I’m here to kick ass and chew chicle.
If you’ve ever fancied yourself a tough-as-nails mercenary and wanted to really ‘run your own show’ — to choose your employers and targets, to accept missions you like and reject the rest, to cultivate or betray alliances at will, to stockpile enough weapons to start a dozen branch-wacko Texan compounds, and of course to make a buttload of dirty money — then the aptly-named Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is the fight you’ve been waiting to pick.
[image1]Players take the role of a soldier-for-hire in a sprawling, free-roaming, excellently-presented, modern-day Venezuela—eight uninterrupted square miles of it, in fact, with every highway, beach, mountain, bridge, valley, bay, downtown city-block, airport, slum, wharf, slum and tucked-away guerilla enclave alive with all sorts of ambient activity.
Some of the big, bad, beautiful world out there is on your side. Most of it’s not (or probably won’t be for long). And all of it—from the crappiest little corrugated-tin-and-plywood shack to the most imposing, downtown corporate office-block—can be destroyed, if you’ve got the firepower and the determination.
(Do mind the wandering civilians going about their own business, though; even in this war-torn Venezuelan theater, ‘collateral damage’ is frowned upon; worse, bribing the media cuts into your profit-margin).
Like any halfway-ambitious revolución, Mercs 2 is awash in catchy, ideological, fist-in-the-air slogans: “Everybody pays,” proclaims the game’s advertising; then there’s “Yes, you can”—a developer line, referencing the game’s sandboxy freedom to let the player do pretty much whatever he/she wants at any given time;
EA rep Devin Bennett has said that the game is about escalation—the one-upsmanship practice of taking whatever your enemies dish out, and then hitting them back twice as hard. “Disproportionate response,” he calls it, and that’s a pretty good one, too; really paints a picture.
[image2]But I humbly submit that I’ve got an even better slogan—one that more succinctly and viscerally sums up the experience, in those three precious words that have made the world go ‘round since time immemorial: “No, fuck you.”
You’ve got uniformed rent-a-cops patrolling all the main roads in Venezuela? I’m storming your unguarded backwater beach with a jet-ski, a bandolier full of grenades and fragmentation-porn on my mind. You’ve got armed jeeps and fifty-cals behind sandbags? I’m crawling up in your third-world guerilla grill with a first-world tank. You’ve got some goons with RPGs? I’ve got an assault helicopter armed with miniguns and rocket-pods. You’ve deployed some aging Soviet-surplus anti-air guns and SAM sites, have you? I’m cruise-missiling your FARCing ass back to the Tortilla Age. You’ve got the reinforced-concrete, hard-target, military-grade bunker thing going on in the middle of full, well-defended base? How about I just tac-nuke your whole map-sector into blackened glass? Fuck me? No—fuck you.
Whichever of the three characters you pick, you’ll play through the same basic core story, an overarching tale of politico-military conflict relating to Venezeula’s oil reserves, with a thick slathering of Clint Eastwood-style, play-one-side-against-the-other faction-juggling. There are definite primary missions to neutralize and/or collect bounty on high-value targets, but the opportunities for side-missions, extra profit and wholesale theft cash, property and loose weapons of mass destruction are legion.
Mechanically, it’s mostly solid stuff—default third-person control, with right-stick command on the camera (if you really want to feel nonchalantly badass when demolishing a target, have your character face the camera and then throw a grenade—which results in your character sort of casually tossing the explosive in question over his/her shoulder).
Your character of choice is tough enough on two legs (with two equippable main weapons and an arsenal of grenades, C4 charges and air strikes/supply drops at the ready), but with a single button-press you can also steal any unattended vehicle—and I meant any vehicle, from junker automobiles parked behind cantinas and cheap-o motorboats left unattended at the beach, all the way up to paramilitary patrol boats, APCs and tanks—or hijack those which are currently occupied.
[image3]It’s frankly absurdly easy to pull off such heists; all you need to do—in, for example, the case of a tank—is snipe the antipersonnel gunner out of his perch, then literally clamber onto and along the barrel of the offending armor unit, play a brief context-sensitive button-game to get the hatch open, head-butt the driver (who pokes his nose up to see what’s going on), and finally drop a grenade down into the vehicle to clear out any remaining resistance.
