Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

What we liked:

+ Explosions and destructibility
+ Scale of the game
+ Co-op

What we didn't like:

- Buggy
- Lacks polish
- Rotten AI
- Repetitive

DEVELOPER: Pandemic Studios   |   PUBLISHER: EA Games   |   RELEASE: 08/31/2008

Oh no you didn’t.
Mercenaries 2 is a case of great concept and poor execution. Not without its redeeming qualities – in truth, it can be really fun – there are just so many problems dragging the game down it can be hard to embrace the positives. Much of Mercenaries 2 feels like the same old Mercenaries game, only many aspects of gameplay that used to be fun now have the earmarks of calculation and its resultant tedium. The fun hangs almost entirely on explosions and the game’s open, destructible, world. Forget the lack of moral compass, there’s no need of it here, and I can certainly appreciate how free of agenda the game is.

You are given the choice of playing as one of three mercenaries: Mattias Nilsson, Jennifer Mui or Chris Jacobs. Each has traits like speed or health, and beyond the slight perks they offer the decision does not affect gameplay or even much dialogue. Your mercenary is out for revenge any way they can get it – though pretty much through explosions and murder. Never mind that betrayal as a merc seems like an acceptable job risk you shouldn’t be so darn fussed about, the story is inconsequential.

At game start your sole teammate is Fiona, who primarily manages your location, and together you seize a villa in which to set up your PMC. It is not long before you snag helicopter pilot Ewan, mechanic Eva, and jet pilot Misha. In sum, a completely unremarkable collective: brash Irishman, over-muscled mechanic and drunk Russian. Each is helpful when it comes to retrieval or delivery of items like cash, oil, or air strikes as well as custom vehicles.

Set in steamy Venezuela, there are multiple factions in play ranging from Universal Petroleum to the People’s Liberation Army of Venezuela to some Rastafarian Pirates. You can alternately please and infuriate them all in pursuit of money, death and revenge: tick off a faction and you can always buy back their affection later. As the factions take your allegiance in turn you will never feel forced to choose sides – but you also miss the opportunity to play them against one another.

Each mission is classified as either a Contract or a Bounty. Contracts unlock while Bounties are there for the taking. Controlling outposts is a common contract: travel to a destination and destroy the opposition. There are also escort missions, destruction based missions, firefights and building defense. The Bounty missions are primarily divided between verifying HVTs (High Value Targets) and destroying targeted structures. Retrieving HVT’s alive is worth more scratch but the payoff is so small it is much easier to go in, kill the guy (and anything else that moves), then snap a pic and take half the cash. If all this sounds repetitive to you, you have lost sight of the real objective: destroying everything.

Each Contract mission will unlock Stockpile items like air strikes and specialized vehicles. These items can be hot-keyed and then selected from the D-Pad in-game. Calling in C-4 supply is relatively straightforward, while an artillery strike is a trickier task entirely as you have to be very near the object you want destroyed when you signal for it. Isn’t it a teensy bit embarrassing as a merc to have to run up and tag a building then hoof it to the nearest cover while your own shells rain down destruction?

The check on the seemingly unlimited delivery service of explosive goodies is your fuel supply. Each air transit requires fuel which must primarily, though not exclusively, be stolen. As you advance in the game your fuel storage capacity can grow, but you still have to fill it. It is an effective way of keeping players from hiding on a hillside and ordering half a dozen air strikes, though for the most part a good gun, stolen vehicle and a few explosives will get a contract done.

Without question it is a worthy Merc pursuit to blow things (and, well, people) right off the map. You are penalized for “collateral damage”, though, which would be an acceptable challenge if the civilian AI wasn’t completely stunted. Driving down the street NPCs will often scream their heads off then run in front of your car. If NPCs must be thrown into a panic on sight could they at least not run like deranged squirrels in front of the vehicle? It costs me money.

Hijacking is a game staple, and in the case of vehicles like tanks and helicopters it prompts a button sequence. No matter that each type of tank and helicopter has its own sequence, it gets old and fast. On the plus side, hijacking vehicles allows you to disguise yourself as that faction or as a civilian, and the aircraft (like the helicopters) offer some destructive fun and give you a chance to appreciate the scope of the game. Of course, while you are admiring the open sandbox you also notice the number of two-dimensional trees. Or the enemy tank fumbling down a hillside. Or that while running with a pistol your Merc was holding their hands as though cradling a rocket launcher. No way around it, the animations and character models are lackluster.

Trees and foliage can be destroyed, unless the enemy is behind a hedge in which case he is completely impervious to attack. When a bug has you sliding down a flight of stairs trapped in a bush while the opposition blows you to bits the injustice of the invincible hedge is all too clear. Should you happen to glitch into a building by exiting your vehicle in an alleyway do not be surprised that trying to blow the building up from the inside out renders that structure invincible. However, the AI is notably lacking in the “I” department, so if the bush you are trapped in is in the enemy’s peripheral vision you are more than safe. It is no great compliment, however, that mediocre AI seems to compensate for fiddly game mechanics.

The music sounds lifted out of the action movies of the day – a little generic and not particularly cohesive and the voice acting runs the gamut from good to so much. No matter which merc you play as the cut scenes and even the bulk of what the character says in-game is universal. Both the enemy and your own catchphrases get repetitive before you’re through the game’s intro. Furthermore, the dialog is generic: no matter if you are behind a high rise, shanty or bunker they are guaranteed to cry, “He’s behind that structure!” Even playing as Mui I was subjected to the AI’s repetition of “Where’s he going” and “Is that Rodrigo? Is he drunk?” No he’s not, and he’s not in drag either. Pandemic gives me one measly female character and they can’t even adjust the enemy AI’s pronouns?

Co-op is easily the game’s highlight as blowing stuff up with a friend is always more fun. In co-op other players are able to join your game, or you can hop into someone else’s. Either way you are following the host’s game, helping with their missions and with their supplies, though your efforts are certainly rewarded. The game is by no means difficult, but if you did get stuck co-op makes things easier.

Mercs is all explosions with little care given to the wrappings. The lack of real story actually keeps the game playable and in the future Pandemic may be better off forgoing the pretense of plot. Story, graphics, sound and nearly everything you can think of fail, but Mercenaries is about little more than getting paid to blow stuff up, and in that regard it completely succeeds. Rife with these sorts of inconsistencies, World in Flames illustrates a bit too well that multi-platform development is not for the faint of heart.

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