18 Sep 2008

REVIEW - Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

The next in a long line of equatorial-environment-em-ups, Mercs 2 brings the explosions and bigger explosions from the consoles to the PC... rather poorly.

The game takes place in Venezuela and seems to pride itself on being something of a multicultural gangbang, with much of gaming's most potent stereotypes present. You've got the wiley Chinese, the laid back Jamaicans, the gung-ho Yanks and the stiff-upper-lip of the Brits. What little there is of a story centres around revenge on an evil dictator that shot you once. Of course, it's neither engaging nor well written and due to the game's main focus on making things go ker-boom, everything that isn't a large explosion gets in the way of all the things that are large explosions. The strange part is that you'll spend most of the game attacking groups of people that don't even have any ties to said evil dictator with no other motive than to make money and unlock the next part of the main storyline. Your actions are supposed to affect relations with these factions, but the result of a faction turning on you is so easily rectified through bribes that it's a pointless inclusion. It all seems a little... empty headed.

Hey, Pandemic, here's an idea for the inevitable Mercs 3: Get rid of the pointless factions and keep the dictatorship. Give the player control of their own army and make it the main objective to capture strategic outposts so they can sustain rebel troops. Let them manage garrisons and organise the weaponry that's distributed between the occupied areas. Make it so that there's some feeling of need and accomplishment to the copy-and-paste missions. Then, at least there will be a greater reason behind the continued fighting. A power-struggle, balancing defences and building up your forces. How much more exciting does that sound? Answer: loads. And I came up with that in a minute.

As it stands the game revolves around completing missions to make money to buy weapons to blow things up to repeat... and this isn't even one of the major issues I have with the game.

For a start, the game is bugged to hell. There are common bugs that you'll need to find workarounds for and not-so-common ones that you'll need to pull your hair out for. Sometimes the bugs can be Boiling Point funny, like distant, somersaulting helicopters or the time I requested extraction, only to watch in bemusement as the helicopter set down on a sandy slope, slid serenely into a nearby lake and exploded. Such things I can just laugh at and try again, but sometimes the bugs can be fun-destroying. There's a particularly annoying one that refuses to reset enemy positions when retrying failed missions. This means you can be on the fifth retry of a mission and instantly, three enemy gunships will be surrounding you with any allies you may have previously had already wiped out from your previous attempt.

The next complaint is that the game looks bad, five-years-old bad. It looks a lot like Just Cause, but without the awe-inspiring vistas. Blurry textures make your surroundings look like an idiot's watercolour painting and to add insult to injury, the anti-aliasing on offer doesn't even work to smooth things over. The explosions can be spectacular though and this remains one of your incentives to blow stuff up, just so the game isn't so eye-bleedingly ugly. It's clear the PC's hardware capabilities have been overlooked for the sake of easy development.

The third complaint is in reference to the Holy-Mother-of-God-that's-annoying audio. If you aren't hatefully mimicking your irritating partner's pitchy Aussie twang within half an hour then you either have the patience of a saint or have already sliced your ears off in desperation. Dialogue is repeated ad infinitum for no very good reason. I think for the most part it's supposed to give an indication as to a person's stance towards you, but it's clearly broken. A friendly faction's goons will repeatedly shout "enemy sighted" when you arrive or an enemy faction may yell " hold fire! It's the merc!" until you unplug your speakers or murder them all. Honestly, I would have been happier without any the voice audio, because it is wholly awful.

I'll rush on through some of the rest: The interface is unresponsive, the physics engine is dodgy, you are at the mercy of irregular checkpoint saves with no quicksave, the AI is awful and the whole thing smacks of lazy console-porting.

Right, now that the muck has been cleared from view, you might be able to make out the score below. Not too bad is it? So, the question is... why am I giving a clearly broken game quite a generous score? Well, it's mainly to do with the fact that when the game wasn't being a complete dick to me, it actually treated me rather well. Yes, it's true that I may be delirous from the meagre PC offerings of the moment or I'm just happy I've completed a game for the first time in ages. Well, it could be those things and more, but at times Mercs 2 has made me smile and that's what's important for a slice of big, dumb, action entertainment.

The comparisons to Just Cause and Boiling Point are meant to be favourable as well, tedious (the former) and broken (the latter) as they were. Ultimately, it's not a terrible game (you can put that quote on the box). Mercs 2 often conjures moments of majesty and awe. It gives the player a box of matches and a crate of TNT and says 'go figure', leaving you to decide the most effective way to utilize the support at your disposal. If you have enough mental stamina to bypass the game's annoyances then you can actually have a lot of fun planning your attack and delighting in your own cleverness when it succeeds. Whether it's lifting off from an oil tanker seconds after you've called an artillery strike on it, or obliterating an entire oil rig in order to kill a single man, there's something to be said for the sense of style that the game occasionally emits, even if it is the gaming equivalent of Quasimodo in a tuxedo.

SCORE: 73%

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