Genre: First-person Shooter
Publisher: Digital Jesters/TBA
Release Date: September 2005
When I first heard about Bet on Soldier by Kylotonn Entertainment, I shrugged my shoulders and figured it would be another Unreal clone. The whole tournament-based, arena-style team deathmatch gameplay jumped right out at me, and I was left unmoved, but then I got my grubby little paws on a beta version of the game's first three levels, and any misconceptions I once had vanished. Bet on Soldier, despite its awkward name, looks like it could not only be a fun tactical FPS, but also have some social commentary thrown into the mix.
The best synopsis I can gather about Bet on Soldier is that it's part Running Man, part Unreal Tournament, and part Ghost Recon. The premise is that you are a professional soldier who has some command over a squad a la GR, but the battles are fought in an enclosed area against another team of soldiers a la Unreal Tourney, and the whole setting of the game is that while these battles take place, your average citizen can place bets on who will win, and there are significant cash rewards for exemplary performance.
What's more is that you can even wager your own money on a battle and bet that you can shoot up a few of your esteemed mercenary associates. The whole betting scheme adds a Texas Hold 'em feel to the game, where not only liberty, freedom and justice hang the balance, but also the very balance of your bank account. Certainly heightens the tension, doesn't it? Seems a little strange, but strange is good these days, and the whole war-as-entertainment concept rings eerily true with today's 24-hour news cycle and embedded journalism.
Bet on Soldier, as you could imagine, takes place in the future, and so the whole ambience is science-fiction, but Kylotonn wants you to think that this future could be our future. Kylotonn is definitely going for a gritty realness here, in spite of the futuristic weapons and armor. You play as a famous soldier named Nolan, and it is your job to earn money in Nolan's world of mercenary entertainment/foreign policy. The tactical nature of the game comes in the form of equipping Nolan for each environment and teaming him up with mercenaries to help you complete your objectives, but make sure you can afford their services, as the better soldiers demand better pay.
You can form a team of up to four AI-controlled troopers who can serve as engineers, assaulters, snipers or close-combat specialists. You pay these mercenaries with your hard-earned winnings for completing objectives, defeating opposing champions and killing as many enemy soldiers as you can (you get cash bonuses for headshots). Your equipment ranges in quality and price, and you must choose wisely before each battle. You have the option of equipping a melee weapon (which in the preview build was a nasty-looking wrist-mounted switchblade), handgun or sub-machinegun, assault rifle or sniper rifle and a heavy weapon. You also have up to six slots for high explosive or incendiary grenades. Weapons choices are critical to your gameplay style, as you can opt for a powerful sub-machinegun and a sniper rifle or you can go for a smaller caliber pistol and an assault rifle.
The range of choices available to you will be unlike anything seen before in an FPS of Bet on Soldier's type, and their tactical importance is tantamount, as you won't be finding weapon or ammo pick-ups mysteriously appearing on the battlefield. You can pretty much depend on only what you bring with you, so choose wisely, which is certainly a bold but realistic design choice which will only serve to make Bet on Soldier a tense and frantic firefight.
The environments are modeled to look like real-life installations, and what I liked the most about them is that they are mostly wide open terrain instead of winding corridors. Bet on Soldier will allow you room to maneuver, literally. Your team can suppress the enemy while you flank, but what is cool is that the enemy will do it to you as well.
While battles progress, enemy champions will enter the fray, and you can wager a bet against these elite soldiers prior to the battle. You can select one of these champions to face off against in dramatic fashion. Kylotonn twists the arena FPS concept here, as when one of these champions enters the fight, the battle suspends around you while you duel the champion. It changes the pace of the game considerably and heightens the tension, as before you had a team to rely on, now it's just you and the guy you wagered $5,000 that you could whoop.
The graphics and physics being incorporated into the game will compete with any contemporary shooter, and while I thought the soldiers looked a little goofy, I must admit that the textures are nice and natural, and the animations are very life-like. The camouflage patterns actually work well, as it is easy to lose an enemy soldier against the backdrop unless you can make out his movement rather than his form, which makes for more authentic gameplay.
To add to the game's natural grittiness and realism, Bet on Soldier lets the game talk for itself. You'll be serenaded by some withering salvos and volleys and be able to hear, if not feel, bullets and missiles rip by your head. Because you will have a difficult time spotting enemy troops against the backdrop, being able to identify the directions from which a shot came will go to great lengths in keeping you alive.
While multiplayer details have not been pinned down yet, it will be a mixture between the aforementioned UT/Quake and Counter-Strike. A strange mix, you say? Let me elaborate. The Counter-Strike comparison comes into play, as upon entering the virtual battlefield, it will be a team-based mode where you fight it out amongst each other, and the objective is to control a ticket machine on the map, much like controlling a spawn point in similar titles. The team who controls the ticket machine for a certain amount of time gets to select a member from both teams to go into an arena to fight it out mano-a-mano, gladiator style.
While my initial impressions of Bet on Soldier were a little low, after having some firsthand experience with the game's preview code, I think we have something that will prove to be fun to play and innovative on the tried-and-true arena-style FPS. I always love seeing as much grittiness and realism imbued into a game's design, and Bet on Soldier is aiming to be as gritty and nasty as can be. The gambling aspects and total control over your soldier's kit and squad will make for some tough decision-making in between battles. Do you risk the reward of fighting it out with a highly ranked opponent? Do you eschew a well-equipped and experienced squad in favor of better weapons and armor? Rocket launcher or war-shotgun? They seem like simple questions, but in the midst of the game, they are the questions to which you must know the answer, or else you'll find yourself tumbling in a ragdoll heap of bloody meat. Kylotonn has something cool on its hands, and I can't wait to see the finished product because if the beta code I played is any indication, then the official release will play well and be a pretty cool game.