For those who managed to miss the original game, Mercenaries 1 successfully gave the player total freedom in a massive wide-open environment to pursue the nefarious deeds of a chosen mercenary. Trading bullets for bucks was the order of the day, and Mercs 1 did a respectable job and received a positive reaction.
Spin on a few years and it seems the games press and players aren’t welcoming the sequel quite as universally. I’m sitting here trying to figure out why, as I think it’s rather good.
The game takes place in the socio-political hotbed based around Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Several corporate factions and rag-tag freedom fighters are vying for control of the country’s liquid gold – Oil. There’s plenty of it to be had, and everyone wants a slice – which is where you come in.
Playing one of three mercenaries, your task is to aid (or hinder) each of the factions in the game, performing various missions in order to make a huge pile of cash. As a battle-hardened expert in just about every type of weapon or offensive vehicle there is, you’re more than tooled up for the task. It’s your choice what you do and who you do it to so load up and get embroiled in the fight.
Pandemic have improved on the original game in several substantial ways. This time, you’re given ample opportunity to make cash really quickly – everything from taking out key targets to ingratiate yourself with different factions, to carrying out training missions with a little private wager with your support team members on the side (actually, these are a hell of a lot of fun so it’s worth doing as many as you can as there are achievements a-plenty).
There are of course meat-and-bones missions too. Each faction in the game will have their own agenda, and whether you decide to throw your lot in with the insidious Universal Petroleum company or the People’s Liberation Army of Venezuela, trouble is never far away.
One thing the original game did really well was to give the player the sense that just about everything in the game could be destroyed. In Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, destruction is actually kept to a minimum. Certain buildings and targets can be blown to pieces quite spectacularly but there seemed to be a few structures that would stay put no matter how many times you tried to destroy them.
Your PMC (Private Military Company) is co-ordinated by the tasty Aussie chick Fiona. You can recruit several non-player characters along the way to help with various functions, for instance Drew (an irish chopper pilot) is handy when you find money, armaments and other cached goodies hidden around the gameworld. Theres also ace mechanic Eva who’s a bit like a curvaceous and slightly more feminine version of B.A Baraccus capable of stringing together various bits of scrap you collect in order to make you new vehicles and weapons.
Lastly there’s the rummy bomber pilot MIscha who can be called in to deliver desctructive airborne payloads from cluster bombs to bunker-busters.
Equipping yourself is key to success in every mission, and at first you have three loadoad slots to put items into. Airstrikes, vehicle drops and arms drops can be put in these slots – with additional resources also allocated during certain missions. When taking on a new contract you’re also offered the chance to grab mission-critical stuff too, so make good use of ‘em.
Mercs 2’s game engine is pretty impressive. It’s not the prettiest game in the world – and in fact some of the visuals and pop-in are a little distracting, and there’s the ever-present V-Synch tearing to contend with, but it’s functional and because the game’s so engrossing you’ll be too busy dodging incoming fire and trying to stay alive to worry too much about the graphics being a little lacking.
There are bugs though, and some bugs can be distinctly annoying. Mercs have the tendency to get stuck in the scenery all too often (I managed to wedge my character under an upturned boat and couldn’t escape until I’d meleed the thing to bits, with it eventually exploding and killing me). For the most part though, it maintains a decent frame rate (until things get really busy on-screen) and triggering some of the bigger explosions is quite a spectacle for the peepers with everything going up in a spectacular harshly-lit orange fireball. Nice.
The most fun I had in the game was blitzing around in different vehicles. If you see it in the game, you can drive it and there’s everything from big yank muscle-cars to heavily armoured Personnel Carriers and tanks. You can even grapple choppers and steal them, mid flight with a bit of Quick-Time button mashing. The QT bits did get a bit tiresome after the 100th time, but they’re over with quickly and each vehicle’s QT sequence for hijacking stuff is at least predictable so you shouldn’t have any problems with remembering the sequences.
The scenery around Lake Maracaibo is pretty stunning though and it’s quite fun getting off the beaten track to hoover up those side missions and HVT Targets. As with the first game, subduing a HVT and capturing them alive will reap greater rewards than killing them and photographing their corpses. The game’s missing the genius “Deck of Cards” dynamic of the first game but it does at least substitute it with something a little more immediate and a lot more easy to deal with.
As the game progresses, the core central storyline reveals itself piece by piece until you get a chance at some payback against the main aggressor in the game, Ramon Solano. Gathering information about his whereabouts and activities during each mission may not garner great rewards but it will at least bring you and your PMC buddies a little closer to exacting revenge on the slimy ne’er do well until the final confrontation, which I won’t spoil for you but will test everything you’ve learned in the game up to that point.
Though the game may feel rushed in places, and very rough around the edges, it does exactly what you’d expect it to – builds on the original game’s idea of a free-roaming gun for hire selling their military expertise to the highest bidder. If you like plenty of action and a whole lot of impressive set-pieces, then Mercs 2 is a no-brain purchase. It may feel a little bit short unless you’re the sort of person who wrings every single scrap of achievement-scraping out of the game, but the game’s certainly good enough to warrant a couple of plays through with different characters, and allying yourself to different factions to see how it affects the overall plot. You can also allow people to leap into your game in co-op mode – buddying up to complete various missions. This works nicely but EA really do need to talk to Microsoft about sorting out this ‘signing in to different networks’ business. Once you’re signed in to LIVE, that should be all you need to do – and at present the game rather annoyingly seems to require you to sign into EA’s networks also.
Despite this, the game is thoroughly enjoyable for all its bugs and lack of polish. Go grab the demo (available later this week) and make up your own mind whether it’s for you or not. Personally I thought it was worth the asking price.