IGN Review of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is about blowing s*** up. If you don't like blowing s*** up, here's a deck of Uno cards. Now, if you're like me and you get a kick out of wrecking tanks, demolishing buildings, and setting the jungle ablaze, then Mercs 2 may be worthy of your attention. But be warned: there's a price to pay for the gift of tactical nukes and cruise missile strikes. For all the unadulterated joy of blowing s*** up, there's a mess of bugs and AI issues that may just turn you even more violent than usual.
At the start, you choose to play as one of three characters -- Mattias Nilsson, Jennifer Mui, or Chris Jacobs. Each has his or her own unique traits. Jen, for example, is a bit speedier than the boys. These slight differences from one to the next don't have a major impact on the game. Neither do they offer new gameplay choices, though there are a few minor dialogue alterations for each. Whomever you choose, the end result is a mercenary willing to kill anyone and destroy anything for the right amount of money.
The story is about as deep as a Schwarzenegger flick, with Mattias offering hilarious one-liners punctuated by his ridiculous accent. I can't wait until they cast him as the next Mr. Freeze. You agree to do a job for Ramon Solano -- an up-and-coming scumbag -- who shows his gratitude by shooting you in the ass. What's a merc to do? Get revenge, of course. And so you embark on a rather brief adventure to bring Solano down. The big surprise twist is that there is no surprise twist. That's the story and there are few story-driven cutscenes between the beginning and ending. You're going to lay waste to Venezuela, there's no time for plot.
Venezuela is in the midst of rebellion, with oil the central focus of the conflict. The Venezuelan army is doing its best to maintain control of the country, but there are a number of factions looking to take control. You'll work with five different factions -- Universal Petroleum, the People's Liberation Army of Venezuela, the Chinese army, the Allied Nations (aka the US), and the Rastafarian Pirates. Each faction has its own set of missions and each, in some way, will get you closer to Solano. Of course, none of these guys get along and often a mission in support of one faction involves doing harm to another.
There is a very simplistic dynamic between your merc and the factions. Kill a faction's enemies and complete missions for them and they start to like you. You'll be allowed to land at their outposts and buy air support. Kill members of a faction or generally do them harm and they will start to dislike you very quickly. They'll begin shooting you on sight and will close their shop doors to you. These relationships can be swayed very easily, so it's never much of a burden. But, at the same time, it never feels as if you are really playing one side against another. You're just completing missions until one side is all dried up, then moving on to the next.
All these different factions means you will be running into a whole lot of different NPCs. Pandemic squanders a great opportunity to immerse gamers with unique and well-crafted dialogue. The dialogue for NPCs is absolutely abysmal and is handled about as poorly as I have seen in a videogame. "It's the merc!" a PLAV soldier cries out as you approach. He says this either as a cheer because you are on his side or because you are an enemy he wants to shoot. It's the same line, delivered again and again often out of context. And there are many lines shouted incorrectly. And all of them are repeated ad nauseam.
Want to explore? Get ready for your home base to call in and remind you to come visit them if you are ever stuck -- three or four times. I've heard this same line about 200 times. No exaggeration. The three mercs deliver their repetitive one-liners well, but that can't make up for shoddy implementation of NPC dialogue.
The good news is that you always have recourse when an enemy's voice starts to get on your nerves. Blow him back to god. You are going to kill a hell of a lot of people and destroy a whole heck of a lot of Venezuela before all is said and done. Combat is straightforward. You shoot and kill people. There are tons of vehicles, from civilian hoopdies to motorcycles to numerous tanks to boats to Sea-Doos to attack choppers. And all of them can be hijacked.
Some of the more potent vehicles, such as tanks and choppers, have hijacking minigames. In these you must hit the correct buttons as they appear on screen to play out a swank cinematic of your jack. And yes, you can steal helicopters. As long as one is relatively close, aim towards it and hit the correct button to grapple. There are an impressive variety of tanks and choppers and each has its own hijacking button sequence.
