Review by sfcalimari
"It has many flaws and doesn't live up to its promise, but it's still fun if you give it time"
Alright, let's get one thing straight. The original Mercenaries for ps2 and xbox was without a doubt one of the greatest games for that generation of consoles. It had cool weapons and vehicles, a wicked sense of humor, good graphics for its time, and most importantly really well-designed and challenging missions that you could complete in several different ways.
So obviously Pandemic, the game's developer, would deliver a really great sequel, right? Right? Well, yes and no.
If you've played the original Mercenaries game, well the gameplay is just about the same though with a few changes, most notably in how you use airstrikes. If you haven't played the original, well this game is a lot like GTA but in more of a military setting.
At heart the game is a 3rd person shooter kinda like GTA. You get all sorts of guns and rocket launchers to use, and you can drive a wide variety of vehicles, from passenger cars and motorcycles to military tanks and helicopters. The gunplay is very similar to the first game, and feels rather unrealistic and not very visceral. There's no blood at all and your hand-held guns don't seem to have much of a punch. Enemies just kinda run around like chickens, firing at you. One extremely annoying thing is that enemies and allies keep repeating the same phrases over and over again, like the enemy is here! The enemy is here! Get on the gun emplacement! The enemy is here! This gets REALLY annoying. Oh, and everyone speaks English, despite the fact that you're in Venezuela. Even the Chinese soldiers you meet later in the game all speak English. This really takes away from the atmosphere of the game.
The vehicles are alright to use, and all handle fine. Something I find annoying though is that you can use your camera controller (either your mouse or the right analog stick on a gamepad) to look around you, but the camera snaps back to point straight ahead, making it very hard to see around you. This is especially annoying on some armored vehicles and boats that have gun turrets, where you can aim anywhere around you but the camera constantly snaps forward when you move the aiming reticle to the right or left, making it very hard to hit anything. Fortunately tanks and helicopters don't do this and are a lot more effective.
Also you can hijack any vehicle controlled by an enemy. With an enemy jeep you just hit a button and throw the driver out and take the vehicle, GTA style, but one big change is that for vehicles like tanks and helicopters you get into a cinematic battle with the driver where you have to hit a sequence of buttons to successfully perform the hijack. This is frustrating at first because you have to memorize the sequence, but once you get used to it it's kinda cool and really makes things intense...will you successfully hit the right button and take over the chopper, while 50 enemies are firing guns and missiles at you? Or will you hit the wrong one and fall to your death? In the original Mercenaries you would just jump into a tank (after killing the driver with a grenade) without having to do anything, which always felt kinda cheap. Also to hijack a helicopter you use a grappling hook, which is kinda cool and kinda stupid. You see a helicopter above you, and when a grapple icon appears at the bottom of the screen, you hit the appropriate button or key, and suddenly you fly up on an apparently invisible wire, then hit the appropriate buttons to complete the hijack. This looks stupid but successfully hijacking a helicopter is often the only way to get out of a tough situation, and plus the helicopters are pretty powerful.
Airstrikes and vehicle deliveries are a major part of the game. In the original Mercenaries, you could call in an airstrike or a vehicle delivery at any time, provided you paid for it. This time around things are a bit more complicated. First of all you can't even call in any vehicles until you get a helicopter pilot (which you get early on) and can't call in any airstrikes until you get a jet pilot (which you get about halfway through the game). Also to do either you need oil, which is a bit hard to explain. Basically at your home base you have a store of oil, which you can replenish by finding oil tanks and calling your helicopter pilot to come and pick them up, which adds to your oil stores.
Calling in airstrikes is a bit complicated because you have to select it and throw the beacon in real time (in the first Mercenaries you could select them while paused), all while dozens of enemies are shooting at you and trying to blow you up. So overall the airstrikes are very effective but rather awkward to use, and it takes a while to get the gist of the system of collecting oil.
The story in Mercenaries 1 was pretty cool, if a bit minimalist. The interactions between you and the various factions generally had really clever and funny dialogue. This time around, not so mucheverything feels dumbed down a lot. The story is paper-thinyou get betrayed on a contract by the President of Venezuela so you decide to get revenge on him, and in order to do so you have to work with various factions who require you to help them with a few missions in exchange for intel about how to take down the President guy. It doesn't help that the dialogue isn't very good or funny, unlike the first game.