Absurdly easy, yes; but I’ve never found myself complaining about the fact—particularly after I’ve just commandeered some enemy armor in the middle of raid that’s started to suddenly go downhill for me. It’s usually something along the lines of “Oh hey, an enemy tank showed up—and just in time! Thanks, guys!”
It’s nice to suddenly have that growling, brand-spanking-new tank at your disposal (and pretty yucky to think about what the inside of that vehicle looks like, after your little explosive gift to the crew at the controls). Provided you’ve acquired a grappling hook, you can even pull off a similar hijacking routine with enemy helicopters—if you can manage to latch onto them and climp up the line before they light up your earthbound ass from the air.
After you’ve raided and captured an enemy’s posh lakeside villa as your own early in the game, it turns into your regular base of operations. Key non-player characters who join you — including a tough female mechanic who creates vehicles, a womanizing Irish helicopter jockey who’ll chopper in weapons when you need them, and a perpetually-plastered Russian fighter pilot who’ll put air strikes wherever you want them — will actually move into the sprawling mansion with you, and set up their own ‘rooms,’ which double as areas to accept special challenges/wagers as well as shops.
By the by, the mechanic Eva provides one of the most fun, gratuitous vehicles in the game—a ludicrously large-tired ‘monster truck’ sort of vehicle whose initial test-track challenge in a massive strip mine/quarry can stand toe-to-toe with anything in Motorstorm. Good times. Good, goofy times.
In fact, whatever potentially ‘heavy’ undertones of present-day Venezuelan military-industrial strife may be present in Mercenaries, they’re totally undercut by the fact that whole thing is pleasantly, cartoonishly Hollywood. Complete with protagonists whose ability to take preposterous amounts of damage and keep fighting would register at least an 11.2 on the Bruce Willis scale.
Humor abounds—in your hero’s quips to him/herself, in some of the cut scenes and surprises waiting for you in missions, and even in the ambient comments of passing non-player characters, some of whom are as stereotypically Western as others are stereotypically Latin American, or Rastafarian, or what have you (one very Texan-sounding Universal Petrolium soldier, in passing: “I hate Venezuela…hot all the time…people shootin’ at ya…”)
[image4]At one point—overwhelmed by the cartoonish nature of the game’s physics—I took the aforementioned ‘monster-truck’-ish vehicle high up into the mountains bordering the game-world, located my distant home base visible far away on the horizon, and took a good running start at a cliff-edge, followed by a nitrous boost, just to see how far I could get: I figure the resulting, ridiculous jump took me a good half a mile, and by the time I hit the ground again and stopped bouncing, I was practically back to HQ… with my vehicle mostly intact, too. Realistic? Hell no. Giggle-inducing fun? Hell yes. Almost but not quite as much fun as backing up a few city-blocks and—just because you feel like it—calling in a nuclear strike on a handful of enemies you could easily (probably) take out with your own equipped weapons and a couple of ‘borrowed’ vehicles.
World in Flames also offers co-op multiplayer, which allows other players to seamlessly drop in and out of the game, as many times (and at any point in the campaign) as desired, without any of it interrupting the experience of the other players. There isn’t any PvP multiplayer; at first I was bummed about this, but after a few sessions of gleefully taking out entire city-blocks’-worth of enemy installations with hellish air-strikes, I have come to see the wisdom of this decision. The game is challenging enough the way it is, and it’s great to be able to have a friend join you for the first phase of a base assault…and then be able to get right back to it on your own, after said friend has to go home and tumble-dry the cat, or whatever.
The game is also, frankly, more than a little buggy: You’ll find clipping/collision issues galore (I once watched through my binoculars as a runaway vehicle I’d sent careening down a hillside, toward an enemy outpost, passed through a building as effortlessly as a ghost…er, ghost car…). I’ve also had multiple instances of getting temporarily ‘stuck’ in the ground, behind a piece of cover, or ‘inside’ a vehicle that some nearby explosion had tumbled onto/into me.
To be fair, it was usually possible to desperately wiggle and jump and wrench (or in a few memorable cases, self-grenade) my way clear of these snags; they were annoying, and they shouldn’t have happened, of course…but none of these quirks have stopped me—or anybody else—from playing Mercs 2 for obsessive hours a time. Occasional hiccups or no, having this much open-world freedom to come at the enemy any old way you see fit is just too much damned fun. Viva la revolución!