Mercenaries 2: Revenge Kicks Ass!

September 11, 2008

The original Mercenaries presented Grand Theft Korea, putting you in the thick of it, trying to bring down 52 war criminals represented by a deck of cards while blowing stuff up and making a quick buck. World in Flames returns with a lot of these sentiments, but this time in lush Venezuela. The cards are gone, but the cash and explosions are in steady supply. There's blood for oil, but should you spend your cash for Mercenaries 2?
Venezuelan politico Ramon Solano has hired you at a very reasonable rate for a little job: infiltrate a mansion of a death trap and extract his kidnapped buddy. For a change, that’s harder to say than do, as this is the game's tutorial mission.

Upon your victorious return, Mr. Solano decides to terminate your services--and your life--as he moves in for a military coup, closing up loose ends before setting himself up as dictator and oil czar. Alive and fueled by vengeance, you strike out on a quest to topple Solano as one of the three available mercs, working on making him pay his debt, with interest. Extreme interest. That’s the kind of cringe-worthy dialogue you can expect as the story plays out pretty much exactly as you expect. Playing as the different mercs doesn’t change the story, but it doesn’t really matter.

The warm beaches of Venezuela make for a great sandbox. After the tutorial you’re stripped of your hardware and it’s time to rebuild. This isn’t the slow armory accumulation of GTA IV, though. Well-armed battalions, private militaries, various gangs, and cash deposits are littered across the map, so it doesn’t take long to rebuild your arsenal. It provides near-instant gratification, but it stifles a larger sense of accomplishment.

Helicopters and air support take more time (and oil) to acquire, and as you complete missions and build up favor with various factions, you get some AI helpers to spread the mayhem. The game shows a lot of its hand early on in the tutorial, so the sense of awe from calling in an airstrike later on isn’t what it should be, but the urge to destroy is a strong one, and Mercenaries 2 gives you plenty of chances.

Co-op lets you tag team the story, with progress saved on the host’s side, with the guest still accumulating wealth. The two mercs are tethered together by a fairly long leash, and while there is friendly fire, there are no competitive modes. It’s fun, but with only two players, a lot more could have been done.

While the 52-card deck has gone AWOL, there’s still just about as many missions. You’ll be taking down head honchos, stealing vehicles, marking locations and, of course, blowing things to kingdom come. There are also the more mundane missions, like racing through gates and compelling side missions that allow you to bet on your success. The factions also provide missions, and choosing one side over another will affect how they respond to you, but it’s always easy to make peace.

Objectives are always branching out and opening up as you clear the game, or you can just paint the town smokey and look for some contraband.

As far as open world games go, World in Flames is flexible to how you want to play. The coop gives some legs to a game that’s fairly long by today’s standards.

Early in the game you have to hunt down some of Solano’s men, with some hiding in a hedge maze. Those hedges are no match for your guns, grenades and guts. It’s refreshing and throws down the gauntlet—you must blow your way towards objectives. The game’s happy to oblige. The three mercs have negligible differences, one’s faster, another finds more ammo and Mr. Mohawk regenerates health faster, so it ultimately becomes a preference of whose butt you want to look at or which repetitive one-liners wear on you the least.

Despite their number, there’s not a great deal of variety to the missions. Big guns are usually the best answer, and while it’s hard to fault an action game for supplying action, the sandbox design and scale beg for some more variety. It doesn’t help that everyone seems to have went to remedial boot camp—standing around like marks waiting to be slaughtered. Their lack of tactics is made up by their sheer numbers. The challenge is often more in invoking an entertaining experience then planning the perfect ambush with an all-too-generous rebounding health meter.

Mercs 2
presents a solid ride, packed with action and some laughs, but you’ll get the same thing out of the last hour that you got out of the first. The primal urge to make things go boom is just enough to drag you across the finish line. Carjacking mini-games don’t make up for inept A.I. and cookie cutter missions.

The sylvan landscapes, metropolitan centers and sandy coasts are spectacular and feel like real places, at least real places to blow up. Trees splinter and fall, buildings crumble, and shanty shacks cease to exist after a grenade or two. Vehicles and character animation are passable, but the terrain truly takes the prize. The sound design features hearty explosions, but the people annoy with their repetitive chatter. It’s almost enough to take a job pro bono.

World in Flames delivers on what it tries to be--a high octane playground of destruction. Venezuela’s a step-up from dreary North Korea, and even if it doesn’t provide the payoff or scope of GTA IV, the repetitive action is at least consistent. Mercenaries 2 offers a chance for some mindless fun. Just don’t expect much more.