While rolling through town and creating new potholes is fun (especially since most damage remains until you quit your play session), the best part of mercs 2 is calling in air support. You can call for weapon and vehicle drops, which are handy, but the most effective tool is calling in an air strike. Air strikes are either purchased from a faction or found lying around Venezuela. All air support costs fuel, but don't worry, there's plenty of fuel to steal across the country and it rarely becomes an issue after the first two hours of gameplay.
Air strikes can be a pain at times to execute, since you must stop moving to open the side menu, select the strike and then direct the call-in. All the while, you'll probably be getting shot up. It's a good thing that health auto-regenerates. You'll call in bombing runs, artillery strikes, and, yes, even nuclear bombs. There are many different strikes to play around with, but just about all of them deliver a powerful (and some would say beautiful) explosion and impressive destruction. Everything but the rocks can be destroyed. Every building, vehicle and structure. And though there are some moments where the framerate suffers, these are not common. Amazingly, all the destruction is handled very well by developer Pandemic's engine.
I can't stress enough just how much fun it is playing in this destructive sandbox. And that fun is really Mercenaries' saving grace, because there are so many other things that are handled poorly. Were it not for the great joy of blowing s*** up, Mercs 2 would sour quickly.
There are bugs aplenty in Mercs 2. I even hit a critical bug in the last mission that crapped on the final showdown with Solano. But more than bugs, there are some really questionable design choices. You can take a tank and run over 10 vehicles, having them explode each time and take no damage. But run over a fire hydrant and your tank takes damage. Huh? Fall damage for your hero is also out of whack. The Chinese HQ is set in a temple atop a steep set of stairs. Run down those stairs and you will actually fall a few feet and take nine points of damage. The same thing happens on hillsides. If you run, you will actually lose your footing at times, drop a few feet and get hurt. And yes, this can kill if you're in the middle of a firefight.
The strangest choice of all was turning your merc into superman. Single melee kills are an easy thing to abuse in a game like this. In fact, I found shooting enemies to be a bit pointless after a while, since I could run straight at them and bash their face in. There are dozens of High Value Targets you have the option to hunt down. The intention seems to be that you would bust into an enemy camp, get into a firefight, make your way to the HVT and try and subdue him. In truth, you can drive a car right up to the HVT, hop out, punch a few people to death and take the target. Many missions are just way too easy if you use your fists.
This is in part due to some generally poor AI. I've encountered a fair share of soldiers standing in corners staring at the wall like they were in the Blair Witch Project. The AI typically points forward and shoots. And if you approach a vehicle, they often get out so you can take it. Uh, thanks? At its best, the enemy AI will try and hop into a vehicle you've abandoned, making it risky to land an attack chopper and leave it unguarded.
The enemy AI is bad, but your allies' AI is worse. It's often impossible to get allies to come into your vehicles, though it's obvious they are supposed to join if you honk your horn. And when trying to have allies enter an outpost to claim it, they will sometimes stand around doing nothing or will get into vehicles for no reason.
Okay, so lots of issues and yet, I still think this is a game worth playing. This is partly because of the addition of online two-player co-op. The game is set in the host player's world and all missions benefit him. The other player earns cash and lovely prizes to bring back to his own game, but won't get to progress their game any further. But they do get to have a witness when they blow s*** up.
Mercs 2 doesn't scale, making some of the tougher missions much easier to tackle with a friend. In fact, Mercenaries 2 seems balanced for two players more so than one. Especially since, in co-op, your teammate can revive you if you die. They just have to get near you, hit the proper button, and you're back on your feet. In single-player, death kills you, so to speak. It helps to communicate, as one man's explosion can often be his friend's untimely demise. With two people calling in air strikes, these can get pretty crazy on screen. There's something eerily poetic about laying a hail of bullets on an enemy as your face is awash in the glow of a nuclear detonation. Co-op is a powder keg of goodness. There is some occasional slowdown when there are big explosions and I hit a few moments of lag in each of my sessions. Overall, it's a good, if not perfect, experience.
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