The 1998 science fiction movie "Soldier" was hardly Kurt Russell's biggest hit, and was roundly panned by critics and movie fans alike. So why, two years on, are Southpeak Interactive making a computer game based on the film? We got our hands on a beta version of the game to find out more...

Dog New Tricks

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Todd is, quite literally, a soldier born and bred. He was raised from birth to be the ultimate killing machine, but now he has been made obsolete by a new generation of genetically engineered soldiers.

Left for dead on a former colony piled high with the garbage of its former occupants, Todd soon discovers that the planet isn't quite as abandoned as he was led to believe. The next generation soldiers are soon back to finish the job though, and Todd must find a way off the planet while helping to defend the normally peaceful inhabitants of the garbage world against the invaders.

The movie's rather flimsy plot could have been made with a computer game in mind, leading naturally to non-stop run and gun action, as Todd blasts his way through wave after wave of genetically enhanced soldier with a variety of dirty big guns.

And so we come to Southpeak's new "game of the movie", which lets you take on either Kurt Russell's role as Todd, or the faster but less resilient settler Sandra. Now you too can relive the action as you shoot, run, leap and roll your way through fifteen massive levels packed with bad guys and powerups...

The Trick Is To Keep Breathing

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At its heart Soldier is an old school arcade shooter, with your character facing wave after wave of increasingly tough enemies, as well as occasional mini-bosses in the form of armoured vehicles.

The action is relentless and pyrotechnic, with a whole array of over the top weapons that bring back fond memories of the classic scrolling shooters of yesteryear - games like R-Type and Xenon 2. You start the game with a pea shooter machinegun that has all the offensive capabilities of a blunt kitchen knife, but as you make your way through the game you will find three other weapons - a plasma cannon, a shotgun, and a flamethrower.

This might not sound like much, but as with any good arcade shooter you can upgrade and enhance your weapons throughout the game by picking up a range of power-ups that are dropped, along with ammunition, health packs and armour, as you scythe your way through the opposition.

These enhancements improve the range, firing rate and punch of your weapons, and in some cases completely change the way they work. The flamethrower, for example, doubles as an incendiary grenade and rocket launcher with the right power-ups, and when you max out your machinegun it can temporarily turn into a lethal rapid-firing railgun!

All of your weapons also have secondary firing modes, letting your fire a variety of grenades, rockets and cluster bombs. Perfect for a bit of crowd control, and fun for all the family.

You Look So Fine

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The graphics engine that powers all of these pyrotechnics is impressive enough, and the designers have done an excellent job of recreating the garbage planet of the movie.

Much of the game is set amongst towering piles of refuse and junk, with everything from piles of burnt out cars to ruined radio telescopes and half-buried wings and tail fins from old jumbo jets. The terrain from which the debris juts is smooth, detailed, and well textured.

Above it all is a sky that varies from mission to mission, taking in blood red and twilight orange during the daytime while the planet's twin suns provide the requisite lens flare. By night one or more moons hang in a blue and purple sky. It's all very atmospheric, and the lighting effects are spot on, with the terrain lit realistically and your character throwing a shadow as the suns and moons shine down on you.

Unfortunately the characters are the one let down in the graphics department, looking rather blocky and awkwardly animated. They look out of place in the gloriously rendered surroundings, and we can only hope that they are still "work in progress".

Not My Idea

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The game isn't without its flaws though. Although you can stray from the straight and narrow in most of the levels, all too often you will find your character bouncing off an invisible wall as you try to take a shortcut over the top of one of the garbage heaps.

Another potential problem is that the game's fifteen missions share only a handful of maps, meaning that you will end up fighting your way back and forth over the same terrain three or four times. There are a few changes between missions, such as the sky and lighting changing, or wreckage being added or removed, but it's still the same basic lay-out each time.

And at the end of the day, most of the missions consist of getting from A to B and blowing something up, or getting from A to B and blowing up everything that you meet along the way. If you're looking for an intelligent plot-driven game, look elsewhere - Soldier is very much about pure arcade action.

Conclusion

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Soldier might not be the most imaginative, intelligent or ground-breaking game ever made, but it does boast good old fashioned wall-to-wall run-and-gun action updated with incredible 3D accelerated graphics.

Like the movie it is based on, Soldier looks set to be a triumph of special effects and fast-paced action over plot and characters. It might not be for everybody, but if you want some mindless eye candy laden ultra-violence for the weekend, this could well be what you're looking for.

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