When Pandemic’s action game Mercenaries was released on the Xbox several years back, critics enjoyed the game’s open-ended structure and fun-oriented, explosive missions. The idea of putting money at the front of a game of this type was interesting, and the ability to work with various factions in North Korea made for some unique missions without the same old enemies you see in every shooter.
It’s unfortunate then that Mercenaries 2 is so similar to the original in terms of how it plays, looks, and works overall – well, other than the change in venue to a peak-oil-scenario Venezuela and a fight over the world’s last oil supplies. This game seems to have been made in a vacuum, one where the developers didn’t see what made Grand Theft Auto IV or other recent open-world action titles so much better than the games released in the last generation.
The game starts off with you choosing one of three characters, each with a slightly different edge over the others (Jennifer Mui moves faster, Mattias Nilsson regenerates health faster, and Chris Jacobs can carry more ammo). Then an intro mission kicks off where you will get to help put a sleazy guy named Solano into power and at the end of the mission, get double-crossed by him and left for dead. Your goal for the rest of Mercenaries 2 is to build up the power base and cashflow to be able to take Solano head on. To that end, you’ll go through many missions, most of which are sadly very derivative and chock full of brainless enemies who are content to stand there and watch you kill them most of the time. Hell, just trying to get allied troops to get into your vehicle can be a real pain.
Oh sure, this game does offer some of that wanton destruction that Rockstar held back on with Grand Theft Auto IV (who probably did it to ensure that the level of controversy went down rather than up). Since we’re in Venezuela in Mercs 2, well, that’s not a big issue, so here you’ll get access to a huge amount of hardware to blow your enemies away with. Once the difficulty ramps up, you’ll have to start doing some strange things to stay alive, like running away 30 feet and waiting for your health to recharge enough to take on the opposing forces again, or just charging enemies and meleeing them since it kills them faster than using many of the guns in your arsenal.
And that’s probably the game’s biggest failing: Pandemic didn’t have the budget – or, possibly in some cases, raw talent – to make this game’s story or characters really compelling or at the least comparable to other major titles, so they went for massive amounts of destruction instead. But you quickly will find yourself spending as much time out of combat, waiting for health to regenerate, as you do taking on the various factions vying for Venezuelan oil. Side missions that require you to punch through a guarded area to capture one guy quickly can be reduced to driving directly to the guy, grabbing him, and taking off. Missions are of the same type and style we’ve seen in so many action games, and there are no story elements or cutscenes to really speak of to keep players going. It feels like way too much was sacrificed in development in order to get the large amount of destruction going later on in the game, but if you’d rather have better-looking explosions than compelling dialogue, then you’ll at least be happy with that here.
money in the game
The money system does add a level of interest, and for those who racked up six figure bankrolls in GTAIV and found there wasn’t much to spend the money on, you’ll be happy to find that Mercs 2 has a ton of stuff for you to pick up at a usually hefty price. Of course, the developers didn’t really put the effort into making each vehicle really feel or handle totally uniquely, and many of the guns wind up acting like many of the rest of the guns. Sure, we’ve got some mini-games that challenge your shooting and, yes, helicopter magnetic claw skills (don’t ask) with money as a reward for finishing these bits, but that only lasts so long before you just want to leave your mansion and start blowing stuff up. Still, working the factions is some fun, as doing missions for a faction and killing their enemies gets them to like you more so you can use their bases and equipment. Randomly killing people in various factions will force you to bribe them to get them to like you more.