The missions are the main thing you'll be doing in the game, though I suppose if you want you can go around randomly blowing up everything. Oh, did I mention that you can blow up just about everything in the game short of boulders? Yeah. That part is cool.
Anyway the main way to progress in the game is by what I would call story missions that advance you towards your goal of taking out the President of Venezuela. However, just to be able to do these missions you first have to work for the different factions and do a few missions for them before they trust you enough to give you the intel you want.
For the factions to trust you, you generally have to do a few minor missions which are very generic and generally pretty irritating at firststuff like help them take over an enemy base, or drive a boat or car through a series of checkpoints. Later in the game the base takeover missions get a lot more intense though. Then the faction will open up a new base at the base you just helped them take over, and you can get new missions from them or buy supplies and airstrikes and vehicles from them, or more fuel storage capacity.
Eventually the faction will trust you enough and then you'll do some major contracts for them, which involve something more serious, like blowing up some enemy buildings on an island. Once you do a few missions like this they'll give you the intel you want, and you can do a mission for yourself where you go after the President.
Overall the way you progress in the game is kind of complicated and takes a while to figure out, and it's hard to tell when a faction will give you an important mission or not. I think they should have done a better job of letting you know the difference between the major missions and the lesser missions.
Another thing you have to keep track of is your standing with the various factions, which means how much they like you or loathe you. Each faction has a bar that will increase if you help them, or decrease if you kill them or if they see you steal their oil.
You can increase your standing with each faction by blowing up buildings and capturing soldiers that show up on your map. In the original Mercenaries the main way to progress in the game was by killing or capturing the members of the Deck of 52, major North Korean soldiers. Each of these guys were surrounded by tanks or AA vehicles or helicopters, and were really tough. This time around the HPV's, as the enemy soldiers each faction wants you to get, are just kind of sitting around with a few other enemies. You can either kill them and verify their death with a photo, or capture them alive and hand them over to the faction by calling in an extraction chopper. You get some money for this and it helps your standing with the faction that wants the guy, but it hurts your standing with the faction the guy was with. Overall it doesn't feel very important unless you want to make a certain faction happy or make some easy money, which is too bad considering how cool capturing the Deck of 52 in the original game was.
As for the quality of the main missions you do to complete the game, well they start out pretty weak and not very impressive to say the least. However, about 2/3rds into the game you meet a couple factions that have MUCH more interesting and challenging missions to do, and finally the game lives up to its promise. In these ones you really have to think about what to do, and really be resourceful in how you take on the enemy and use their vehicles against them. Unfortunately at this point the game is soon over, right when you're saying but it was just starting to get interesting!
A big disappointment is that the graphics are really not very good. Everything is pretty ugly and dated-looking, and despite this the framerate is poor. Pretty much everything has jagged edges and anti-aliasing doesn't seem to make a difference at all whether I activate it in the game or force it on with my graphics card's desktop settings. I've never played an Xbox 360 or ps3 game but my guess is they just ported the console version over without allowing the graphics to be modified for pc's. This doesn't really make much sense since both Gears of War and Mass Effect for pc have jaw-dropping graphics but play very well at max settings even on my 8600GT video card.
So overall the game is ok, but sadly doesn't pick up until you're about 2/3rds done with it. Until that point the missions are easy and repetitive, and the messy presentation of the game isn't very enticing at all. Once you get used to the game's mechanics, and once you meet with the last two factions, however, the game really lives up to its full potential and becomes extremely intense and fun. It's up to you if you can deal with the first 2/3rds of the game, which feels like a lame knockoff sandbox game like Just Cause rather than the sequel to the original Mercenaries.
So on the one hand it's a disappointment because of how great this game was and because of how little it did to advance the Mercenaries title. But on the other hand the game has provided some of the most intense action I've played on my pc. I'd say it's not as good for 2008 as the original Mercenaries was for 2004. Like I said this one seems kind of dumbed down in terms of story and mission quality, and it seems like the developers expected us to be happy with this by giving us a big map and a huge variety of weapons and vehicles.
I couldn't really say that the game is worth a full $50, maybe more like $30, but there aren't a whole lot of good new action games out there for pc, so maybe get this one if you're in between things.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/09/08
Game Release: Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (US, 09/04/08)
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