Hello and welcome to Bullet Points, a new weekly series covering the little things in games that make them tick. Nearly every game has something unique going for it, even the most generic and bland games have at least one bullet point that make it different from the rest. Be it a striking art style, a penchant for authenticity, or in this case, buckets of well-designed blood, there’s something any game has that’s worth taking a closer look at, and today we’re starting with a criminally overlooked first person shooter, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix.
The Soldier of Fortune series lasted for three games of varying quality (and one four day online beta that never amounted to anything), but I’m genuinely surprised it even made it that far. The first Soldier of Fortune was a competent shooter, but there wasn’t really anything gameplay wise that made it special. However, there was one topic that had people talking, and still has me loving the game today:the ludicrous gore.
Using the GHOUL engine, the first Soldier of Fortune was a bloody mess, allowing players to disembowel enemies with a shotgun or pop heads with a magnum. It was a fast-paced flurry of violence, featuring all sorts of contemporary, and some futuristic, weapons to mow down enemies with. It was a fine game, and an all-around decent title, but things didn’t get really crazy until Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix.
Gone were the futuristic weapons, all replaced with standard ballistic firearms. However, in the lack of outlandish guns, came an increase in outlandish gore. The GHOUL 2.0 engine featured 36 “gore zones” on enemies—different body parts that could all be individually damaged. Shoot someone in the temple twice, and you can expect the top half of their head to fly off. Take a shot down low, and enemies will grab their nether regions in pain. Bones will jut out of stumps, limbs can be turned into mush with enough sustained firepower, and shattered glass can embed itself into enemy models.
Needless to say, it’s quite the bloody affair. Fights with many enemies will usually become a cacophony of muzzle flash and soaring splatters of blood, always joined in with the occasional body part. This hyper-exaggeration isn’t always too noticeable if you’re using an automatic, but the second a shotgun gets involved, levels will be absolutely caked in gore. Someone’s body might be slumped against a wall, with a red trail starting from their messy stump leading to their leg halfway across the room. And combined with perfectly wet sound effects and the rousing bangs a shotgun produces, it all adds up to a pretty visceral experience.
But the gore is a lot more notable than just a little dressing on a game—Soldier of Fortune was a series defined by its dedication to violence. Ask anyone who has ever played them what they remember about the Soldier of Fortune games, and I’m sure you’ll hear like-minded ramblings about popped heads and messy entrails. Soldier of Fortune and Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix were not masterpieces, or really even what I would call cult hits. They’re perfectly serviceable C-list shooters, but they will always have a fond place in my heart for all the tasteless carnage it allowed players to create.