Soldiers of Fortune are usually a B-list affair in video games, hanging around with the likes of western stars, boxers, and poorly written thug types that populate games like Saints Row 2. Yet so many games actually star a mercenary, be it one man or a team. Let’s take a look at some of these games, and see how they compare.
When the first Mercenaries game out on the Playstation 2 and the original X-Box, it was met with great praise for being a fun, GTA-style game in a military setting. Working with various factions for the sole purpose of generating enough funds to buy more tanks than a squad led by general Patton was what made the game thrive in an otherwise flooded market of war games.
When Mercenaries 2: World in Flames hit the scene, it was met with significantly less praise. While the core gameplay structure was there, along with an improvement in graphics and controls, the charm had mostly wore off by the time the game was released, and subsequently, the loud booms by the airstrikes you called lost their “wow” value.
The game has you star as one of three defined Mercenaries in a war-torn Venezuela. Each merc actually has a special “power” that helps them in combat, so choosing your player-character does have some relevance this time around. After performing a job the only way you know how, blasting things to oblivion, you are betrayed by your employer Solano and “friend” Blanco, a fellow Merc who has “bad guy” written all over it. After you’re near death and stranded in the middle of Venezuela, you embark on a quest to seek revenge on your employer, again the only way you know how, blowing everything up.
The gameplay is essentially the same from the last Mercenaries game, but with some tweaks to the system that hinder the experience on the most part. First off, you now have a base of operations and a team of mercs at your disposal, one who flies your choppers, one who gives you car upgrades, etc. The missions and contracts are all implemented by your communications lady, Fiona. The numerous factions in the game lead to various types of missions, from smuggling to capturing high valued targets, but always lead to personal missions to drive the story. These story missions are so over the top and ridiculously ripped from action flicks it’s hard not to laugh at the absurdity of it all. So what happens in effect is mandatory juggling between factions just to push the story along, open up new missions from new factions, and new weapons and supplies to add to a growing stockpile. In essence, the pacing of the game is really awkward, since some factions have no bearing on the story to complete missions for them, while others you are required to work for just to get ahead.
And despite the sense of realism around the game as a whole, the campy, guns blazing shtick is actually quite annoying. The game pulls off a GTA IV in many ways here, attempting to balance cheap humor and big explosions with political commentary and a “realistic” approach in how mercenaries operate. This mix failed in GTA, and it fails here.
While story problems and pacing are major issues, thankfully the core gameplay is still fun, if not somewhat flawed. You will eventually earn enough cash to create a stockpile of weaponry that could rival Iran, and with it blow a giant hole in Venezuela the SIZE of Iran in the surface. The amount of airstrikes, stolen vehicles, supply drops and so forth is very impressive, giving you enough toys to play with and match what type of attack you wish to unfold in missions, and in free-play. While some may just go for the direct approach of “nuke this target to oblivion,” it’s more fun to drop in an enemy tank, hide in it, and blow up troops before conducting a final assault. The game does give you options, even though some are obviously more desirable than others.
Another cool aspect, and probably the only way to bring the game into a 360, is the possibly mandatory implementation of a co-op mode. While the game’s co-op options are a little stiff, it is really a lot of fun to blow up half of the country of Venezuela with a friend, and also offers a new degree of strategy in how to implement tactics for players who like that sort of thing. Admittingly though, finding a co-op game that’s good is like finding a white guy in the Apollo theatre, it’s hard to get missions going, and in the end all you will likely do is run around blowing up random vehicles for cash or worse, to lose cash.
The game does suffer from a major graphics issue, however. Perhaps it’s the size of the explosions you create, but a lot of slowdown and clipping issues occur when the action blows up in your face. There are also some graphical inconsistencies with the character models and the environments. Up close and in cut-scenes, everything looks great, if not a little stiff. While on the main map, however, everything is stiff and regimented, from the movements of your character to the motions and actions conducted by enemy soldiers and tanks. Environments are no better, the game looks great from afar, but up close it’s clear they cut corners to try and keep the game from crashing. Even destructible objects like buildings and garrisons fall into neat piles and don’t offer much more than a mini spectacle when destroyed by a dropped missile.
The voice work is thankfully good though. Peter Stromare is the sociopath Mattias Nillson steals the show, if the player chose him as their primary merc. Everyone else in the cast preformed adequately with what is otherwise somewhat stilted dialogue, interspersed with cheap one liners and poor jokes. The sound effects also translate well with the environment. Water sounds good splashed bombs sound great when detonated, guns sound excellent when being fired, and guys sound funny when they are shot. One aspect that’s forgettable is the cheesy background music, which tries to go “South American” with a six-string, mariachi riff and poorly implemented metal music.
When it is all said and done, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is like a teenager who is attempting to grow up from its adolescent obsessions of big guns and bigger explosions with mixed results. It doesn’t try to be sophisticated about what it wants to say, but it also comes off as humorless and off-color on what it says. It’s presentation is the same, which on updated software is not exactly an improvement, and its core gameplay, while fun, is now mired with those “grown up” themes of political war and economic interests. In the end, letting it be the cheap thrills teenager is what made the first Mercenaries a fun game. While Mercenaries 2 is a flawed game, it is still an adequate experience to waste a few hours, so play it sparing to enjoy the experience of the gameplay, not the bells and whistles of the game’s hackneyed plot. If anything, nuking the jungles of Venezuela in 3-D form does relieve a lot of stress from the daily grind.
Final Score- B-