Much like the technology on show in Pandemic's latest open-world destructathon, Mercenaries 2 has an air of 2006 about it
Much like the technology on show in Pandemic's latest open-world destructathon, Mercenaries 2 has an air of 2006 about it. From the lacklustre visual design to the horridly sporadic audio, you'd expect more polish from a title in development this long - after all, this a genre that has the likes of GTA IV and Saints Row to compete with. But when most of your key features are trumped by the ageing Just Cause, something is horribly awry.
Focussing on the jovial spirit of simply blowing shit up, Mercs 2 lays out its stall early on. Basic third-person controls wrap around an easy targeting system and satisfactory level of responsiveness, along with an acute sense that objects in the world are simply there to be played with. Weapons can be picked up, air strikes called in, Motorbikes and tanks stolen, cars commandeered and disguises adopted whenever and wherever you like. As a 3rd-person playground, large-scale Venezuela isn't a bad proposition, offering everything from skyscrapers to dense jungle across a huge and teeming map.
Things improve further when you realise the sheer level of destructibility on offer. Pretty much any structure can be levelled within the game, either through a combination of RPG fire and C4, or some of the more industrial hardware and special abilities - such as the artillery strike. Explosions are pretty much the raison d'etre here, with the engine doing a decent job of rendering objects to pieces and raining down particles in the process.
As an open-world title, Mercs 2 checks all the necessary structural boxes. A fairly short narrative is present and correct, along with a host of extraneous activities such as races, stealth missions and turf capturing. As with the original, you're free to piss off whichever rival factions you choose, making your traversal across the land as carefree or competitive as you'd like. Transport around the map can be sped up using a helicopter, and each base of operation offers numerous activities in the vicinity to keep you busy.
Unfortunately for all the promise that variety brings, Mercs 2 undoubtedly feels rushed. Animation is rough around the edges, with choppy transitions that look more at home in the early days of last generation than a 2008 blockbuster. Texturing is largely flat and uninteresting, and whilst draw distance is impressive from the viewpoint of a helicopter clipping the clouds, it all looks a little workmanlike and uninspired. The skybox texture for the sun, as an example, looks simply painted on at low resolution rather than brandishing any source of light – let alone any HDR effects.
This shoddy approach continues to permeate almost every facet of the experience from transport to AI. Vehicle handling is average at very best and appalling at worst. Collisions can be entertaining, or simply jerk the temperamental physics engine into producing cars that float 50 yards upside down – on numerous occasions. The decision to place gas and brake controls on the face buttons is also completely baffling in this age of controller triggers - no alternative schemes are on offer.
Missions and enemies are also severely unbalanced, leading to the realisation that you can act as a one-man army for the majority of the time. Foes shuffle towards you with an aim that borders on the completely retarded, only requiring a couple of shots or a swift melee attack to defeat. Wave after wave of soldiers can be dispatched in this manner without even touching the more elaborate hardware, rendering most of the weaponry pointless. You could throw a grenade over to that group of soldiers, but why bother when you can simply use the god-like sprinting speed combined with the butt of your rifle to take them out in seconds?
It isn't as if this type of approach is unique or unworkable. Crackdown employed the same overpowering techniques to craft a thoroughly enjoyable experience after all - the difference being a gameplay engine fit for purpose and environmental interaction that was enjoyable. Crucially, Mercs 2 doesn't get the basics right, and so the act of wandering the land becomes boring after a couple of hours. Without a linear structure in place, that all but renders the experience dead.
For all the above criticisms, there is something strangely compelling about Mercs 2, but I suspect that's the psychological pull of an open-world map with lots of untapped activities rather than anything more substantial. As soon as you realise that each of those glowing dots inevitably leads to the same tired action, the draw to explore becomes non-existent. There is room for a Mercenaries-flavoured experience in the gaming canon, but this isn't it.
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MERCENARIES 2: WORLD IN FLAMES VERDICT
For all the above criticisms, there is something strangely compelling about Mercs 2, but I suspect that’s the psychological pull of an open-world map with lots of untapped activities rather than anything more substantial. As soon as you realise that each of those glowing dots inevitably leads to the same tired action, the draw to explore becomes non-existent. There is room for a Mercenaries-flavoured experience in the gaming canon, but this isn’t it.