Genre: First-person Shooter
Publisher: Digital Jesters
Release Date: September 2005
No seriously, why didn’t someone think of this sooner?
During the jungle of electronic entertainment that is the E3 Expo, we got to sit down with Digital Jesters and check out Bet on Soldier, a futuristic FPS with a fresh take on the genre and some very interesting gameplay elements. Bet on Soldier essentially takes place in a world where World War I never ended; having raged on for approximately 80 years, the war itself has become so commonplace that it has been commercialized by the two fighting factions. The battles are televised for the whole world to see, and though normal soldiers from each side fight, there are also mercenaries who are only fighting for money and their own gais. Some mercenaries achieve a sort of legendary status among their faction to the point that when two of them on opposing sides of the conflict meet in the field of battle, a huge television event is made out of it, and people watching the show at home can bet on who they think will be the victor. In this world, Nolan, the main character, lived peacefully with his wife. One day Nolan finds his wife murdered, the murderer himself having connections to the Bet on Soldier program. To find his wife’s killer and avenge her death, Nolan joins the program as a mercenary, fighting for money as well as finding clues to help him set things straight.
Of course, the glitz and glamour surrounding the Bet on Soldier program isn’t exactly the first and foremost thing on the mercenaries’ minds, as every battle is still a kill-or-be-killed fight for survival. The battlefields themselves are often war-torn areas such as cityscapes, wastelands, or fields, all bombed into oblivion and covered in debris. Even still, money is everything for a mercenary, and performing well both in battle and in the special one-on-one mercenary events is of great concern so that there is enough money to finance the fighting. Doing certain things in regular battle will net you a money bonus, such as headshots or other stylish means of dispatching an enemy soldier.
The one-on-one mercenary events are governed by a 60-second time limit; and while the fight doesn’t end after that, you won’t receive any money if you pass the deadline. During the normal scuffles, you are accompagnied by up to eight team members, but during your alone time with an adversary, your surroundings come to a screeching halt, and it's just you and your opponent. Each map will have on average of three mercenaries for you to eliminate, roughly 15 maps, so you will encounter somewhere around 40-45 mercenaries throughout the game. To make meeting that limit easier each mercenary has a sort of Achilles heel, whether it is in their gear or in their tactics. The player must spend money to buy weapons, ammo, armor, and to repair and upgrade their gear. Even saving games cost money, which means at first the player must scrape by with what they have until they can afford the more luxurious implements of infantry warfare. Picking up weapons and ammo from slain enemies will do you no good, though.. There are occasionally terminals in the battlefield itself (shown on your HUD's radar screens) that the player can use to refit and rearm, though one can’t rely on those too heavily, so be sure to use your resources wisely and plan ahead.
The battles themselves in Bet on Soldier are a fairly chaotic affair, and rarely a matter of turn a corner, blast someone, repeat. In one level we were shown, the battlefield was a wide-open debris-strewn field complete with a pillbox, paratroopers landing, guard towers and walls, and giant mechanized exoskeletons with guns, and nary a constricting set path to be found. The exoskeletons tear apart infantry like nobody’s business, assuming you aren’t blasting a rocket launcher into its back, but are ridiculously fun to pilot once the shoe is on the other foot. Even fighting mere infantry is made more interesting with how well you can gauge an opponent's "health." Hitting exposed flesh as opposed to armor will obviously deal more damage, but even armor gets broken off once it takes a few hits. It’s actually possible to systematically blast off an opponent’s armor piece by piece, but more often than not, you’ll be content with unloading an assault rifle into their torso and dropping them cold, the bits and pieces of flying armor scattering on the ground being an added and enjoyable special effect.
Multiplayer in Bet on Soldier sounds particularly enjoyable, thanks to the mere implementation of the Bet on Soldier program element. The multiplayer maps will contain control points that generate both money and tickets, which can be used to nominate one of your team members as the main mercenary, which then forces the other team to choose a member from theirs. When the two meet in battle next, the fight centralizes around them as everyone watches them fight to the death. Finally, those fanatics in game servers who relish obliterating the enemy team single-handedly can now not only do so, but be recognized for it to the point that they can prove their mettle by fighting the best of what the other team has to offer. The multiplayer mode supports up to 32 players and will be a mix between the gameplay seen in Counter-strike and the Unreal Tournament series.
Bet on Soldier uses the proprietary Kt engine, which has been in development for over six years. The engine is scalable to the point that even a relatively modest PC can enjoy the title, while obviously those with top-of-the-line rigs will be able to appreciate the detailed visuals and DirectX 9 features. The game as a whole has a really deep atmosphere, as everywhere you fight really seems like a battlefield covered in debris rather than a clean bunch of geometry with debris objects tacked on. Thanks to the NovaDex physics engine, you can blast an enemy soldier in the face with such intensity that it will not only kill him but send his helmet flying and bouncing down the dunes. The special effects only add to the immersion such as the breakable armor or the lighting effects given off by weapons fire, and the first time you see a exoskeleton with a chaingun and a rocket launcher drawing a bead on you, will give you a reason to take pause and wonder if you really shouldn’t just run like hell. People who have played Kylotonn's previous title, Iron Storm, know what to expect in terms of atmosphere and style of graphics, as the two titles certainly have similarities in both aspects, up to the fact that both games deal with a non-ending war being carried on until this very date and beyond.
All things considered, I honestly wonder why no one thought of an idea like Bet on Soldier sooner, as it really seems and plays great. The intertwining of the Bet on Soldier program and the plot itself works very well, but the star of the title is how that so completely and so enjoyably into the gameplay itself. Personally, I really am looking forward to the multiplayer component. Be sure to nominate OUberLord in your multiplayer battles when the game ships later this year, I‘ll show whoever the other team chooses how to dance and make it a spectator sport for sure. Look for more information on Bet on Soldier as it nears its ship date.
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