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Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Pandemic
Release Date: Sept. 4, 2008 (US), Sept. 5, 2008 (EU)

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Mercenaries 2: World in Flames'

by Jesse Littlefield on Sept. 1, 2008 @ 2:31 a.m. PDT

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is an explosive open-world action game set in a massive, highly reactive, war-torn world. A power-hungry tyrant messes with Venezuela's oil supply, sparking an invasion that turns the country into a war zone. Mercenaries 2 features a slew of potential clients, all willing to pay you to do their dirty work. This is your kind of environment.

Genre: Action
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date: August 31, 2008

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is finally here. Initially appearing as a PS3 exclusive before the console was even on the market, Mercs 2 has finally made its way to stores on four platforms, with EA at the publishing helm instead of LucasArts. The final result is a game that feels remarkably similar to the previous outing, only on a massive scale. However, Mercs 2 is also terribly unpolished and has a tremendous amount of bugs in it.

Mercs 2 is very, very similar in concept to the original game. You pick one of three characters who each play a little differently, head out into the world, and make a lot of money blowing up stuff. You go around to different factions and offer your services, and they may or may not give you contracts, depending on how much they like you. These contracts cover a wide range of possibilities, but pretty much always result in something blowing up. This is a good thing, as stuff blowing up was clearly the focus of Mercs 2.

The explosions are gorgeous. They're some of the biggest, craziest and jaw-dropping explosions I've ever seen in a game. Every time something blows up, it's a rush to watch, so it's unfortunate that not as much care was given to the rest of the graphics. While they aren't bad considering the gigantic scope of the game, the cities, jungles, vehicles and characters don't look very good for a next-gen title. Some things have a plastic look to them, and others have fairly low-resolution textures. The game occasionally suffers from very noticeable pop-in and texture streaming problems.

However, all of this can be forgiven when you consider what you can do in the game world. Instead of being given a small area of North Korea as in the original Mercenaries, you are now given full reign over the entire country of Venezuela. This place is huge, and everything in it can be destroyed — every building, table, hedge, tree and statue. Even the gigantic oil platform can be brought down. Among my favorite early moments was a bit where I was in a gunfight in the middle of a hedge maze. I tossed a grenade at an enemy and found that the maze had caught fire, and the flames were quickly spreading. By tossing a few more grenades, I quickly carved out a path through the maze and left a sea of fire behind me.

Mercs 2 sure likes to talk to you a lot, although it doesn't have much to say. Each character has a couple of one-liners to say in certain situations, and within two or three hours, you'll have heard them repeated enough that it starts to grate on your nerves. Whenever you're not on a mission, your support team will tell you the same thing every five minutes: "If you're ever in need of help, come back to HQ to get a few tips." Aside from the lack of variety, the speech is very well done. The sound effects and music all sound very nice, and the guns and explosions sound spectacular. The collapse of a building is believable, and the music heightens the atmosphere at the appropriate times.

In Mercs 2, the story is that you've been betrayed on a contract in Venezuela, and you're now seeking revenge. This plot is significantly more interesting than the simple concept of the original title ("Go to the DMZ and make money"), but the plot still isn't very interesting and serves more or less as just an excuse to blow up the country.

Unlike the last game, you aren't part of a larger company. You now operate solo and need to recruit a team before you can access some of the game's more impressive items. As a result, you'll spend the first few hours of the game getting a jet pilot, a helicopter pilot and a mechanic. With no company backing you, it's up to you to find a stockpile of weapons to use. Thankfully, weapons are everywhere, but you have to take the time to clear the area of enemies and call in a friendly chopper to pick them up. Once you become friendly with any of the five factions in the game, you can buy weapons from them, but generally, you can find anything you need on the map. Once you have everything lined up, dropping bombs and getting supplies is a simple matter of pressing up on the d-pad and using the associated item. Within seconds, you'll find yourself fully stocked with weapons and health or watching the world blow up around you.

While being able to bomb the world is significantly more fun than the awful gunplay, you'll need fuel, which is another item that can be found anywhere on the map but needs to be picked up by helicopters. The bigger the bomb, the more fuel it costs to drag in.

To progress through Mercs 2, you can take on contracts from the various factions or go after bounties they offer. For contracts, you'll do a wide variety of things from destroying something to escorting a VIP from point A to point B. My two personal favorite missions involved leveling an entire island and destroying a gigantic oil platform.

Otherwise, each faction will hand you a number of missions that can be tackled at any time, and they fall into two categories: demolition and High Value Targets (HVT). Demolition targets are buildings with which a faction takes issue, and if you can bring these buildings to the ground, you'll collect a hefty reward. HVTs replace the "Deck of 52" in the original title. If you can capture these people alive, you'll get a large check, but your reward will be cut in half if you kill the target in the process. It's a lot easier to kill the target, but the double cash prize is usually worth the trouble.

This may all sound very similar to veterans of the original Mercenaries, and it should because the gameplay is almost identical. The level of polish in the title is lacking, though, as it's littered with bugs that usually involve the extremely floaty physics. While it's nice to see everything collapsing when it works right, bugs mar the experience. Cars will flip for no reason, your character's legs will get stuck in the environment, things will explode for no reason, etc. It's impossible to play without encountering bugs on a regular basis.

New to Mercs 2 is multiplayer in the form of two-player co-op via Xbox Live. It's a ton of fun to bring another player into the world, and making it even better was a complete lack of lag whenever I played. Unfortunately, the game takes a noticeable performance hit during online play. The textures degrade, and the pop-in gets so bad that you sometimes can't see the road 100 feet in front of you, which in unacceptable in a sandbox game.

Despite a plethora of technical problems that make Mercenaries 2: World in Flames feel like an unfinished title, it remains a lot of to play. You can bring down a city with the press of a button, and the explosions are simply breathtaking. I had a lot of fun while I was playing, but the mediocre length and frequent bugs make the title a little hard to recommend for $60. For now, it's a much better rental option than a purchase.

Score: 7.6/10


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