first-person shooters where you could blow people's limbs off. Even though they were a lot of fun, with tight controls and reasonably intelligent enemies, they're still best known for being gory.
Now we have a new SoF sequel, and if it is destined to be remembered for anything - which it won't - it's that it too is a dismemberment-prone first-person shooter... and not much else.
This isn't to say Payback is terrible, just that it's not terribly original or unique. The game plays like a million other recent first-person shooters; or rather, like someone took the common elements from every recent FPS and assembled a game out of the common elements. It has the controls of every post-Halo shooter (though not as smooth), the "stop getting shot to heal" health system of the Call Of Duty series (though more forgiving), and the all the multiplayer modes you'd expect (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, etc.) and none you won't find everywhere else. It even looks like a lot of other shooters, graphically, with Far Cry-like jungles and Area 51-esque cities (though not rendered with as much detail).
In fact, the only thing that distinguishes this from every other shooter out there is, of course, the bloodshed. Every bullet seems to hit an artery or an unsturdy limb, with all the spurting plasma and flying appendages making this look Jackson Pollack's Mind the Game. But even this has been done before, and better, most recently in FEAR.
But the biggest problem is not that Payback is uninspired or unoriginal: it's just unchallenging. In the noticeably short single-player mode, the enemies aren't dumb like Jessica Simpson; but they don't always duck for cover, and it only takes a couple shots for them to go down. Heck, this might be the only game you play all year where a pistol is an effective weapon. Except against the bosses, who are a little tougher if only because they can stand there taking your bullets for a while before dying. Sadly, these bad guys also live in predictably laid-out levels where there's nothing interesting to do and there's only the illusion of freedom that comes when choosing between two paths that lead to the same place.
Still, as cliché shooters go, Payback is no Black, but it's not bad either. If all you're looking for is a predictable, middle-of-the-road shooter - you know, like if you just beat Mass Effect and want to rent a couple hours of mindless mayhem - you could do better, but you could also do a lot worse.