Mercenaries 2: World in Flames PS3, Xbox 360 Review

The wait for Mercenaries to jump from Playstation 2 and Xbox to Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 has been a long one, bringing with it building anticipation for greatness with each passing month. With Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, Pandemic and EA have brought together today’s “in” gaming trends: sandbox-style gameplay, destructible environments and cooperative play to offer a decent gaming package, but not a great one as hoped.

Mercenaries 2’s set-up is amusing to say the least, foreshadowing a tone for a number of smile-cracking cut-scenes to come. Despite which Merc chosen to play as, that character is shot in the rear end by Ramon Solano, Venezuela’s richest man who double crosses the Merc after a successful contract is completed. The game is spent hunting down self-appointed President Solano by fighting through the Venezuelan army and Solano’s supporters.

The sandbox environment of Mercenaries 2 is either influenced by or ripped off of Grand Theft Auto with an emphasis on military warfare sans loitering prostitutes. The world at-large goes on whether accepting a contract (re: mission) or not and playing different factions (re: gangs), vital to quickly building arms and a hugely positive cash flow in a timely manner.

Sandbox action/adventure games are more often than not plagued by core gameplay inadequacies and unfortunately Mercenaries 2 is no different. Any weapon that fires a bullet projectile is frustrating to hit a target with. Bullets appear to hit their mark but don’t, or strike an enemy who barely flinches as a result. As such, the aiming reticule is near worthless when trying to hit an enemy from any moderate distance, despite which type of gun is selected.

Running out of ammunition while in the thick of battle leads to an unexpected discovery in Mercenaries 2, one that dramatically shifts approaching missions for the rest of the game. The only way to incapacitate an enemy without ammo is with a melee attack requiring a single, simple button click. All it takes is one hit to any enemy and he falls dead. Rather than waste a full clip shooting at enemies from a distance in hopes enough bullets will actually hit them, it is much easier to run or drive up to them and knock them upside the head with the butt of an empty yet oddly more effective gun.

The biggest oddity in Mercenaries 2 is wired through the AI, or lack thereof. In the opening mission’s first hostile confrontation it appeared as if AI opponents were on the ball. One moved around a large rock using it as cover, taking shots whenever the opportunity presented itself. Then suddenly for no apparent reason the soldier stood still in the open, as if he saw Chavez’s Spirit Horse riding towards him. Needless to say he didn’t last much longer and the sketchy AI was outed.

The AI’s erratic behavior persists deeper into the game, sometimes sending enemies bull rushing to their demise with no sufficient cover or purpose, and other times leaving enemies wandering aimlessly or staring off into the abyss. They don’t always fire when you’re out in the open, or they might take a couple shots and then stop firing for a few seconds, then fire again. This behavior carries over into friendly AI, as well, who seems to operate on their own personal agenda.

Saving Mercenaries 2 and driving the fun is anything that goes “boom,” i.e. rocket launchers, tanks, grenades and missiles from aircraft. It’s a great feeling to launch a rocket into a structure from a distance, see the explosion followed by multiple secondary explosions from an adjoining structure seconds later. Things blow up real good, real often, which is real fun to partake in.

Pandemic has also done an admirable job working the factions into the gameplay whether providing vehicle and weapons upgrades or serving up death blossom-like surgical air strikes. It’s always nice to know someone has your back when your AI comrades make tactical battlefield decisions devoid of any semblance of logic.

The best way to light up the sandbox world in Mercenaries 2 is to forget about bad AI partners and play with a bud via co-op on or offline. Pandemic has structured cooperative play so one player joins the host’s game and accumulates money and fuel usable in their own game. Money accumulation is especially important as the online leaderboards for cash acquired are already highly competitive. On the downside, that player’s progress through the story is not transferred back into their own game. This should have been included, along with a third cooperative player since there are three Mercs to choose from at the outset.

Mercenaries 2 is the first appearance for the young franchise on a next-gen console which brought with it high expectations for jaw-dropping audio and visuals. Pandemic came through on the audio with a loud, though front heavy Dolby Digital mix and above average voiceovers. The visuals, however, suffer from simplicity in their design, textures and lighting to possibly run smoother in a sandbox environment. Action-intense cut-scenes are also prone to tearing, not something anyone wants to see on what should be a cutting edge presentation.

Both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions suffer from atrocious mission load times, including a dreaded five-minute plus initial install to the hard-drive on PS3. All the waiting, AI and firearm issues can’t take away from the primal enjoyment of blowing up everything in sight, especially with a friend. If playing to make things go “boom” puts a smile on your face, the time to take on Venezuela is at hand.

– Dan Bradley

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