Review:Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (360)
Failing to set the world alight.
Oh boy, this review has been a long time coming with expectation stretching back to the original Mercenaries game on the PS2 and Xbox which was just crying out for a sequel with its unique take on GTA style sandbox gameplay and love of military hardware and explosions that make Zabriskie Point look like a Poundland indoor firework. Well after three years and at least two delays before final launch the sequel to the original Playground of Destruction has finally been deployed but is shock and awe or gash or bore?
Let’s start with the basics; you start the game by picking a character from one of three mercenaries. There’s Mattias, the explosion loving self styled Viking of the battlefield who can regenerate his health slightly faster than the others. Next is Chris the stereotypical black and bald American who has a larger ammunition capacity. The last buy by no means least is Jen an even more stereotypical posh bird who can move faster than the men and repeat the same pithy quip every other bullet.
The game starts with a pre-rendered FMV setting up the plot with your chosen merc betrayed and shot in the arse by the scumbag villain Salano who uses your skills to kick start a coup in the oil rich country of Venezuela with himself as self appointed president. With the help of your intelligence officer and radio operator Fiona you set up your own PMC (private mercenary company) to inflict your revenge and earn a few hundred million bucks on the side.
Once in Venezuela you quickly meet the five friendly factions all looking to oust Salano for their own ends by using you for missions they can’t or won’t do themselves. The first is Universal Petroleum, a mega corporation looking to control the flow of oil out of the country. Then there’s the P.L.A.V. a group of commie rebels set on liberating their country for the good of the people. Next the Pirates are a loose collection of mostly Jamaican soldiers who’re just in it for the money and couldn’t care less about politics and about half way through the story based missions the superpowers of the Allied Nations and China get involved and things start to really get serious.
But before all that your first order of business is getting your PMC up and running by recruiting (read: completing specific missions) three key mercs who can fly a helicopter, pilot a jet and build custom vehicles for you to drive. Once these missions are done you can start to play the game properly with no restrictions as the lack of these can seriously limit not only your transport options but also what force you can bring to bear against the VZ army.
Unlike the previous game, where all you had to do to call in an airstrike was open the Merchant of Menace menu on your PDA and stump up the cash, you now have to not only have the ordinance in stock at your PMC but you also have to have enough fuel stored for your jet to get it to the intended target.
Having a weapon or supply crate in stock is a matter or either finding and then stealing it using your chopper from the world map or buying it from one of the five friendly factions or getting it as a gift from one of them as a reward for completing side missions. Fuel is arguably the most important resource in the game as it can’t be bought and has be taken from a faction in the game be it one of the five friendly factions or the always hostile VZ army.
The missions range from story missions that can have multiple objectives such as destroying a trio of SAM sites then verifying (capturing or killing) the commanding officer through to simple go here destroy that target or verify this HVT (high value target). Just like the original Mercenaries how you go about completing these missions is left entirely up to you. You can sneak around the edges picking off enemy troops with a sniper rifle before hijacking a vehicle and using that as a disguise to gain entry to kidnap the HVT or just go nuts with an RPG and some bricks of C4 and call in some artillery to mop up the remaining buildings and take a snap shot of the now very dead officer.
The freedom of choice is refreshing compared to other sandbox games like GTA IV, which boast go anywhere do anything gameplay but will always railroad you to complete the missions a certain way. The only real restrictions are the need to complete tedious race missions full of pop up and the whole fuel mechanic which probability sounded like a good idea in the design stages but in practice just prolongs the amount of in-between missions scrounging as you go from camp to camp eliminating resistance and hijacking the fuel tanks with your chopper.
Another core problem is the respect system for the friendly faction which forces you to piss of other factions to improve your standing with another. The best example is the aforementioned HVT missions that often involve verifying a target from another faction e.g. taking out a P.L.A.V. commander to help out UP. Once you attack the P.L.A.V. random members of the faction in the area will call their leader to report your traitorous actions giving you a ten second time limit to stop them before they can grass you up and lower tat factions respect for you. Again this probably sounded like a great idea in the design phase but the implantation means that the random soldier who radios in will always be behind a hill, up in a tower or worse of all stuck inside a building, an all to common bug that will fuck up many a HVT mission when the target gets stuck inside a building leaving him unable to get out or for you to get in.
The bugs are sadly legion in this game with enemies getting stuck on or indeed inside scenery with every mission many of them RPG wielding solders who will destroy themselves and their fellow soldiers trying to shoot you and will often kill the very HVT you where trying so hard to keep alive for extraction. Suicidal civilians will run towards explosions and throw themselves under the vehicle you’re driving despite it being in the middle of a busy highway and not forgetting the allied soldiers that have to accompany you on outpost capture missions that will get stuck in logic loops running from turrets to building to turrets back and forth until you have to kill them and risk losing respect with their faction.
