Mercenaries 2: World in Flames Preview
Thanks to the GDC, we got a closer look a plenty of new games, and that includes Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. The original was a ton of fun; it was the true "playground of destruction" complete with plenty of freedom, options, and...well, more freedom. It was all about doing things your own way, siding with whomever you choose, and completing objectives any way that suits your fancy. How many ways can we approach the 9 of Clubs? What weapons do I use? Should I call in support of some kind? Do I slink around all Sam Fisher-like or rush in there guns a-blazin' like Rambo? Grand Theft Auto may have brewed up the concept, but you weren't in a war zone (well, not unless you turned the city into one), which makes the open-ended style in Mercenaries all the more appealing.
Nobody was surprised when we heard about a sequel, considering how popular the original was with critics and gamers alike. But instead of being in an area where North Korea is always the enemy, you're gonna wreak havoc on the Venezuelan countryside this time around. At the GDC, they showed a demo that featured one of the returning Mercs, Matthias, and a particularly tricky objective that involved infiltrating an enemy base deep in a dense jungle. Of course, as we mentioned above, Mercenaries is all about tackling each mission with your own personal flair, taking advantage of anything and everything you might have at your disposal. That hasn't changed, but one of the more noticeable differences was how the Havok engine ripped apart the environment with brutal realism. Pandemic probably wanted to show it off a bit, because Matthias went kinda nuts with explosives in the demo.
One of the most entertaining tricks of the original was to booby trap a vehicle, drive it directly towards your target, dive out before you get too close, hit the detonator, and watch everything go boom. Matthias used some C4 in the demo to remind us of this sweet option, so it's good to know all our old options are still there. However, while it was plenty easy enough to secure a vehicle to use as a rolling bomb in the original, it won't be so simple in Mercs 2. Before, you could jack any vehicle GTA-style, but in the sequel, you'll be forced to play a quick mini-game that will dictate your success or failure. In fact, from what we've heard, this sounds a lot like the context sensitive commands in the God of War games. So if you're trying to nab a jeep and there's a guy in the back manning a turret, you're going to have to complete several specific analog movements and button presses. If you miss, you'll fail in the jack attempt and probably get hurt in the process.
Earlier, we brought up the ability to utilize "support" in the game, and it seems some of our old favorites will be returning. Among them are a couple options involving different air-strikes, which include surgical strikes and carpet bombing, both of which are remotely controlled by your character. You didn't fly the jets or bombers in the original, but you did use a homing device to pick out targets for the pilots in the air. Once again, this kind of assistance will play a large role in Mercenaries 2, but there are a few new additions, one of which centers on whichever character you choose. A rumor has been spreading ever since that demo, which makes us believe that each merc is going to have a unique personality. Therefore, if you go against your character's personality, your rewards won't be as good. But if you choose someone who fits your playing style, you're more likely to reap the rewards of a successful mission, and that's a cool idea. From what we've heard, it's called "In-Character Destruction."
We'll also assume that money is once again key to your ultimate success, primarily because it gives you access to more goodies. You'll probably obtain funds in much the same way you did in the original; simply complete as many missions and objectives as possible, and perhaps satisfy a few optional/secondary conditions for extra cash. Furthermore, your earning potential would change depending on who you allied with in the first Mercenaries, and you had plenty of options: there were the Allies, China, South Korea, and the Russian Mafia, and which faction you accepted work from changed how you played the game. Certain sides clashed big time, so you had to be careful who saw you driving down the road in that Chinese hummer. To increase the depth in this sequel, guess what the developers did? Yep, added more factions. You could've guessed that, though, right?
It has been said that we'll have "five or six" sides to choose from, and considering our new environment in South America, we have no idea what those five or six might be. But there's one thing you can be sure of- regardless of who you decide to side with, you'll be able to change your mind at any given time and accept work from another group, just like you could in the original. The focus and format of the game hasn't changed; only the potential depth and open-endedness (along with a few new features), so that's not a bad thing. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is scheduled to explode onto the PS3 and Xbox 360 at some point during the fourth quarter 2007, and for now, we're plenty excited. Few games give you such an independent, freedom-oriented thrill as Mercenaries, and while the map in the original wasn't anywhere near as big as we've seen in the recent GTA games, and there were some other issues involving control, that doesn't mean the sequel won't be worth playing.
In fact, it's one of our most anticipated titles of the year. Come on, you play a mercenary. How can it not be fun?
3/16/2007 Ben Dutka