A part of why I felt compelled to take a retrospective on a game like Soldiers of Fortune is because 2019 was a year where for whatever reason the "PC vs console" arguments were at a fever pitch. The myth being PC players are mean elitists who look down on everything console related. What gets lost in a lot of that jargon is back when MS-DOS game became ports for home consoles, their efforts were looked at with great merit, even if they couldn't quite match the processing power of their PC origins. Back then, the platforms coexisted with no in-fighting. Sure, information trafficked via social media travels greatly, but now the conversation has been reduced to noise and critique over some games in the late 2000's were taken to heart. A game like Soldiers of Fortune is a quality port, developed at a time when the technological gap was significantly further. It helps to keep things like that in perspective.
Most games of the genre like Ikari Warriors and Rambo for the Mega Drive are mostly straight forward, but a game like Soldiers of Fortune was rare at the time for me. With its forked paths, secret rooms, and various character attributes, there was more to survive this game than just getting to the end of a stage.
Visually, the game looks pretty solid. Each of the four worlds look pretty different, and has a decent amount of life instilled in them, like the bubbling mud in World 1’s pits to the busted steam pipes and flickering lights in the seemingly abandoned buildings in World 2. Each of the six mercenaries you choose from look distinguished and gritty, and I can’t help but think about how cool a comic book series would be featuring these guys. The variety of enemies is not overly impressive. There at least three signature waves of foes that come at you; foot soldiers, quick-moving small baddies like frogs and beetles, and an area blasting turret/creature of some kind. It’s pretty crisp and there’s never a moment where you feel cluttered by the environment.
For a game that focuses on leveling baddies that bombard your path, SoF boasts a straightforward, yet pretty engaging skill-boosting system to aid you along your quest as well as the six mercenaries you can choose from have varying attributes, so it’s a little more than just picking a face and blowing stuff up. Your characters are separated into two categories, depending on if you are playing solo or with a friend.
The Brigand, for example, is pretty solid all around with decent speed, attack power, and an area affecting special weapon. Giant lugs like the Thug and the Navvie, are heavy-armed, slow tanks who can do a lot of damage, but if the CPU controls the second player, there is a wisdom stat that determines intelligence. So if you pick these guys as your partner, expect them to destroy everything, including nodes that will release more enemies that you may not be prepared for. My strategy was to pick a powerful tank like the Mercenary and give the CPU a smart character like the Gentleman or the Scientist. They have low constitution and can die quickly, but make better decisions and can earn more money for you.
Even some other uphill challenges in my video game library could probably be beaten if I practiced more often, but SoF is just so mercilessly difficult that this game could not have meant for kids. Hell, I’m almost 40 and this game is still giving me fits!! And the problem isn’t really that it’s a cheap game, but it’s difficulty curves upward way too soon. It’s only four worlds, each with about three to four individual levels, so it’s a relatively short game, but I found myself having some serious trouble after the first world. the enemies began to deal some major damage. Even after boosting my skill and adding health bonuses with the money I acquired from World 1, standard bad guys on the next stage could wipe me out in just several hits! Isn’t this supposed to be the intermediate portion of the game?! I’m not saying keep the kid gloves on, but don’t go from Kirby to Quake in three levels!
And I haven’t even talked about how hard it can be to take down targets. Instinctively, you would try to boost the power of your gun as high an as quickly as you can, but damn, can these guys withstand some firepower. You enhance you gun to fire multiple shots at once or a stronger, wider beam, like Darius Twin or R Type, which is a good thing, but these monsters don’t go down easy. You need to bulk up your gun something fierce to prepare for the wave of madness that will ensnare you. Your partner helps you quite a bit in these tight spots, but more often he’s just too passive when you need an enforcer or too aggressive when trying to pick your spots and activates another wave of monsters. His knack for stealing your power ups will piss you off as well. one significant plus side is that checkpoints are a plenty, so you won’t find yourself backtracking unless you’re looking for secret weapon and health caches and when reloading your password save, allows you to spend the money you made from the previous level, which is really cool.
while Soldiers of Fortune isn’t quite the polished game I remembered, it’s still a pretty cool action-packed title that was a fairly impressive port of a PC title, something most games are still trying to do consistently today.