September 16, 2008
It was Edwin Starr way back in 1970 in his timely classic that asked the age old question, “War, what is it good for?” Fortunately for us, he actually answered it as well, but we suspect that when he gave his classic, “Absolutely nothing” line, he had never played Mercenaries 2. We’re adamant that if he had, the appropriate answer to that question would have been, “To blow shit up!” but I’m not quite sure it has the same ring to it. That is essentially what Pandemic’s latest sandbox war title is all about and seriously, it’s an incredible amount of fun.
Mercenaries 2 throws us back in to the shoes of careless, aggressive mercenaries, Liu, Nilsson or Jacobs as they attempt to get revenge on the back-stabbing, now dictator of Venezuela, Ramon Solano. With his trusty general, Carmona at his side, Solano has begun to exploit all regions of Venezuela and is harvesting the oil of the country for his own personal profit. With whichever character you decide, each having their own personal strength (speed, health recovery or carrying extra ammo), you must work with the five factions of the land to get information on the whereabouts of Solano and his side-kick and ultimately plan his demise.
The game is billed as a sandbox, go anywhere, destroy anything title although from the off, you will need to progress in the game to unlock the whole map. The map when unlocked is absolutely huge with plenty of variation in scenery and environment on offer, so there is always something to blow up or cause trouble with. With the map taking more than a good few minutes to cross in a helicopter, it’s a good job there is some sort of navigational GPS system built in to the map screen, where you can place waymarkers, otherwise it would become overwhelming . In addition, once you meet your pilot, you can get him to pick you up anywhere in the map and drop you at any of your previously unlocked helicopter pads.
The main missions in Mercenaries 2 revolve around you helping the local factions for money and information in some quite elaborate mission pretenses. If you are coming in to Mercenaries looking for a tactical war game, you’ve got the wrong franchise. Of course, there are tactics when it comes to keeping certain factions happy so that you can work for them and this is simply because each one has their own threat level towards you and its current level depends on your actions around Venezuela. Other than that, you do what you want. Of course, the game offers much more than the main missions to contend with, you can spend time recapturing allied outposts, taking out well protected targets or capturing/eliminating a shopping list of targets amongst other things.
Money will never be much of a problem in Mercs 2 with so many different ways to earn it and even more ways to spend it. You can use the cash to bribe your way into the good books of other factions or spend it at the many of the shops dotted over the island. With three different types of support available for purchase, your money will go a long way; air strikes, vehicles and supply drops with plenty of variety on offer. As far as the supplies go, you have plenty of different types here to suit your style but as anything in Mercs 2, you have to unlock the more advanced stuff as you go along.
The amount of vehicles on offer is pretty impressive, with land, sea and air all covered, with each vehicle having its own strengths and weaknesses. The Rogue Assassin chopper for the Universal Petroleum faction is nippy with some great firepower but it can’t take much of a beating, whereas the Chinese’s Warsong Attack Helicopter is as slow as a sloth but packs a mean punch and can take a bit of a hammering.
The real fun in the game comes in the form of air strikes and some of the ones you unlock towards the latter on in the single player campaign can pack a proper punch, especially the nuclear bunker buster. There are various ways to use the air strikes, some are laser designated, some are controlled by satellite, but the majority are smoke and beacon initiated, so plant that sucker and run like hell!
New to the series this time around is the PMC which is effectively your central hub, where series regular Fiona Taylor pulls the strings and this is also where you’ll find all your crew when you hire them. It really doesn’t offer you much more than somewhere to spawn and to do the odd challenge for a reward which in itself is a little disappointing. I suppose it does offer you a wardrobe to store your unlocked outfits and I tell you now, you haven’t seen Mercs 2 until you’ve gone in to a mission with Jennifer Mui dressed up as a huge yellow chicken! I can see the humour from the team is still there.
Now everything up to this point has been pretty positive, because that is pretty much your first impression of Mercenaries 2. After that point, you just start to see everything that is wrong with the game, whether it’s the vast amount of graphical glitches or the incredibly repetitive scripts that you encounter. It somewhat spoils the experience in many respects. I’m not talking one of two glitches here. I’m talking an incredible amount. There is nothing like getting stuck in scenery or having your High Value Target (HVT) blow themselves up or get run over by their subordinates to ruin your last few hours playtime.
The thing is, if the game looked amazing, you might be able to look past the small imperfections but the game just looks very outdated. It even struggles with pop-up problems which are hugely frustrating and at the best of times the draw distance haze looks like a blatant cover up for loading issues. The character models may look pretty decent but the textures around you and the whole island just seems so last year. Your first impression is... “Is that it?” Despite that though, it’s hard not to admire the explosions and chaos that follow a carefully placed cluster bomb ripping down a line of high rise buildings. You can’t help but step back and admire your handy work.
