Shin Force | Sega Dreamcast Review

Shin Force > Systems > Sega Dreamcast > Reviews N-Z

Shin Force ~ Dreamcast ~
Soldier of Fortune
Geoffrey Duke
Crave Ent.
Raven Software
1x GD
2001 (Japan)
Jul. 25, 2001 (USA)
1st Person
Jump Pack
     > It's not at all fair to compare the Dreamcast to either the GameCube or Xbox, but some of its games did give the Playstation 2 a run for its money for a while. It's a shame the Dreamcast didn't survive the "Playstation 2 blitz"; it is still an awesome console with its fair share of great games. One or two, like the superb Virtua Tennis 2 (a typical Sega game that's easy to learn yet difficult to master) have yet to be outclassed. Despite being launched with titles that left you wondering if they were finished, a perception of ensured dominance and ensured lifelong support ensured the Playstation 2's march to victory, crushing the Dreamcast into obscurity along the way. You could say that everyone just wanted to be on the (perceived) winning side. Still, the PS2 failed to deliver everything it promised. Sony stooped to new lows by using CGI footage pretending to run in real-time to showcase its power, and used theoretical performance figures as bait (rather than let actual games do the talking) to lure in the masses. How can so many people be so blind? Chewing on hooks is the price people pay for their blindness. Shouldn't it be an eye-opener?

     > The conversion of Half Life to the Dreamcast should never have been canceled in my humble opinion. I personally think Sega should have published the game; it was almost complete and only needed some fine tuning. After all, releasing a game for a dying console at a loss is one thing; canceling a widely anticipated game for a console with an 8 million strong user-base is quite another. So, Soldier of Fortune, which is another port of another PC single player first person shooter where blowing people to gory pieces provides much of the entertainment, fills Half Life's shoes on the Dreamcast. But is it a worthy substitute? In a wise move, the venerable Ubisoft published this game in Europe (if only they had picked up the rights to Half Life too). 

     > International terrorists are running amok and arming themselves with nuclear weapons. Guess whose job it is to stop them? You assume the role of John Mullins, a war veteran who makes killing terrorists in the most violent of ways seem like taking candy from a baby.

     > Special effects such as bursts of gunfire, explosions and lighting are all pleasing to the eye. Enemies are nicely animated and varied, going from skinheads to soldiers, and the frame rate is a speedy 60 FPS and almost always constant, only faltering in rare cases when there are tons of enemies on screen or when several explosions happen at once (mainly towards the end when enemies throw everything they have at you including a helicopter gunship). Levels are surprisingly detailed with each having its own unique charm with unique structures and hardly seeming repetitive at all, which should be par for the course since you fight in areas located in different parts of the world (from American subways to moving trains in Uganda to warzones in Kosovo to the snowscapes of Siberia to the deserts of Iraq) whose surroundings have many natural obstacles for shields. The only problem is levels are split up into smaller areas by frustratingly long loading times (also serving as restart points because you can't save your game anywhere). Needless to say, they can slow down the pace of the game quite abruptly. Some areas are much smaller than others forcing you to wonder why they took so long to load, while others are large and detailed enough to be worth the wait. This game uses the old Quake 2 graphics engine as opposed to the Quake 3 one which was optimized for the Dreamcast, so asking for greater efficiency is probably asking too much. You only need to take one look at Quake 3 Arena to see that the Dreamcast is capable of delivering more in terms of what we can expect even though the environments are quite detailed themselves in this game.

     > This game has survived the transition from PC to DC almost wholly intact apart from longer loading times which can really drag the game down, and the frame rate sometimes dropping/skipping when the action heats up to boiling point. There's no doubt in my mind that these problems could have been fixed in due time, but the graphical problems found here are nothing compared to the inadequacies of the PS2 version (released later).

     > The PS2 version has shorter loading times and a multi-player mode, but suffers from grainy, totally washed out jagged textures everywhere. And no, the original PC version is nothing like that in case anyone just wants to blame these inadequacies on outdated PC graphics (poor logic).

     > The Playstation 2, despite choking on the flow of too much data from a needlessly complicated parallel processed bottlenecked design (high amounts of bandwidth and small amounts of texture cache for mid-frame streaming with nothing to compress the data flow over the pipes), is more powerful than the Dreamcast with the power to push more polygons into place on-screen when developers finally figured out how to synchronize the PS2's processors, but is nowhere near as efficient as the DC's second generation Power VR chipset. VQ compression delivers textures to the screen far more efficiently than the PS2 (compressing and decompressing them in real-time) at high 5:1/8:1 ratios (depending on the texture mixture) through 8 MBs of Video RAM (as opposed to the PS2's 4MBs of VRAM), deferred rendering stops the console from rendering textures on anything that isn't facing the player, and a developer-friendly environment made programming a relative breeze. Throw in a super-sampler, which renders each frame at a higher resolution and scales it out to fit the original resolution as it's being sent to the TV monitor to blur the lines for sharper looking edges, for full screen anti-aliasing, and rough edges mostly go the way of the dodo. In those respects, the Dreamcast was ahead of its time. That's why Dead or Alive 2 and Test Drive Le Mans for the Dreamcast have more vibrant (not to mention cleaner, sharper anti-aliased) textures than their Playstation 2 ports. The deep colorful textures seen in Sonic Adventure 2 and Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram can even hold their own against many modern PS2 games.

     > The PC is the home of first person shooting games. With a mouse to aim this isn't even open for debate. There are more commands in Soldier of Fortune than there are buttons on the DC gamepad. Taking the time to become accustomed to the controls is the best solution. Still, the main default controls are mapped out quite well. You use the main buttons to walk forwards, backwards and strafe left or right, and the analog stick to aim. The remaining controls are accessed via the L and R triggers and the D-pad (like crouching and jumping via the D-pad). Being free to aim with the analog stick naturally means you're free to aim while moving.
     > There's nothing to really complain about here. The weapon sounds are particularly realistic, and the screams of your victims sound like they are screaming in genuine agony. The music, which sounds like it came out of an action flick, sets a heart-thumping pace.
     > Soldier of Fortune's major selling point is the ability to blow off limbs and heads with carefully aimed shots which help preserve much needed ammunition. When you shoot someone in a certain part of the body, they will react accordingly to add to the whole "visceral experience". The results can be quite gory. There are more than enough guns to pick up along the way to satisfy your stopping power needs like the standard shotguns, automatic weapons and sniper rifles (with zooming mounted sights) found in typical first person shooters. The game is basically one firefight after another (sometimes with the aid of allies), with an occasional lever/switch puzzle (to open doors etc.) stopping you from going forward. Health packs are spread throughout levels frequently enough to make sure you make it to the end alive in one piece. Although enemy AI isn't the best in the world because enemies refuse to chase you at times, things change later in the game when enemies come at you in groups more often, and take cover behind objects during firefights. Difficulty settings offer a small measure of replay value too.
Bottom Line
     > Although there's some room for improvement, Soldier of Fortune is a good port of a good PC first person shooter. It's a pity Half Life didn't join it on the Dreamcast. There's really no point in buying this game now when even average PCs today can handle the PC version on the highest graphical settings without a hitch, unless of course, you can find a really cheap copy. What's interesting to note is how poor the PS2 version is in comparison. I almost cannot believe how much of a turn for the worse it took. For what it's worth, you can find the sequel, Soldier of Fortune 2: Double Helix (the title of which implies a killer virus theme), on the Xbox. What? No PS2 version?
Overall: 8.2 | Graphics: 8.5 | Control: 8.1 | Sound: 8.9 | Fun: 7.5
~ Geoffrey Duke ~

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