Mercenaries 2 is an unfinished game. It lacks polish, it regularly loses textures, the AI isn’t up to much, the missions aren’t as good as the first game, it’s graphically blaverage, the story is awful, the characters are practically identical, the vehicle controls are often unwieldy, the new fueling system is irritating, achievements have a habit of not unlocking, the game world is a little too flat compared to the rugged terrain of the first, the respect system is broken, the race missions can fuck right off and occasionally it refuses to load.
Worse than all that is the pop-up and draw distance which renders sniper rifles completely useless and spawns explosive tanks about 1cm away from you whilst you are driving. It’s a smidgeon away from being game ruining. An enemy output will look deserted from just a short distance yet your co-op buddy will be in there having a small private war. Slightly frustrating for old-school GRAW snipers like me.
The game’s saving grace however is that it’s fun. In spades.
Creating huge explosions, hijacking helicopters, dropping ordinance on unsuspecting guards and wreaking havoc throughout Venezuela is worth the price of admission alone and the online co-op provides plenty of genuinely excellent Crackdown-esque larks. You’ve still got a lot of freedom in the game and even the subgames, such as dropping mortar fire on target statues, are a lot more fun than the usual bowling and darts nonsense.
To be honest, I don’t think even a patch can save this game technically but for the next few weeks I’m sure it’ll continue to be fun. Right up until the day inevitably comes that I trade it in for some a lot better. It’s definitely an above average title but, if they’d done it right, should have been a ten out of ten.
Secondary Score: 7/10
Along with the flawed design the presentation is also lacklustre when compared to games like Battlefield: Bad Company with a draw distance so low and pop up so bad that some missions become barely playable as you race towards your next time restricted checkpoint only to crash into scenery that appears from out of nowhere or are sent spinning out of control thanks to the inconsistent psychics engine that makes driving over sandbags more damaging then taking a direct hit by an RPG. The graphics themselves are particularly poor with huge low-res textures for the backgrounds and buildings with the character models during cut scenes all surrounded by a strange orange glow once again making it looked rushed and unfinished despite all the delays the game has endured.
While I’m commenting on the character models I want to draw attention to the characters themselves with the trio of main characters having been homogenised in this sequel and given dialogue that is a far cry from the seriousness of the original and renders them caricatures compared to the original game as they keep repeating the same â€œhumorousâ€ phrase over and over with every character saying the same lines during cut scenes just with a different voice depending on who you’re playing as.
I’m going to draw a line under the faults now as I’ve still got a laundry list of problems and bad design choices and cut corners that add to the overall sense of it being unfinished in its current state. So it’s a pure lemon like *shudder* Kane & Lynch well no because unlike K&L Mercenaries 2 has one saving grace; the online co-op.
It’s said that a problem shared is a problem halved and that’s certainly true here with drop in and out co-op at any time along with access to your full stockpile of weapons, fuel and cash earned so far no matter who is hosting or their place in the games storyline or location on the map. The only restriction is the tether that keeps you both together but unless you get airborne or really spread out half a kilometre will this restricts the gameplay.
So the final score, yes it’s full of bugs and design flaws but it’s also unique in just how freeform the gameplay is and how well the co-op mode has been done.
Dropping tens of thousands of dollars of bombs still raises a smile not just for the still impressive explosion affects but also the sheer joy of reducing whole square miles of military bunkers and sniper towers to rubble either alone or with a friend. If you never tried a Mercenaries game before and where like me left cold by GTA IV give it a try as despite the rough edges its still damn good fun, so much so that I’d compare it to being this year’s Earth Defense Force 2017.
For me the best way to play Mercenaries 2 isn’t using a PS3/Xbox 360/PC even with the great online co-op mode. The TRUE home of this game is on the, now very humble, PS2. Sure compared to the current gen versions it looks like a poor cousin with washed out graphics and tons of draw distance fog but it plays far better in solo mode and is free of a lot of the problems that blight the other versions.
The respect system works properly, free from the whole ten second time limit and keeps it simple as it should have been with the factions only getting pissed if you deliberately provoke them. If like me you are a fan of the original try the next/current(?) gen version but if you want a pure mercs experience free of all the pointless baggage and can get past looking playing an ‘old’ game get the PS2 version you’ll be glad you did.
PS2 Score: 9/10