Repetitive, broken, bug-riddled and bad.
For developer Pandemic and publisher EA, releasing Mercenaries 2 at the front-end of the holiday rush seemed like a wise decision on their part. The first game, released in 2005, was well received by critics and gamers alike for its over-the-top but solid gameplay, impressive storyline and diverse and eccentric cast of characters. For the second game, the guys at Pandemic promised a bigger and better playground of destruction, with more explosions and, of course, more fun. They did deliver on the bigger part, but sort of missed the boat on the better part.
Mercenaries 2 is a botched-up, bug-riddled mess of a game. One has to wonder what the testers on this game were on to miss all of the glitches that oftentimes hinder the gameplay in frustrating and annoying ways. You’ll start off by picking your Merc from the cast of returning characters. Each one has a special ability: Mattias Nilsson’s health regenerates faster, Chris Jacobs can carry more ammo and Jennifer Mui runs faster. No matter who you choose, the storyline will remain exactly the same throughout the course of the game. Bottom line, you get double-crossed by Ramon Solano, a power-hungry political figure who takes over as dictator of Venezuela after a militaristic coup. After hiring you for a job, he doesn’t pay up and even tries to kill you, which is a big no-no when you’re dealing with a mercenary. You’ll then go on this ridiculous quest for revenge which will eventually bring you face to face with Solano. The premise is out of place for a game like this, making the story an ambiguous mess.
As you try and find where Solano is hiding, you’ll need to take on jobs for the different factions in the game so they can give you information on his whereabouts. Although they drive different vehicles and offer different types of supply packages for you to pick up, all of them possess the same braindead AI. In fact, every non-human controlled character in this game has the AI of a lemming, if not worse. Soldiers from a friendly faction will often lunge themselves in front of your bullets or rockets, making said faction hostile towards you and often bringing the mission to an abrupt end. Enemy soldiers will just stand there and not notice you even though you’re standing right next to them. Even worse, they will disregard their own faction’s equipment or companions just to gun you down. As for Venezuela’s denizens, they’ll casually run in front of your car when you’re driving down the road, costing you some money each time. Instead of running away from danger, they’ll rush right into it and most likely die from your bullet fire or artillery strikes. All of this horrendous AI make the game more frustrating than it should be.
As for the gameplay proper, there are some fun moments to be had, if you disregard a host of other annoying glitches and bugs and some repetitive sequences. Launching an artillery strike on a building and watching it crumble to the ground will leave you in awe and put a smile on your face. Sadly, that feeling fades away much too quickly because the buildings or structures crumble in the exact same way every time. Your Mercenary also has the ability to hijack tanks and helicopters during the course of the game, but once again, these scripted button-mashing sequences are recycled throughout and are identical each time you decide to hitch a ride. Of course, since this is a third-person shooter, you’ll be packing some heat. Although there is a wide variety of guns to choose from, the subtle differences between them aren’t enough to differenciate one from another. The fact that you need to press a button to pick up ammo is ridiculously annoying to boot. Overall, the shooting and driving mechanics work well and are very easy to get into.
Sadly, other annoying bugs hinder some gameplay mechanics which should’ve flowed seamlessly. For starters, the map is huge and, even though your helicopter pilot can pick you up anywhere, he can’t drop you off where you’d want him to, meaning that you’ll have to find other ways of transportation to make it where you want to go. If you die, you’ll respawn at the faction’s camp for which you were doing the contract for, or you’ll respawn in your home base, which means that you’ll have to trek all the way back to your destination once again. Speaking of your helicopter pilot, he will sometimes deliver supply crates on top of buildings, out of your reach. At other times, soldiers will glitch in a window or next to a vehicle, making it impossible to kill them. I’ve even seen a helicopter disappear in thin air while I was riding in it.
There exists one saving grace to this game, it’s the online co-op. Having a human counterpart playing with you makes a world of difference and adds an extra coat of fun to the proceedings. Those long car or helicopter rides can be spent chatting with your buddy, for example. The online is lag-free and works extremely well, although the same bugs and glitches from the single player component will always be present while you play. If it wasn’t for the co-op, this game would’ve fallen under the “bad memory” section of my video game stockpile.
In the end, there’s this uneasy feeling that Pandemic and EA rushed this product onto store shelves to benefit from the early seasonal rush, making it a tangled mess of bugs and glitches that could’ve easily been avoided with just a little bit more care. The bad voice acting, cringe-inducing story and ugly graphics don’t help matters any. This game could’ve been so much more. Thankfully, it’s quasi-perfect online mode is there to save the day and make us temporarily forget how broken the actual game is.