Taking part some time after the events seen in the first Mercenaries game, World in Flames begins as our lovable mercs, no longer working for private military company (PMC) ExOps, perform a seemingly normal contract for a rather suave Venezuelan businessman, only to be backstabbed (actually, shot in the arse) for their trouble. The businessman is Ramon Solano, and he plans to overthrow the Venezuelan government, and punish the rest of the world by putting a stop to the export of precious oil.
Predictably, from then on, the story is a little thin on the ground, and boils down to revenge, money, and blowing seven shades out of pretty much anything and anyone who gets in your way. But hey, this is Mercenaries, what do you expect? Shakespeare?
At the start of the game, players can choose one of the three titular soldiers for hire. There’s Mattias Nilsson, the mowhawked Swede who features prominently on the game’s artwork and adverts. He can regain health faster then the other two. Chris Jacobs is an American who can carry around the most ammo, and Jennifer Mui is a Chinese-born English lass who can run around like Usain Bolt on speed.
After picking your merc, you’re thrown into war-torn Venezuela , and your first goal is to set up an HQ. And, where better than Solano’s own mansion? Regrettably, he’s not there when you roll in, but you get a rather large manse to set up shop in and plan your further attacks.
This time around, you’re operating on your own (although Fiona, the Australian advisor from the first game is also along for the ride), and so, get to set up your very own PMC. Early on you’ll need to recruit some key operatives, including a helicopter pilot, mechanic and a fighter pilot. You’ll need these to call in support, access special vehicles and to call in the game’s trademark air strikes. Each character can supply you with special items, and wagers, which are basically skill-testing mini missions that involve target practise, racing and even winching packages with dexterity in a helicopter.
The game proper is not all that dissimilar to the original Mercs. There’s no ‘deck of 52’ this time, but you’ll still be accepting missions from various rival factions, and will need to balance your operations so as not to upset your allies, otherwise you’ll not only be unable to take on missions, but you’ll be catapulted to the top of their hit list. The ‘cards’ are still evident in a fashion, but are simply optional side missions where you can find and apprehend HVTs (High Value Targets). This time though, these targets are not solely the main villains (in this case, the Venezuelan Army), and may belong to factions you’re working for, so capturing them can also upset your relations with your current allies, but it can improve relations with rival factions.
The game is played almost exclusively in third person (you can select first person in some vehicles), and if you’ve played the first game, you’ll know exactly what to expect. If you haven’t, think ‘GTA in a war zone’, and you’re just about there. To accomplish missions you can use all sorts of weapons, masses of vehicles (including bikes, jeeps, tanks, trucks, helicopters and so on), and once you’ve earned enough money and resources, you can call in support such as artillery strikes, air support and even tactical nukes. These strikes can turn the tide of any battle, with gloriously flashy results.
In order to use this support system, you’ll not only need to pay cash (earned by completing missions and tasks), but you’ll now need to use fuel, as it’s your own PMC employees who will be delivering the goods. Fuel can be found around the world or stolen from the various factions, and you can get your chopper pilot to airlift it to your HQ. Without fuel, you’ll be unable to call for support, so gathering resources is essential. Other collectable supplies include air strike ammo, which can also be airlifted to your base and special parts, which your mechanic can use to create special vehicles. If exploration isn’t your thing, then you can also purchase supplies, air strikes and vehicles from the various factions using the shop system. This is also where you’ll increase your HQ’s fuel storage, which is important as some more powerful support options require much more fuel than you can hold at the start of the game.
Another new change includes a QTE style method of hijacking some vehicles, such as tanks. In the first game you could simply press a button and watch as your merc ran along the barrel of a tank and popped a grenade into the turret. But now, you need to hit the correct button combo, or risk getting thrown from the vehicle. You also need to use a grappling hook to hijack helicopters, before completing a QTE event. This works well, and makes things a little more challenging, but the QTE’s aren’t really difficult, so no frustration should set in.
Graphically, Mercs 2 is a mixed bag. On the whole, the game looks great, especially explosions and general destruction, thanks to the Havok physics engine. You can blow up just about anything, and they’ll explode and fall apart in a very satisfying manner. Occasionally though, some of the models are very basic and blocky, with some nasty looking textures, and things look more akin to an original Xbox title than a game on the 360.
There are some more fundamental glitches in the system, though. As in the original game, Pandemic’s vehicle physics can be plain awful, with ten ton trucks bucking up into the air when hitting even a minor bump in the road, and it’s easy to get stuck in scenery in some situations. Enemy AI is also far from impressive, especially civilians who are seemingly so fed up of the war that they’re more than happy to throw themselves in front of your speeding car. Fair enough, and this wouldn’t be too much of a problem, if the game didn’t punish you with a civilian casualty penalty, resulting in you losing money, grrr. And, if Ewan (the chopper pilot) is so damn good at his job, why, oh why does he damage his chopper every time he returns supplies to your base (signified by a chopper damage repair cost)? Did he miss the flying lessons that taught safe landing?
Many have complained that the missions are dull and repetitive, especially the first few. I don’t totally agree with this, though, and found the early sorties to be entertaining enough, but it’s hard to deny that missions are not as expertly implemented or as varied as those seen in the first game. In fact, despite all of the extra features seen here, Mercs 2 isn’t quite as classy as the first title, and hasn’t advanced the formula much. This is more like Mercenaries 1.5 than 2.
However, although it has its faults, I can’t help but love the game. The simple, OTT combat, masses of ridiculous, almost cartoon destruction, tons of vehicles and weapons and a whole host of side missions all group together to create a very entertaining title. The missions do get better as the game progresses, and once your PMC is up and running, you’ll find these friendly NPCs invaluable.
Add to this an online co-op mode, which lets players help each other out and blow the world to kingdom come, and you’ve got a great little package.
Being such a fan of the original, I was eagerly awaiting this release, and although Mercs 2 isn’t quite the sequel I was hoping for, it’s still a fine game, and well worth a punt; especially if you like your action explosive.