Then there is the AI and what can I say about this. Let’s start off with the positive... Right, that’s that, now let’s go on to the negative. I’m inclined to think that Pandemic programmed the troops to be as stupid as possible. Take for example, if you’re Mui, you’re pretty fast especially with the left analogue click in (that’s sprint by the way), you can run into a camp and then smack everyone in the face as they rarely shoot or even hit you. At this point it has gone from Mercenaries and feels more like Kung Fu Panda! Don’t get me started on your allies either, who seem to like to stand back while you do the hard work and the odd time you need them to get in your truck or enter a building to take it over, all they literally do is stand there.
Don’t get me wrong, Mercs 2 is ridiculously easy to control with you being able to pick up the pad and jump straight into the action pretty much instantly. Hell, even the driving is simplistic and the arcade handling means you can turn a corner at 100 miles an hour whilst driving through a tree, but that’s part of the beauty of it. It screams fun from all possible angles but then something will happen that will just frustrate you to the end of your wits.
For a sandbox title like Mercenaries, the game’s backend ought to be swimming in stats, I mean come on, that’s what all good sandbox titles do. It’s pretty much their duty to do so, but unfortunately, the stats are a little lacking, offering you not much more than your favourite vehicle and your mission progress. What happened to being able to see how many dollars worth of destruction you’ve caused, how buildings you’ve flattened along the way, missiles fired, people killed, just something, actually anything with a little more substance would have made us happy.
As far as the voice work goes, the script is pretty entertaining and humorous but boy does it get repetitive, especially if you're carrying troops with you. God dammit! We don’t care how much you hate your job, just shut up and shoot! It’s good to see Prison Break’s Peter Stomare return as Nilsson, the same can be said for industry favourite Jennifer Hale as Mui (Mass Effect, MGS4, Killer7). Underneath though, there is a pretty quirky and South American vibe in terms of score as the guitar riffs subtly accompany your destructive ways perfectly.
The game does feature 2 player online co-op and tearing up Venezuela with a friend is great. But be prepared to stick close to one another though as you need to stay within a certain distance of your partner. What that distance is, is entirely unclear because there were moments when 100 metres was the deemed too far and other times when 500 metres was fine. It's also another one of these region locked EA multiplayer titles as well which in my eyes is ridiculous. Either way, it's a nice addition to the gameplay, but Mercs 2 is still essentially a one player title for the most part.
As far as achievements go, the list is very uninspiring and very frustrating. Having to unlock all the shop items and verify all the HVTs is going to take up most of your time, but to add insult to injury, the achievements seem to be very glitchy, making this a painstaking 1000 for those that attempt it. With no originality as well and too much to collect, it starts to make the game seem all too repetitive. Throw in elements that are outside of your control, like the HVTs who like to commit suicide or wander in to an explosion and you’re realistically looking at 40+ hours for 1000 and some of those hours will be the most frustrating of your life.
It’s not that Mercenaries 2 isn’t a fun game, it truly is, but the game’s backbone screams more potential than anything else. You can’t help but think that if the game would have had more immersive and realistic graphics, with an improved AI and none of this glitch malarkey, it could have been something great. It’s easy to control and the explosions and wanton destruction never gets old, but it’s just a shadow of what it should have been. A few more months in the polishing stage and this game could have been one of the greats. Instead, it just sits amongst the hundreds of decent titles that are available but nevertheless, it’s worth a play, if only for wiping out an entire city just because you can.
Decent voice acting and cast performance from the main characters, although a little bit repetitive and not enough unique lines for the side missions and such. Decent musical riffs and beats with it though. Commendable effort.
A bit of a let down here. Character models are decent enough and they seemed to nail the destruction part (explosions and ensuing chaos) but the textures are painted on and the pop up is just annoying. Could have been so much more.
Easy to control both in terms of combat and vehicular movement and the game is just really, really fun. I can’t stress that enough... Flattening an entire city never gets old.
Too many graphical glitches and AI problems that most definitely happen too frequent. Should come with a warning sign on the box, “frustrating glitches can cause long term anxiety problem.”
Unoriginal and a real monotonous chore. Oh, and they are a little glitchy and temperamental... Don’t say we didn’t warn you. 40+ hours for 1000 points here.
If I had to sum Mercenaries up in one word, I would say “fun.” If I had to sum it up in five, I would say “fun but glitchy as hell!” On the face of it, it’s Mercenaries as we know and love it; plenty of big explosions, outrageous stunts and elaborate weapons but the AI and glitches throughout the game leave you with a bitter aftertaste. It’s more like an empty shell of a game, but with so much promise and little substance, we still definitely recommend you play it.