Das boot to the head.
In case you are torn between Joint Ops or Battlefield: Vietnam, Encore has decided to help you out a bit by providing a counterpoint to the two foremost online first-person shooters. S'ldner, pronounced "Zold-neh," means 'mercenary' in German and 'awful game' in English. You have to feel sorry for S'ldner; the game's engine has more problems than a diabetic leper with HIV and it literally requires a patch to play. I blame the parents for not publishing responsibly. Some people just shouldn't reproduce.
Nor should they attempt to write video game plots. Söldner claims that all of the world's superpowers got tired of spending money on their militaries, so they abolished them. In their place, tons of small mercenary groups sprang up, and now they fight little wars on little battlefields with most of the vehicles and weapons of a modern day army. This makes sense, because governments hate war and would rather spend their money on education or repairing infrastructures than researching new bombs and viral weapons. Really.
S'ldner features both single and multiplayer modes, but before you do anything, you have to dress your s'ldner for battle. You can choose from a variety of faces, hats, jackets, pants, boots, pads, backpacks, camo types, and insignias to try making your s'ldner look like a killing machine. Most of your options result in a modern looking soldier, although you can also make a pretty convincing cowboy as well as five or six different types of Nazis, complete with trench coats and Nazi helmets. Oddly, the plot has nothing to do with Nazis, meaning these features were included just in case you really wanted to deck yourself out like one. You sick bastard.
In the single-player campaign, you appear in an abandoned base with some training equipment and a house. There is no tutorial and no one to tell you what to do. Eventually, you'll discover a little panel that takes you to a 'Mission Select' screen. From here, you can select a mission such as 'Blow up a gas tank in China.' You select the mission and boom! you're on an abandoned base in China. Right down the street there's an enemy gas tank, so you cruise down there and blow it up. Mission complete.
A gang of AI bots will attempt to stop you from destroying their precious gas tank, but they suffer from pretty severe brain damage. They behave like demented seniors, especially when they drive, just zigging and zagging all over the field in order to ultimately crash and die or get stuck in a ditch.
It's just tragic, terrible single-player gameplay, badly designed and badly executed. Really the only reason to play the single-player campaign is to learn to fly the vehicles in an environment where no one else can make fun of you.
Although to be honest, making fun of people is probably the most fun you'll have playing Söldner online. Once you've downloaded the absolutely necessary patch and chosen 'Play Online' from the main menu, you'll be presented with a typical list of games with pings, player populations and maps. Although there only ever appear to be about 40 people playing S'ldner at a time, there are almost always one or two games to join. Thank heavens for choices.
Before you're thrown into the fray, the game asks you to pick a side and a spawn point on the field alí Battlefield 1942. Once you're in, you'll need to arm yourself. This can be done by visiting one of the many equipment kiosks that adorn any given base. In order to buy equipment and vehicles from these kiosks you need money, which is earned by taking control of spawn points and killing enemies. Anything you buy comes out of your team's cash pool, so teams will want to coordinate their purchasing strategies to avoid bankrupting themselves.
The problem with this little economic feature is the fact that nobody likes to do anything in Söldner other than fly the jets and helicopters. Why? Because the game is a jumbled, buggy, broken-down mess of bad code. Running around on foot and fighting isn't any fun because the framerate is horrendously slow, your movement is choppy, and if anyone comes along with a tank or a plane, you're dead. The ground vehicles aren't any fun either due to their governance by the worst physics system known to man.
The helicopters aren't any better than the ground vehicles due to the bad control. Steering is overly sensitive while thrust requires some bizarre combination of the space-bar and the 'W' key. This is aggravated by the fact that sometimes you need to press a button three or four times just to get a command to register, which always leads to pressing a given button too many times, the result of which either instantly sends your chopper to the highest possible altitude or smashes it into the ground.
The jets suffer from the same steering sensitivity issues as the choppers, but thankfully don't force the user to deal directly with vertical movement. Plus, the jets just look really cool. They're also far too strong and just about impossible to shoot down unless you're flying a jet yourself, so if there are a couple people on a server who are really good at flying jets, chances are they'll kill everyone over and over again. Woohoo!
One of the biggest problems with the aerial vehicles is the tiny amount of draw-distance in S'ldner. Once you get up to a reasonable altitude, the ground will disappear in a blue haze reminiscent of an N64 game. However, this little graphical blunder is just one of the bazillion performance problems a gamer might experience during any given play session with S'ldner. Rockets occasionally zoom off in a random direction when you fire them. If a level is rainy, the framerate will drop to about 6 fps. S'ldner takes roughly five minutes to load and a ridiculous seven to quit, and that's assuming it quits successfully and doesn't completely crash your computer.
In a shocking twist, the graphics are unbelievably bad. S'ldner is one of the worst looking games I've ever seen. The textures are flat, the polys few and the framerate rickety at best. It's a nightmare come alive!
The best sound byte in S'ldner occurs any time you move around in a menu, and it's of some German guy saying 'Zollllld-na!' Then this cheeseball military theme starts in, immediately after which I turn off the game volume and turn on my radio.
S'ldner is a train wreck from start to finish. There is no balance. There is no stability. If the engine was an automobile, it would be a Yugo. Truly the only benefit of its existence is as a reminder that we are lucky to have such excellent alternatives.