Developer : Wings Simulation
Publisher : Encore
Release Date : June 22, 2004
Pre-order 'SOLDNER: Secret Wars': PC
I am a simple person. I like my meat rare, my potatoes baked, and my first-person shooters lag-free. I found my Soldner experience to be like ordering steak at chain restaurant; sometimes the meat was done right – not too rare, not too cooked. Other times they burnt the order. In other words, when the game worked great, it was a fantastic experience; when it didn't, it was an exercise in frustration.
Soldner has gone through three Beta releases for its multiplayer component, if you count the patches. The first public beta was as close to a fiasco as a beta can be. The master browser for the servers was in the dev's offices and they didn't anticipate the demand, leading the server list not populating properly. To add to the woes, connecting to the servers was a challenge, and if you were able to get connected, staying connected and having decent latency was almost impossible.
Late April, the developers released yet another beta, and initially it was even worse – a feat I didn't think possible. One night I spent significantly longer trying to get connected than I spent playing the game. The last few play sessions have been better though, and I was able to experience some excellent game play. While the net code was better, the game crashed to the desktop way too often, and one person with a high ping count can bring the server to its knees.
Last Friday brought about the obligatory beta patch, and this one improved the stability and connection issues tremendously – but I still experienced too many connection issues, and a laggy person still made everyone's lives miserable. The devotion the developers have shown in releasing frequent patches to the beta proves to me they do care about the product, and any post-release issues will be quickly taken care of.
Now that we've got the obligatory griping about the network code out of the way, let's to get to the areas Soldner does excel at.
Firstly, there's the fully interactive environment. If you fire a rocket launcher at someone and miss, you're going to take down a tree instead. Buildings and bridges can be blown up, fences destroyed by running a vehicle over them, and windows in buildings shot out. The environments themselves look fantastic, and while they aren't Far Cry quality, they are a sight better than the Battlefield Vietnam graphics, which I was very impressed with. You've got full DX9 graphics here, with moving grass, nicely rippled water, and excellent particle effects on the explosions. There are two maps in the public beta: Riverside, a map that looks like the Maine woods; and Cold Winter, which as its name implies is a winter scene. The texture work is excellent in both maps, but I much preferred the Riverside map – there's only so much you can do with a snow texture. While the graphics are great, the sounds right now aren't so hot. The explosions and chopper noises are well done, but some of the automatic weapons fire sounds farty. The game does use surround sound, but I feel the sounds need some "oomphing up."
The interface and controls take some getting used to. While they are based on the traditional FPS key layouts, there are enough differences and oddities that you'll need to keep the reference card handy. You also spawn without holding a weapon, so make sure you equip the starting pistol before heading out.
The game can be played in either first or third person views, and it's easy to switch on the fly. I preferred first person view, since that's what I'm the most familiar with. Both views are viable, though, as other people I've talked to about their beta impressions preferred third.
The other feature I was impressed with was the avatar creation. You've got over 10 choices for customizing your look, and you can modify the headpiece, jacket, trousers, and boots you are wearing. You have as many choices for skin color and facial appearances as you do clothing, so with a little effort you can make yourself stand out from the crowd, and design a consistent look for your clan.
Soldner is German for Mercenary, or as we call them in America, Civilian Contractors. As a result, money is root of the game. You have two forms of currency: individual and team, and you use this currency to buy your weapons, vehicles, armor and planes; gone are the days of vehicle spawn point camping in Battlefield to get the cool ride. Also, you won't lose the only chopper on the map just because some idiot didn't know how to fly it. You get more money by killing the enemy and capturing their flags. This does bring about one weakness I observed. Since everyone needs to visit terminals to buy their weapons, or hope they pick up one from a dead soldier, the terminals are frequently camped by snipers. They either need to add in terminals under cover, or come up with some way to buy weapons without being in the middle of the base. However, the money does ensure also that the winning team gets the cool toys, which may make it tough for the losing team to make a comeback. In Battlefield a losing team could make a good run on the command points to win, in Soldner that may be tougher to do if the winning team is dug in with tanks.
The game does feature an impressive seven game modes: Deathmatch, the old standby; Conquest, where you need to capture the flags of your enemy – think BF1942; Capture the Flag, where you need to capture the flag and bring it back to your base; Hostage rescue, where one team needs to rescue hostages and lead them to a target area; Bomb Run, where one team has bombs that need to be set on one or several places in order to destroy a target; Extraction, where one team guards an item while the other team tries to steal the item and bring it to a target location; and Capture the Vehicle, where each team needs to capture a enemy vehicle and return it to their base – it's like Capture the Flag, but you get to ride the flag. What I liked is that each mode is slightly different, and most of them encourage team play.
There are numerous vehicles in the game as well. You can drive a variety of vehicles – Humvees, Jeeps, Tanks, Half-Tracks, Jets and Helicopters. The helicopters are fairly easy to fly; almost arcade type flying. I did have some problems with the vehicles where they only wanted to move forwards, but that was apparently an issue on my end, as other were able to drive them without any issues. The tanks are a blast as a 2-man crew, with one person driving and the other working the main cannon.
As with any team-based game, your fellow players will greatly influences you enjoyment. One play session, the members of my team were very goal oriented and we worked well together taking over bases. Other play sessions were full of people freelancing and it made for a sub-par game. That's not the fault of the developers, just the luck of the draw.
A big feature in Soldner is without any doubt the "Commander Mode," which I have noticed during my hours game session is VERY often forgotten, almost like people do not know it is there to begin with. As is with most online games these days, if the majority agrees, you can "vote" to kick a certain player off the server for unacceptable behavior. Such is also the case with Soldner, but there is more to the "vote" option than just that. Anybody on your team can call a vote to select a "Commander," and democratic as we are, whoever gets the most votes, gets the title bestowed upon him. Having a Commander in your midst gives you several extra features which benefit the entire team. For instance; the Commander has the ability to switch to an overhead birds eye view (top down like in most RTS games) where he can oversee, zoom in/out the entire map. Big deal I hear you say, right, but the fun part is that the Commander sees "ALL" players, friend and foe. Your commander can then pass on troop movements, spot enemies advancing but most importantly he can "assign" targets to one of his team members, and the enemy then becomes more visible because he is "tagged" with a "target" label, making it easy to track him down and eliminate the threat. Another very important ability of the Commander is the fact that not only do individual team members gain money by killing enemies and taking over spawn points, but the entire team benefits as each time some money goes into the "team account", which can only be distributed back to the team by the Commander. Needless to say that voting for a Commander becomes an important strategy and can really boost your team's finances and abilities.
Soldner is mostly touted as an online product but we should not forget that Wings Simulations also included a single player portion by means of their "Random Mission Generator." This could be more considered a tutorial or practice area as they are standalone missions, without any sort of story or plot linking them together at all. Most of these missions will have rather simple objectives such as tracking down an item, retrieving a briefcase, blowing up a specific building or destroying an object. The beauty of the RMG is that, although the goal remains the same, none of the missions are ever the same in layout as once you could be playing in a forest type environment and the next time that same mission could be a snow covered landscape. Once you successfully complete a mission you get rewarded with extra vehicles, weapons or money to purchase them by yourself.
Right now Soldner still needs quite a bit of work before I feel its ready for prime time, primarily in the net-code – once you can make a more reliable connection and not have a laggy person bring the server to a halt, life will be much better. That said, when I was able to get a connection I did enjoy the game, and I feel the money-oriented approach to buying weapons and vehicles introduces a great concept to the genre, and I can see this one becoming a clan favorite.
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