Soldier of Fortune: Payback is the third title in the Soldier of Fortune series. It is truly an SoF game: the ability of your bullets to decapitate and sever are still here. The modern settings and weaponry are still here. But whatever you thought of the previous SoF titles, don’t get this one.
Payback features a mercenary who is escorting a Chinese diplomat that is about the blow the whistle on a government operation that violates human rights. At the end of the first level, a mercenary on your team named Miller sells out to the highest bidder and kills him. Understandably angry, you kill him and now need to know who put him up to it.
The first thing I noticed about Payback was the attempted atmosphere. It’s striving to be an action movie, and follows the elements of a formulaic sleeper hit-quick introduction, a hero who fails at attempts to be witty while staying tough, to-the-point dialog, and bad guys who are numerous, stupid, surrounded by easily exploding objects, and facing obviously imminent deaths. The acting is mediocre and the script is worse. The plot is basically a chain of who is hiring who; once you kill Miller, you are led to someone else. Then you kill him. Then you find and kill the guy who hired that guy. I’m sure you can guess the next plot device used.
The second thing I noticed about Payback was its dry graphics. It looks like it could have been on the Playstation 2, and even a gamer that ignores graphics and focuses on gameplay will be distracted by the too-consistent textures. Enemies are difficult and even impossible to see at distances they shouldn’t be, and they look like cardboard cutouts-not quite real, not realistic in a way commonly found in other Xbox games. The Payback gore is really gross and the animations disturbing and messy (I got the achievement to sever every possible body part in my first 20 minutes of playing), yet when you inch on over to look at what you just did, a calf doesn’t look real, it just looks like a mannequin piece used in a horror movie.
The enemies and bosses are by far the worst part of the game. Every enemy is jaw-droppingly stupid. Their aim isn’t bad, at least (on normal mode), but they have no sense. They stay where they are and don’t move. They don’t take cover. They’ll run at you four at a time, in the open, and not shoot, even when they are at a range that is so close your own grenade would hurt. The maps are highly linear, which exacerbates the problem. Even in the areas that are open, you can stay in one spot, with no cover, and gun down 60 turban-wearing AK-47 wielding terrorists (what’s the point in having over 40 weapons to choose from before your mission if you can’t find enemies using anything else?), and then merrily saunter your way up to the platform to plant the explosives. If you’re not convinced that this is the worst AI you’ve ever heard of, let me ask you: if an enemy finally does see you without you seeing him and he sneaks up on you in the open, what should he do: shoot you as soon as he gets a clean shot or run 20 yards and try to hit you with a melee-attack, of which it takes 4 to kill you?
Payback‘s combat system, at least, is solid-the aim is fine, the recoil is fine, the guns are fine, the dash is fine, the melee is fine. They are, in a word, average-nothing to complain or rejoice about. This makes multiplayer better than the short single player, but again, it’s simply average. And the many Xbox live players are not playing the average shooters, and they certainly aren’t playing average games with terrible single player campaigns-and neither should you.