Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Some Games Shine out as a labour of love. Others are transparently slapdash efforts that have the stink of unseemly urgency about them. The PC version of Mercenaries 2 is both. EA have taken the stupid, ballsy fun of the console version, and done the absolute bare minimum to make World In Flames work on the PC platform. Menus are demoralisingly navigated with the up and down arrows, and the keyboard control method is pretty much akin to eating mashed potato with a knife (see 'Infamous conversion'). If you happen to own an Xbox 360 controller, the game becomes a flawed, lunatic masterpiece. It's a repetitive, addictive, lovingly rough shooter that is 75% moments of sheer elation and 25% utter, cat-punching frustration.
Oil And Blood
Mercenaries 2 kicks off with you doing a job for Roman Solano, a Venezuelan businessman, who asks you to free his friend, a general. On executing this tutorial mission, you're double-crossed and thrown penniless and hungry for revenge, right into the middle of a military coup. Solano is taking control of a country full of oil - cue a weak quasipolitical plot full of stereotypical characters and political statements about as complex and controversial as "Aren't oil companies bastards?" The one thing you can rely is a great many explosions as you roll through the country as one of the three characters, each of whom have a special ability, be it speed (Jen), more ammo (Chris) or faster health regeneration (Mattias).
They each approach situations in a slightly different way, but for the most part your goal in any mission is to bring down a ton of ordnance onto particular targets. You gain missions from different factions, be it Universal Petroleum (generic American oil company), the People's Army of Venezuela (the country's generic rebellious military types), or any of the other generic stereotypes. Their story-based missions usually boil down to blowing up a particular building, taking control of an outpost, or assassinating someone that is highlighted on the map screen.
As a mercenary, you can attack these missions however you want to. If you have a sniper rifle, you're able to assassinate a target from across a hill, and it's wonderfully satisfying to do so. If you'd rather run in, drop an indicator, and run hell for leather as an artillery strike obliterates the target (and his entourage), that's also fine. You can even get a tank delivered, blow a hole in a wall, and then run the bastard over - it's up to you. One of the most wonderful things about the game is how it really does let you finish a mission how you want to, even if it makes it a lot easier (or more explosive).
Even better is the contemporary orchestral soundtrack, which gives everything that edge of epic combat. Playing the game is like being in a high-budget action movie with explosions, cliches and stereotypes galore.
Turn And Burn
You're paid with two currencies: money and oil. The black stuff can be picked up once you recruit a chopper pilot, and used to pay for the delivery of supplies, air strikes and vehicles. You spend your cash on bribes to get on the good side of factions (if, for example, you blew up Universal Petroleum's CEO with a jeep bomb and need to make up), supplies, or extensions to your oil storage.
This micro-management is fairly low-maintenance, and at times can even add a little adventure to the proceedings when you decide to nick a gigantic oil canister, rather than blowing it up.
Ultimately though, Mercenaries 2 is repetitive. Regardless of how satisfying it can be, you can't get away from how you really are doing the same thing over and over again. It's kept reasonably fresh by the different faction missions, and how individual most parts of 'Venezuela' are, but it lacks the sheer life of the Grand Theft Auto series. You'll hear the same phrases from the same four soldiers repeated 90 times a minute, see the same cars, tanks and helicopters everywhere, and do mostly the same thing for each faction. On top of this are some ceally bizarre bugs -soldiers killing themselves by falling off things, or your helicopter pilot crashing into an obviously placed tree.
The most fun you'll have is when you make your own little meta story in the midst of a situation gone wrong, or find an ingenious solution to a tough mission. This self-generated creativity is what will keep you coming back to Mercenaries 2, regardless of its flaws, as you really feel like an unstoppable, raging badass. It falls short of a wholehearted recommendation, because it's a staggeringly lazy port that isn't worth buying if you haven't got a gamepad. As a sandbox game, it shines in the hands of those who take it for what it is - an A-Team simulator - but as a narrative shooter, it falls flat.
Pandemic and EA each need a slap
For starters, the menu system in Mercenaries 2 is utter crap - you'll select an option on it and then have to press space to actually choose it, instead of just clicking the mouse.
Also, in any and all quick-time button pressing events - such as hijacking a tank - you don't get the actual key-bindings on-screen, just a vague picture of the command (reload or jump, for example). Put in a 360 controller and the correct button presses appear.
Resolutions are also limited, and on the two PCs we installed it on, antialiasing would not work, regardless of how many times we selected it and restarted the game. Thanks a lot for the great port, guys!
Download Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Mercenaries 2 should probably carry a big, fat disclaimer stating "not for structural engineers who are faint of heart"--thanks to the PS3 and its bajillion processors, you can blow the crap/rivet/scaffold/rebar out of any building in the game. Additionally, since World in Flames takes place in bright and beautiful Venezuela, you'll get very colorful explosions to boot.
While the folks at developer Pandemic were proud of delivering a solid, open-ended experience in the original (PS2/XB), they also realized that the game was lacking in factors like story, character, and even setting. "In our first game, the North Korean setting was a pretty interesting, surreal environment," says Senior Producer Jonathan Zamkoff. "But in the end, we didn't feel as we though we'd developed a world that felt like a living, breathing place. In contrast, Mercenaries 2 is jam-packed full of life, from bustling urban epicenters to exotic locales juxtaposed with military encampments." Zamkoff admits that the three playable characters in the previous game had mostly cosmetic differences, and he swears this new trio will have more unique characteristics, including how the various factions (we're guessing that'd be the Venezuelan madmen who've taken over, the rebellion against said madmen, and people who want to make money off of both the madmen and the rebels) will treat the players. Factions will issue missions (ranging from capturing fugitives to smuggling in guns to initiating prison breaks) and will offer different types of equipment to the player (one will give you a bunker-buster, while the other will let you drop the Mother of All Bombs), which in turn makes each play session unique as you decide whom to work for and when.
As much as we love tearing apart buildings with explosives, it's actually the game's co-op feature that has us the most excited. If some crazy Venezuelan renegades are holed up in a bunker, you can smack them with suppressive fire while your cowboy-not-domestic-partner flanks them. Or one guy drives while the other mans the turret, or perhaps one plays chicken with the enemy while the other sneaks by and plants C4. Zamkoff promises that "almost all of the free-play jobs" in World in Flames can be completed Tango & Cash-style (minus the horrendous dialogue).