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Minimum requirements: Pentium 4 2.5 GHz processor; 512 MB RAM; Radeon x800 or Nvidia GeForce 6800; 3.3 GB uncompressed hard drive space; DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card; Windows XP or Vista
Genre: First-person shooter
Release date: Available now
Review by: Michael Smith
I’m as bloodthirsty as any other first-person shooter fan. For us, Havok physics is the finest invention in the history of PC gaming, allowing us to do tasty things like beat a villain to death with his own severed limbs. Joining the hardcore shooter fray is Slovakian developer Cauldron’s Soldier of Fortune: Payback, the third entry into the controversial paramilitary action franchise.
Payback bucks the current trend of sky-high system requirements; I played most of the game on an Alienware notebook with an ATI Radeon X1800 video card and a mere 1 GB of RAM, and it ran very smoothly, even at a 1440×900 widescreen resolution. A patch was released almost concurrently with the game that makes it playable for Windows Vista users, but players with XP-based rigs should also apply the patch, as it smoothes out some graphics issues in the original code.
You play as mercenary Thomas Mason, who’s been hired to escort an important prisoner out of a Middle Eastern town crawling with Arab fighters. Mason achieves his objective, only to be betrayed by a fellow groundpounder-for-hire who’s turned to the dark side. This leads to 13 more levels in which you pursue the leaders of a mysterious international terrorist organization through various settings in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
Each new scenario begins with a weapon-selection screen. You can outfit Mason with three firearms from a selection of 32 real-world weapons, including the classic M16A3 and AK-47 assault rifles, the ever-reliable M249 SAW machine gun, plus three types of sniper rifles, four grenades and 15 handguns, some of which you can duel-wield. Each of the rifles can also be enhanced with accessories including sniper scopes, a silencer and a snap-on handgrip for added control.
Once Mason is completely kitted out, he receives a mission briefing from Decker, his headquarters controller, whom Mason continually annoys by calling her “boss lady.” And then the carnage begins as Mason is turned loose against a virtually unending parade of enemies in locales such as desert villages and jungle camps, leading to the inevitable encounter with an end-level boss (sometimes more than one) who’s much tougher to put down than the average grunt. Payback was designed with the Xbox 360 in mind, so the infamous checkpoint saving system is utilized. Shooter veterans playing at Normal difficulty level can expect to finish the game in 10 hours or less, although the scarcity of checkpoints at vital moments can extend the completion time.
On the multiplayer side, Payback includes five maps taken from the single-player campaign in a selection of the usual modes, including deathmatch, team deathmatch and elimination, with a maximum of 12 players per match. Players can host a match or join one in progress, and their characters can be customized with various skins and weapon loadouts. LAN play is also available.
It’s been six years since the last game in the series, Soldier of Fortune: Double Helix. Is Payback worth the wait or should publisher Activision have allowed the series to go out guns blazing in 2002? On to the numbers…
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