The original Mercenaries was one of the most enjoyable open-world experiences of the last console generation, even counting the sales behemoth that was Grand Theft Auto 3. So to say its jump from PS2 to PS3 and Xbox to Xbox 360 was anticipated is a lot like saying Tomonobu Itagaki “kinda sorta” wants better bounce physics. Because its predecessor was so solid, the open-world gameplay in Mercenaries 2: World in Flames doesn’t introduce anything new, per se, nor do the massively destructible environments stand out. Instead, the innovation and “next gen” feel comes in the form of online cooperative play, which definitely increases the fun factor of the sequel, but doesn’t quite offer enough to call Mercs 2 a “great” game.
Mercenaries 2 never takes itself too seriously, which is a refreshing change from so many sandbox games and reinforces just how much Pandemic wants players to have fun. Nowhere is this tongue-in-cheek humor more clear than the opening scene, in which — regardless of the Merc players choose — Venezuelan millionaire Ramon Solano shoots that Merc in the hiney. Solano double-crosses the Merc after a successful contract, and the rest of the game is spent hunting him down by fighting through the Venezuelan army and Solano’s supporters.
Because you’re a Merc on a mission, military warfare becomes the basis for accepting a contract and playing against different gangs, both of which build up your arsenal and accrue a fat bank account. Unfortunately, Mercenaries 2 is undone by the gameplay snafus encountered by many sandbox games, a tragic flaw, considering the gunplay misfires are core to the game itself. For starters, trying to hit an enemy from any distance is challenging regardless of the gun chosen, and it’s also common to run out of ammunition in the middle of a firefight. However, the lack of bullets exposes an even more disturbing problem: melee attacks can kill most enemies with a single hit. As a result, you’ll often eschew guns altogether in exchange for sneaky knock-them-upside-the-head kills.
The fact that this is even possible is a problem, because in most action games the AI-controlled enemies would either see you coming or adjust to your tactics. But in Mercenaries 2, AI must stand for “absent intelligence,” because these enemies are flat-out dumb. In the opening missions, foes find and take cover and shoot only when the situation warrants it. But as you move on, soldiers start to stand still, they mindlessly bum-rush you, and they’ll sometimes wander off aimlessly or stop shooting after popping off just a few rounds. This behavior carries over into friendly AI, as well, which seems to operate on its own personal agenda.
Two elements save Mercenaries 2 from being a total flop: the pure fun of making things “go boom” with rocket launchers, tanks, grenades and missiles; and playing through the game with a friend. It’s a great feeling to launch a rocket into a structure from a distance, then see the explosion followed by multiple secondary explosions from an adjoining structure. That was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the first, and it’s even better in this sequel (thank you, next-gen hardware). But the best way to experience the open world of Mercenaries 2 is to play co-op online or offline.
In co-op play, one player joins the host’s game and accumulates money and fuel, which is usable in their own game as well. Money accumulation is especially important, as the online leaderboards for cash acquired are highly competitive. On the downside, the player who joins the host game does not benefit from having his or her co-op progress transferred back into his/her own game. This should have been included, as should a third cooperative player, considering there are three Mercs from which to choose.
The omission of a third player may have been a technical/hardware limitation and therefore somewhat understandable. But, because Mercs 2 is a next-gen game, console “limitations” are no excuse for the game’s horrid load times or its visuals, which are overly simple in their design, texture and lighting. Action-intense cut-scenes are also prone to tearing, not something anyone wants to see on what should be a cutting edge presentation. Fortunately, Pandemic totally delivers on the audio front, with a loud Dolby-Digital mix and above-average voiceovers.
Still, all of the AI and gunplay don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of blowing stuff up, especially with a friend. If making things “go boom” puts a smile on your face, Mercenaries 2 will not likely disappoint. But if you’re looking for a well-rounded experience that has the polish of a GTA IV-like open world, Mercenaries 2 is probably better suited as a rental than a purchase.
Buy Mercenaries 2: World in Flames for PS3 at Amazon.com
Buy Mercenaries 2: World in Flames for Xbox 360 at Amazon.com
- Score: 7.7
- Blowing stuff up with a buddy absolutely rocks, but the AI is anything but intelligent and the graphics are a bit disappointing.