Mercenaries 2: World in Flames makes a really good impression. If this review was based on just the first hour of gameplay then I would be sitting here wholeheartedly recommending Pandemic's long-awaited sequel to one of the best games on the original Xbox. But that's not the case, because the longer you play Mercenaries 2 the more annoying the whole thing gets. It's not just the minor bugs and the repetitive gameplay, it's also the big design decisions that turn what should have been a fun take on the Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox game into one of the most disappointing games of this generation.
But let's push pause and rewind the tape a little. Mercenaries 2 is best known for being one of the first games announced for a next-generation console. I can remember sitting there looking at the screenshots wondering if my TV would even be able to handle such beautiful detail. The idea of having an entire country to blow up was certainly intriguing, and coupled with these amazing graphics the combination felt like it couldn't fail. Fast forward almost a few years and what we're left with is an ugly game full of technical problems. This isn't the game I was drooling over all those years ago. What did Pandemic do to that game I've been waiting to play through?
Unfortunately something very, very bad happened on the way to finalizing Mercenaries 2. What we have here is a game that feels a lot like the first game, but is full of strange design choices and some ugly graphics. There are still good ideas found in this game, but in order to appreciate them you are going to have to put up with a lot of repetitive gameplay and clumsy controls.
At least the basic premise of the game is sound. You play one of three mercenaries, private contractors who fly into a dangerous locale and perform military-like actions for money. On paper this is a premise that can't lose, since it allows you to work both sides, meet all sorts of sleazy characters and sneak into enemy outposts. How can this not be the plot to one of the greatest games of all time?
The three characters consist of Mattias Nilsson (a chaos-loving crazy man who can regenerate health faster than anybody else), Chris Jacobs (an African American action hero who can carry a lot of ammo) and Jennifer Mui (the fast walking woman). Outside of those very small personal traits, these three characters are essentially the same. Worse yet, they are utterly forgettable. It's as if every character has been made with the idea in mind that there needs to be at least one thing about them that makes them unbearable.
The reason everybody has such fond memories of the first game was because it managed to mix the Grand Theft Auto-style of gameplay with the ability to blow up every single thing in the world. You can't ignore the appeal of blowing up buildings, especially when its you in a tank trying to take out the back guys shooting at you from windows. I'll admit it, what the first game allowed you to do was a welcome change of pace. Sadly the same cannot be said about this messy sequel.
Mercenaries 2 takes place in Venezuela, a real world location that is full of forests, hills, cities and more. In fact, some might argue that the country is a little too big, but we'll leave that argument for later in the review. As it is, Venezuela is a promising location with more than enough diverse environments. It's what you do in that world that is so disappointing.
In the first hour or so you'll play through a lot of really exciting missions, killing all sorts of nasty bad guys, ordering air strikes and blowing up enormous buildings. It's all enough to get your blood pumping, which is why it's easy to fall in love with this game early on. However, like a whirlwind romance, it's just as easy to fall out of love with Mercenaries 2. I found myself spending the rest of the time playing Mercenaries 2 trying to get the feeling of the first hour back. Sadly it never comes back, and you are ultimately left with an action game that doesn't even come close to hitting the mark.
It all starts the moment you have to fire your guns. It doesn't seem to matter which gun you use, each and every one of them is practically useless. For whatever reasons, all of the guns feel underpowered. When it comes right down to it, there's really no reason for you to use your gun outside of killing the mindless soldiers that are roaming the countryside. When it comes to destroying anything big you might as well find something other than your gun to get the job done. Worse yet, for whatever reason the game actually makes you push a button to pick up ammo and items dropped by fallen enemies. They couldn't just allow you to run over the item and pick it up? It's this sort of problem that permeates throughout the entire game. They may sound like small things at first, but after awhile you'll notice each and every one of them and they will drive you right up the wall.
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