Name: Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Platform: PS3, PS2, PC, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
The original Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction was one of the last generation’s most pleasant surprises. The combination of open world freedom, destructible environments and over the top explosions made for a unique game experience that had many gamers salivating over the prospect of a next-gen sequel. That sequel has arrived, and while it manages to up the ante in terms of explosions and visuals, the original game’s polish and attention to detail is nowhere to be found.
Mercenaries 2: World in Flame revisits the characters introduced in the first game, this time placing them in war-torn Venezuela as opposed to war-torn Korea. Whereas Playground of Destruction focused entirely on monetary gain, World in Flames sees your mercs seeking revenge on a Venezuelan politico who stiffed them on a job; a backstory cleverly told through the game’s tutorial level. Guns, grenades, tanks, helicopters and, of course, air strikes are your tools in this quest for recompense in and around the cities of Caracas and Maracibo, and with the amount of enemies strewn about the map, there’s be no shortage of chances to utilize each of them. Add in the faction system introduced in the original, and you’ve got an experience that is structured very similarly to that of the first.
While the game may resemble its predecessor from a distance, it’s when you start to look close at the details that everything starts to fall apart. Regardless of how close you are to an enemy, aiming your standard weapons is an absolute chore. Bullets spray out of your guns at odd angles, making quick, stylish kills a near impossibility. Instead of displaying any shooting skill, you simply need to point in the general direction of your enemy, wait for the overpowered aim assist to kick in, and lay on the trigger until they die. Firing quick, three round bursts are no more accurate than blasting indiscriminately. Fortunately, the AI for the game’s enemies is so incredibly poor, your inaccurate shooting shouldn’t matter a bit. Enemies routinely “hide” behind nothing at all, run blindly into walls and even blow themselves to smithereens by shooting their own cover with RPGs. Enemies this stupid make it hard to care about who you’re killing, and add to the overall feeling that this game was hacked together and shipped unfinished. It also doesn’t help that enemies’ bullets travel so slowly that I can only assume that they’re actually being thrown at you instead of being fired from a gun. Why take cover when you can literally step between bullets with ease?
Other than the horrendous aiming accuracy, the controls work well enough while on foot, and the button layout is simple and efficient. Like in most open world games, you’re able to hijack pretty much any vehicle you see. Driving feels like a simpler version of GTA IV’s behind-the-wheel mechanics as long as you keep the rubber on the road. Once the car leaves the ground, however, it’s subject to some of the wonkiest, least realistic physics ever encountered in a modern game. Fortunately, helicopters fare significantly better and control pretty much how you expect them to.
Outside of the driving sequences, there are plenty of other technical issues to detract from the experience. Clipping issues are abundant, collision detection is completely unreliable, and the game’s core physics often freak out for no good reason. To make matters worse, motorcycles behave as if they are from a completely different game. Once an NPC boards a cycle, he becomes a part of the vehicle, meaning that shooting a rider in the head is no different than shooting a pickup truck in the bumper. Also, if a rider jumps off his cycle while driving, the bike will run forever in a straight line, never falling down or losing momentum. These may seem like nitpicks, but in an open world game, they become glaring, inexcusable problems that completely take you out of the experience.
As mentioned before, Mercenaries 2 attempts to add more of a narrative to the proceedings, introducing a revenge angle and fleshing out the three playable characters. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t make much sense, and the characters suffer from some of the worst dialogue and voice acting in the history of gaming. Mattias, the character seen on the box art and the commercial, is the owner of what has to be the most bizarre voice ever. He’s supposed to be Swedish, but his lines sound as if they’re being delivered by a consortium of half a dozen amateur voice-actors, each with their own distinct fake accent. There are hints of German, British, Australian, Cajun, Texan and Spanish accents to be found in Mattias’ voice, along with touches of the Hulk and a bear. The other two characters’ voices are not as befuddling, but are uninspired and riddled with clichéd “bad-ass” dialogue. The rest of the game’s sound design is significantly better, with convincing sound effects for vehicles and weapons, though b default they are much louder than the voice work. Perhaps that’s a good thing, though.
The first Mercenaries game was known for its impressive graphics that pushed the limits of what last generation’s consoles could do. Mercs 2 is technically a visual improvement over its predecessor, but compared to other action titles of this generation, it’s a mixed bag at best. Player character models are nice, but nothing “wow”-inducing. Viewed up close, environmental textures are a sloppy mess, but at times, the world looks excellent from a distance. Large objects, like buildings and mountains, seem to have a near-infinite draw distance, but smaller environmental elements experience serious pop-in. There’s nothing more frustrating than driving your bike into a roadblock that didn’t exist until you were 10 feet from it. The one visual aspect of the game that developer Pandemic did right is the destructibility element. Every time you drop a large explosive device on a structure, you’ll be reminded why this game exists in the first place. Explosions are blindingly bright, insanely intense, and downright impressive. The effect is only improved by structures that break apart and crumble realistically, and fire effects that catch nearby trees ablaze. The chaos these bombs create is impressive, and you’ll even see your merc cover his or her eyes from the flash when they go off.
Considering the empty story and brainless AI found in the single-player mode, multiplayer co-op is the closest thing Mercenaries 2 has to a saving grace. Sure, it’s just two people taking on the same idiot soldiers, but the ability to team up with your destructive abilities makes the mode worth playing, which is more than can be said for the single-player campaign.
With its threadbare narrative, unlikable characters, uninspired combat, and myriad technical issues, Mercenaries 2 is a huge disappointment. There’s some fun to be had blowing up buildings with a friend online, but playing through enough of the game to unlock these weapons is more of a chore than it’s worth. People who really, really, really like explosions can get a weekend worth of enjoyment out of it, but for anyone with a taste for a quality shooter, there are plenty of better options out there.