Summary: Hankering for a new shooter that isn't Quake, CS or Unreal? Bet on Soldier: Blood Sport was recently released and we have the review right here!
Remember that one game where you woke up with amnesia only to find that your girlfriend/fiance/wife had been killed by the mob/government/aliens/bad people? See, you do know the gist of the story already.
You will also be pretty familiar with another big feature of this game – bugs. After multiple tries on several computers, I was finally able to get Bet On Soldier to install after tweaking my third box and then play without consistent crashes. Forums on the games website as well as a couple phone calls to fellow reviewers told me that I wasn’t alone and many people have been speculating that it is due to the infamous Starforce copy protection included in the game, but we will leave that for a future article.
Getting past the bugs and the story, there is an aspect of this game that is refreshingly new – the betting and gambling aspect. Introductory cutscenes in the game present you with the idea that millions of people are placing wagers on you as you fight your way through the levels. Though the gambling global audience has virtually no effect on your game, your own wagering does. In the beginning of missions you will have to spend your hard-won money on weapons and equipment for use in the level you are heading into, similar to Counter-Strike. It is a difficult decision since there are quite a few to choose from, but no indication as too which ones you will need, and there is no changing your mind mid-mission. If you choose to load up with a shotgun and you find your self in a wide-open level peppered with snipers… tough luck.
I do have good news, and it has nothing to do with my car insurance. The good news is that extra cash is rewarded inside the levels for creative and skillful kills. The game’s engine supports a very specific location-based damage system, so you can shoot someone in the leg enough times and watch the thigh armor degrade and fly off in small pieces until it is gone and he eventually dies. Perhaps interesting to watch from a graphics standpoint, but tedious to the home-viewing audience. Far greater cash rewards will be earned through torching enemies with a flame-thrower or making a difficult headshot. Here the players that spent a lot of money on high-dpi mice might find some advantage.
In addition to figuring out how much to spend on saves, weapons, and armor before a level, you must select which end boss you will confront. Each of the over-the-top characters will have different armor, weapons, and skills that are commensurate with the purse you could win if you defeat them. It is one of the game’s better innovations and forces you to take into account your current financial situation and the possible difficulty of the upcoming mission. You will also need to evaluate your own current and future skill at the game. BOS does do a great job of forcing you to better your playing. Will you have done well enough by the end of the level to take on the baddest of the end-bosses? Misjudge yourself and you might reach the end of a hard fought level without enough money to buy the ammo and armor to properly face him. And you will need a lot -- every end boss match has a 60 second time limit that forces you to go all out and balls to the wall as soon as the timer starts. This small amount of time can definitely heighten your excitement, but it can also cause frustration as it eliminates any chance for real strategy.
But the levels in between the boss matches do provide some thrills as teammates and foes swirl around you with action that is pretty much non-stop throughout. Other elements like the huge Exoskeleton walkers you can climb in and pilot (think Sigourney Weaver in the power loaders of Aliens) provide a variety to the combat that keeps the levels interesting and challenging. In fact, challenge is one of BOS’s real strengths. As mentioned before, it does a great job of forcing you to ramp up your skills quickly as you fight to earn more cash against AI that does a good job of displaying a desire for self-preservation. They use cover well and work as teams trying to flush you out with flanking maneuvers and use of the nasty hallucinogenic gas grenades that will fill your screen with a noxious green fog. So at the end of the single player campaign you can expect to be a much better at nearly any FPS, and with having to consider your finances throughout all your battles, you may be able to start balancing your check book as well.
But the fun of the gameplay doesn’t come without a few hiccups that will remind you that you are in your room at home instead of in a bloody game show of the future. One of our stranger criticisms of BOS is the voice-acting and localization. Either that, or this game is the first to allow you to adjust your overly-emotional computer equipment. Sliders in the options menu allow you to adjust your keyboard, mouse, and joystick’s sensibility. I am sure there is a person or two in each of our lives who could use the same slider. Besides poor translation, the voice-acting is riddled with awkward phrases and sayings that will be totally out of place to any native English-speaker. One of my favorite examples occurs when a fellow soldier runs up to you as soon as you enter a new level and exclaims, “The base is being over run! Be blessed!”
Unfortunately these problems distract from what would have otherwise been a strong showing in the sound department. Explosions and gunfire sound great and even jostling liquid-filled barrels creates a perfectly muted “sploosh”. The score is subtle but contributes well to the mood, and small touches like your own footsteps and bullet-ricochets are all a very immersive. If only it wasn’t for the wacky dialogue!
All technically incredible, but ultimately the capabilities of the engine were not exploited by the devs. Yes, smoke and particle effects looked incredible and the fire of gas canisters propelling them around rooms and knocking off boxes was great, but the lack of diversity in the environments takes so much away from that. Similarly, characters in the game that look stunning in terms of detail, quickly help you back to reality when the scripting has them walking and moving like marionettes.
In the end, the biggest crime here is not that Nolan Daneworth’s wife and dog were killed, or his house razed before he got amnesia, it is that the bugs and lack of polish bring down what could have been a pretty great multiplayer game. It has six classes such as sniper, engineer, and grenadier, similar to Team Fortress; it features up to 32 players on a server, and allows the unique mechanic of betting on your own games and success. Actually, for those willing to overlook the crashes and install problems or the weaknesses of the single player campaign, you won’t find much of the bad voice acting or strange character animations in the multiplayer component, and you may enjoy it. But as of press time, we can barely find anyone playing it, and multiplayer games without a multitude of players don’t last long.
The game begins with narration saying, “For thousands of years money has been the root of all evil, now it is the root of all survival.” That might turn out to be truer than the game’s developers and publishers may have hoped. Perhaps the publisher weighed its success against the soon-to-be-released 800 lb. gorillas of the holiday season and decided to push it out before it was ready for financial reasons? At least that is the scenario I would place my money on. The intro’s narration goes on to say that “In the future, there is no second prize.” For most cash-strapped gamers, that is definitely true, and with a season coming up with games Like Star Wars: Battlefront II and Quake IV, you would be wise to hold on to your chips for now.
That is unless you really enjoy alternating periods of excitement and extreme frustration. That is after all, what gambling is all about, right?
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