The original Soldier of Fortune hasn’t aged well. Some games become better with time, remaining fun to play no matter how dated their mechanics and graphics become, but others age as though they get beaten with the ugly stick on a yearly basis. This is closer to the latter, though it’d be a lie to say that it’s entirely unworthy of your time.
That’s to say that it’s incredibly fun to watch how enemies react when shot; Soldier of Fortune utilizes the GHOUL system that allows for your shots to inflict damage to specific parts of enemies’ bodies, meaning that where you aim doesn’t just affect the damage that you’ll do, but also the reaction the bullet will elicit. Shoot your enemy in the head and it may just be blown off. Shoot them in the arm and they’ll stop shooting to clutch it. Shoot them in the groin and they’ll weep openly at the realization that they’ll never know the joy of having children. That last part was a bit exaggerated, but you get the point.
While the fun of blowing off limbs and watching oh-so-many soldiers react to being shot in certain regions is the game’s saving grace, the facade begins to crack apart as wave after wave of soldier comes at you. The reactions, while amusing, are limited and often predictable, and this becomes painfully obvious since you’ll be doing nothing but shooting at people, pressing buttons, and, when the game wants to spice things up, shooting at buttons. That’s pretty much 99% of the game right there, and not even a shooter can get away with being so bland.
Shooters rarely have compelling stories, but Soldier of Fortune sports a story of atypical blandness, even given the genre. The protagonists are boring, the antagonists are boring, and everything that the villains do is more reminiscent of mad scientists than compelling, realistic characters. It takes a special kind of ineptitude in storytelling to make a story revolving around nuclear weapons seem yawn-inducing, but there you go.
The actual shooting mechanics work well enough, but far too often I found myself getting “stuck” on the environment, as though walls and ladders and floors were made of peanut butter. There’s nothing more frustrating than having several gun-toting baddies unloading their clips in you as you try to figure out which way to move to un-stick yourself so that you can finish climbing up the ladder and take them out. It never becomes that big of a problem, mind you, because the enemies are just as likely to run around aimlessly or walk right by you as they are to start shooting before they’ve even seen you. The AI seems totally random; it’s possible to shoot someone in the head and elicit no response from the person standing next to him, while other times people can spot you as though you were wearing a neon pink shirt and blasting Fall Out Boy on a boom box, even if you sneak into the room and remain out of sight.
It should be no surprise that the graphics are dated since this is an old game, though some areas do manage to look interesting (see screenshots). The music, while annoying at times, is mostly tolerable and doesn’t really detract from the experience. The game isn’t the longest ever made, but it’s certainly too long for how little plot exists and I quickly found myself wishing that it would end sooner rather than later. All things considered, this shouldn’t be your go-to Soldier of Fortune game: Soldier of Fortune 2 does everything that this game does, only better.
By the way—avoid the Dreamcast version of this game. First-person shooters aren’t suited to its controller at all.
Here’s what you should do: