It's been a while since I've made a post, but since I was such an enourmous fan of the original Mercenaries back in '05 I thought that a small review was in order.
For those that don't know, Mercenaries was one of the first games that let the player destroy almost everything. This includes vehicles, houses, skyscrapers, bridges, crates, fences, Koreans etc. and a wide variety of tanks, choppers and air strikes were provided to make the process a little easier than attempting to take the building down by repeatedly smacking it with the butt of your rifle. It featured believable if clichéed characters, a wonderfully atmospheric Korea to explore and destroy and a plot which you could almost see happening any day after release. I personally ranked Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction in my top five best games ever made, and not just because I enjoy ruthlessly carpet bombing legions of poorly equipped North Korean soldiers into glass whilst a heart-stoppingly good orchestral score roars up and down in time with the blood-curdling screams.
The sequel promised to be much the same, only with many key features added to address nitpicks with the original (namely parachutes, which didn't make the final cut anyway), and set in an oil war-torn Venezuela.
The rather distant Asian geopolitical plot of the original game has been ditched for one that directly addresses the player, but at the same time one that has more clichées than the original Space Invaders does now.
It's your basic double-cross betrayal; you do a job for a guy with the unlikely name of Ramon Solano, he shoots you in the ass and doesn't pay you. Naturally instead of forgetting the small amount he owes you and the impossibly fast healing 7.62mm hole he leaves in your ass, you go on a rampage, the magnitude and lucrativeness of which renders your original objective of killing the guy rather pointless. Stacks (literally) of money pile up in the vast million-dollar villa which you steal from him in the second mission as you take on contracts from various factions within the world, and yet as the UN and China enter the conflict with fleets of tanks and gunships and Solano goes into hiding, your choice from a group of the original three equally clichéed protagonists still continues the hunt unabated.
Basically, the plot's about as thick as a melted ice cream, however plausible the actual war is, but that's not what you buy a game like this for. Onwards to gameplayville!
Before I start, I would like to mention that in the build up to release of Mercs 2 I decided to replay the original, partly for the lulz and partly so I could make a brutal comparison between it and its next-gen cousin, which I was amazed to find out is not shit despite it being published by EA, although many tell-tale signs of EA's influence are scattered throughout the game.
Possibly the best one of the new features is the ability to create and run your own PMC, or Private Military Company. Admittedly you recruit people by simply completing a task for them, and it's always the same three people you recruit, but calling in your chopper pilot to pick up two 500lb bombs which your jet pilot then drops on a gaggle of unsuspecting Venezuelan soldiers standing around a gigantic fuel tank has never been so sweet.
Aside from this and a few other gimmicky new features, it's very much a port of the old game given shiny new graphics and a new setting - the PS2 version didn't even get the former - but the first game was genius anyway so it's not exactly a bad thing. You can still derive the same twisted pleasure from turning 100 acres of AK-wielding government soldier-infested rainforest into a pile of smoking twigs and 'meat surprise' for the local pasty shop, and believe me when I say there are hundreds of ways to do this.
You could fire a tank shell at one of the trees starting a massive fire, you could call in a fuel-air bomb or any one of 20 other air strikes to start a blazing inferno, you could pick up a fuel tanker with your attack helicopter's winch, drop it over the forest and ignite it with a volley of HE rockets... the list goes on.
What I'm trying to say here is that the destruction is better than ever, and from the amount of time they've had to perfect it you'd effing expect it to be. One thing, however, does not live up to months and months of delays, and that is polish. The game has more bugs than a Mexican chef's sock drawer, with randomly appearing and disappearing objects, horrible pop-in, AI you'd expect to find in Goldeneye on the N64 and lots of strange saving/loading bugs which often cause saved games to become corrupted or fail to load properly. While the game's sub-par graphics are excusable given the amount of stuff you can destroy, bugs are not.
I'll just make a separate paragraph about the AI here as I feel it needs a special mention.
I can sort of see what Pandemic were trying to achieve here - enemies firing in short bursts from behind cover at long distances... but since this AI doesn't adjust to light you up with all 30 rounds if you get within two inches of their face, taking down enemies is no harder than dodging a burst and then sprinting straight up to them and knocking them flat on their backs with the melee attack, which is apparently more powerful than 30 7.62x39mm rounds to the chest as one punch will send them 15 feet backwards into the nearest wall, stone dead and already cold before they hit the ground. Enemies are also incapable of anything other than firing from behind cover. While I acknowledge and applaud the admission of enemies entering and firing from the prone position, they still refuse to flank you or indeed follow you around behind any cover you may have got yourself behind, quite content to crouch down behind their little row of sandbags taking potshots at you all day.
While the ground troops are thick as canned shit, the chopper pilots and tank drivers are not.
Enemy choppers will circle around you, dodging basically any missile you fire at them, and launching infinite numbers of horribly overpowered heat-seeking anti-tank missiles at you whenever you dare to enter a vehicle without their direct permission. Highjacking enemies' choppers is as easy as one-two-three though, which kind of makes their whole being there a bit pointless other than a way of acquiring transport or additional firepower quickly.
Tank drivers are about half way inbetween these two extremes, but jacking tanks is incredibly difficult, given that you need to kill the gunner while he and the driver are still firing at you before you can haul yourself up and along the barrel and pop a grenade in the hatch after a generally annoying button matching sequence.
The inconsistency of the AI really is quite jarring, especially when you see some moronic VZ soldier clumping over to steal your chopper and watch as he magically turns into an evil version of Einstein the second he enters the cockpit.
As already mentioned, the graphics are nothing really special to look at, but given the feature list it's excusable. The developers seem to have taken more than a few pointers from Just Cause in terms of the environment (as well as the grappling hook amongst other things), with large, sweeping countryside areas and mountainous vistas adorning the landscape. I won't hang around the graphics or general look of the game though, as a slew of next-gen games have taken place in tropical environments so we're all pretty bored and over-familiar with the look at this point.
Sound design is solid for the most part. Weapons sound adequate and explosions sound epic, which is good as these are the two sounds you'll be hearing the most during your time with the game. Dialogue is quite repetitive though. As noted by various 'professional' reviewers, many of the same lines have been recorded by different people in the game, so you get two people saying the same line in their own way. It's rather jarring and detracts from the experience, but there's nothing game-stopping in this department.
Despite all my nitpicking, the game is generally brilliant if you love to blow stuff up even half as much as I do, only it lacks the greatness and epic nature of the first game. My recommendation? Go buy the first one if you haven't already. If you liked the first one and want a different country to blow up then buy this. Rent it first though, or download the demo whenever it arrives as I can't guarantee you'll like it based on what a lot of people have told me - I think I'm almost unique in my view that this game is genius.
Next week: WIP Level Design images!