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Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Graphics: 6.9
Gameplay: 7
Sound: 6.9
Control: 6.5
Replay Value: 7
Rating: 6.9

Switching hands from LucasArts to Electronic Arts, Pandemic's epically destructive Mercenaries brand has finally arrived onto the next-generation consoles with a sequel that stars the original cast of three. Initially planned for a release in Fall 07, the game ultimately underwent 10 months worth of delays, but it's better off for it. When we first played Mercenaries 2 at E3 07, the game was noticeably early and running poorly. But fast forward to today, and the end result is a rather decent action title.

The year is 2010, and you're thrown into Venezuela, where gang-lord Roman Solano hires you, a mercenary, in order to carry out some contract work for him. When you succeed with your job, Solano refuses to pay and attempts to kill your character. Obviously, your character escapes with no damage, but now it's time for some vengeance. Solano and his army of followers overthrow the Venezuelan government, and take control of it. So the game picks up here, and as one of three characters, you'll have the ability to ally yourself with a Private Military Company as a means of taking down Solano and his army.

As mentioned earlier, the original cast of Mattias Nilsson, Christopher Jacobs, and Jennifer Mui return to the sequel and reprise their roles in playable form. You'd think that with three different characters, you'd be treated to three totally different experiences, but unfortunately dialogue is largely the same for all three players, hurting things quite a bit, and making it rather pointless to have three playable characters. Additionally, the plot is more or less the same for each merc too. 

What makes Mercenaries 2 stand out among the horde of other action shooters out there is that it blends open-world gameplay with traditional action elements very well. For example, if you took Saints Row and added linear Army of Two-like segments to it as a means of progressing the story, you essentially have the gameplay of Mercenaries 2. But then you factor in all of the other features offered, and you've got an action title that is unlike others.

Mercenaries 2 is unique in that it allows the player to join factions as a means of earning point and getting to Solano. Factions will offer you money per job available, and the faction that offers the most should be your pick. Additionally, picking up jobs isn't limited to allying yourself permanently to a faction, as you have the choice of doing contract work on an individual basis or long-term. Depending on who you ally yourself will ultimately decide on which faction wins the war when the game ends. Your skills rely on the standings and outcome of your group. Furthermore, you have the ability to do some recruiting and create your own Private Military Company, giving the player even more control over the experience.

Now even though there are a horde of nice features with some solid depth, it's still important to note that the game itself can be rather enjoyable to play. You've got a slew of weapons to use, all of which are capable of destroying the objects around you. And there are over 130 vehicles/crafts for you to hi-jack and use; these crafts include everything from cars to helicopters to tanks to speedboats. One example of destructive interactivity is, if for example, you're using a tank, you can destroy a building and have it crumble over your enemies - effectively killing them from a distance.

A hub will be setup for you shortly into the game, this is where you'll spend some time planning out your next mission, and transporting from one saved hot-spot to another. The hub is very useful in that it will save you the hassle of having to traverse the entire gameplay region of Venezuela just to get somewhere. Seeing as how enormous the game's locale is, having the ability to travel from one point to another instantaneously is a great feature to have.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer offering in Mercenaries 2 isn't what I'd imagine it to be. Multiplayer gameplay is limited to just two co-operative players, and as much as we love co-op gameplay, especially when it takes us through the story, we love deathmatch modes just as much. The world of Mercenaries 2 is a practically ideal setup for some insane multiplayer modes, and it's a major disappointment that they aren't here. Having 16 or 32 player matches where everyone is competing against one another to win a contract would've been divine, and ultimately Merc 2's online offering feels like wasted potential. Shame.

Another complaint I can address with Mercenaries 2 is that at times it doesn't feel like a next-generation game. It lacks a certain pizzazz, thanks largely due to presentation and occasionally clunky feeling controls, in addition to repetitive gameplay. The controls are perfectly tolerable, for the most part, it's just that they don't offer anything but run, jump, and shoot. Some additional maneuvers would've been nice to make the controls feel a little more fresh. And the more you play through the game, the more you'll realize how redundant the missions become, creating that feeling of redundancy.

Presentation is lacking polish, as the in-game cut-scenes are horrifically ugly to look at, with image compression that rivals what we've seen of old PlayStation FMVs. I don't tolerate anything but superb clarity when it comes down to cut-scenes, as we're not dealing with a 650MB medium anymore - perhaps the dual-layered DVD is still limited in that regard (I highly doubt it), a 25GB or 50GB dual-layered Blu-Ray isn't. There's no excuses here. Furthermore, there are other visual oddities, such as bland texture details, last-gen animation, and character models that aren't exactly loaded with detail. Objects will frequently pop-up in the distance, but given the enormous draw-in distance and the size of the world, it's forgivable.

Still, as a whole, the game looks passable, and thanks to a decent framerate, it's very playable. You'll enjoy the sights of explosions, but don't go into Mercenaries 2 expecting a super fine image that is pushing your console to the limit. There are a number of visual issues here, but fortunately they aren't critical to the point of marring the experience.

The audio in Mercenaries 2 is also a mixed bag. While the soundtrack and sound effects sound pretty good, the voice acting is a bit on the bland side. Mattias' character, specifically, has very unusual delivery, as much of what he says sounds either slurred or awkwardly said. Then there's the all-too cheesy dialogue, which is a fault of the writing, and not so much the voice actors, but the audio suffers nonetheless. If you can get over the not so great voice acting, the rest of the audio sounds rather solid.

All in all, Mercenaries 2 is a decent game which can provide some good times. It is also a very flawed game that exhibits many issues, particularly technical, and some with gameplay. It doesn't offer the most robust multiplayer experience, the visuals aren't sparkling, the audio is a mixed bag, and the gameplay isn't exactly cutting edge. But the scope of the game is commendable and there's certainly a ton of potential here - I just wish that potential received some polish before it was given to us. Rent this one before you buy it.

9/16/2008   Arnold Katayev