Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

If I had to use one word to describe why Mercenaries 2 isn't great, it would be "rough". The game is most definitely rough. You'd think it shouldn't be after the delays it experienced, but the game still feels like a PS2 port with prettier explosions and a bunch of glitches. None of the technical problems really hurt the game though, and the game itself is so cool that it's hard to dislike it. It certainly has issues, but they can all be overcome if you're looking for an enjoyable, less than fully serious experience.

I'm not sure how much of the basic structure is taken from the first game (which I now intend to check out some time) and how much is new ideas, but what's there is fundamentally pretty interesting. It's an open world like in Grand Theft Auto, but unlike most of games that rip off that series, Mercs has its own feel to it. It takes place in Venezuela, and is about whichever gun-for-hire you pick (I went with Swedish Mattias Nilsson from the cover) taking jobs from the various factions that have stakes there in order to get the supplies and info you need to take down the new president, Ramon Solano, who tried to kill you instead of paying you after a mission. You know the idea if you've seen the terrific commercial. You can get contracts, which are specific, often fairly involved jobs that usually involve blowing something up and advance the plot, or just go after smaller bounties to get rewards and unlock more types of vehicles or airstrikes in the store. The nonessential bounties sometimes have you working against a faction that's employed you before, and you have to make sure you don't get reported screwing them over or pay for it somehow later. Later on, even the contracts have you attacking people who consider you an ally, and you have to make a choice about whose side you're on. Balancing the ire of all these different interests sounds kind of interesting on paper, but in practice it's a little annoying to deal with. It's not hard to win a faction back over, but it still feels unnecessary.

Not every mission is cool either. Every group has at least one race and possibly more jobs that have multiple levels, and only by completing them a few times can you gain access to everything they offer. Besides the silliness of getting paid thousands of dollars to run an arbitrary lap somewhere, these missions are often annoying and show the overall lack of polish in the game. It's hard to fault the game for it too much when it's all optional, but I sometimes wondered what exactly all the development time went in to. Every building can be brought down, and the destructability of the environments is extremely impressive, and the explosions look quite nice, but they're probably the only visually impressive aspect of the game. It doesn't look bad, and the frame rate is almost always good, but it's nowhere near the cutting age of current generation graphics. The voices are a bit silly, but I like them. All of the enemies sound right out of a typical campy action flick, with hokey Latin, Jamaican or Chinese accents. Apparently the Korean enemies in the first game actually spoke Korean, so I could see how a fan might be disappointed by the dumbing down of the series, but I enjoyed it. Peter Stormare is always fun to watch, and he acts Mattias just fine too. I haven't really played with the other characters, but Phil LaMarr and Jennifer Hale are voice acting veterans who know what they're doing.

The game has a lot of niggling issues like repetitive voices, weird graphical glitches, and sometimes strange vehicle physics, but it's hard to be too annoyed by any of them when it's so satisfying to demolish a building with C4, or call in a carpet bomb, or hijack a tank and lay waste to infantry with their former support, or winch up a fuel tank with a helicopter and throw it into some Anti-Air equipment. I wish it was better than it is, but what it is is still a whole lot of fun if you're in the right mood. And with online co-op, you can blow everything up with a friend. Who doesn't enjoy that?

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