Mercenaries 2 Review - 01/10/2008

Mercenaries 2 is the sequel to the open-world sandbox game that received so much critical acclaim back on the PS2 and Xbox. It was hugely impressive in its context, but has the next instalment moved with the times?

Coming from the hugely talented developers Pandemic, and the hugely wealthy publishers at EA, you could be forgiven for expecting big things from Mercs 2. It is an incredibly fun game, but certainly feels dated in places. Still, it is definitely my most played game this month, which may give some indication as to how I feel about it.

Set in Venezuala, you can play as one of three stereotyped characters. The main guy, Mattias Nilsson is probably the most unusual of the three. He's a blonde punk with a cheeky yet over-the-top carelessness that is sure to make him popular to anyone not already familiar with the series so far; he also regenerates his health faster. You then have Chris Jabos, a black macho American who's not afraid to wind up the wrong people; he can carry more ammo. Jennifer Mui is the female option, a money driven and suitably good looking woman who has faster sprint speed.

Amazingly good fun at times.

Coupled with these three playable characters there are five factions to use and abuse in the game. As it is, somewhat controversially, set in Venezuela, these are Universal Petroleum, a money-hungry oil company that cares little about the inhabitants of the country; The Peoples' Liberation Army of Venezuela, the undercover resistance movement; the Allied Nations, basically the UN; the Chinese Army; and the Rastafarian Pirates. As a merc it's your job to make sure you get the most out of these factions and reap the financial rewards as effectively as possible.

The open-world setting sees each of these factions (as well as the always-hostile Venezuelan Army) occupying large sections of the map. Each one has enemies and different tasks they want you to complete. While not exploited as effectively as it could perhaps be, this balancing act works well if you don't want to have to buy a tank everytime you need to travel across the map as all the factions may be gunning for you. The ultimate plot is really just a revenge mission that isn't terribly stimulating but is nicely in keeping with the ethos of the rest of the game.

The destruction looks great initially, but isn't as impressive as it could be.

The key, as the subtitle World in Flames suggests, is virtually unlimited destructibility. You start off with a pretty limited selection of armaments, but are gently introduced to the heavier weaponry on offer. You are given an Aussie girl to help you out at your headquarters, and eventually pick up a mechanic, helicopter pilot and jet pilot to deliver various massive tools of destruction. Absolutely everything can be destroyed, but you have to wonder if something more similar to EA's Bad Company engine may have been more impressive. Flattening buildings is a great thrill, but without the specific destruction of Bad Company, firing into a wall to not even leave a mark is disappointing. Each item that can be destroyed has its own discreet health bar, but some weapons cannot affect it. An RPG can do no damage to buildings for example. Some large structures boast stages of damage before collapsing, but not noticeably location specific depending on where they've been hit.

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EA Games
Pandemic Studios