Welcome to Four Years Ago
Mercenaries 2 is an open-world third person shooter in which you - a mercenary - are tasked with doing missions for two competing factions with the eventual aim of taking revenge on a previous employer. It places a strong emphasis on big, loud explosions, which, whilst pretty, make a pretty bad basis for a game, especially as everything that surrounds them is rather weak.
It's hard to care about the storyline for Mercs 2, and from playing the game it seems as though even Pandemic shared this problem. The story begins with you being stabbed in the back by an employer after a job, with the rest of the game focus sing on your subsequent revenge by completing missions with the eventual aim of finding your man. This should sound familiar to anyone whose taken a glace at a GTA game in the past ten years, but those expecting that series's high quality of storytelling and cutscenes will be sorely disappointed. Cutscenes exist solely to tick a box in the story department; they proceed at a pace devoid of any artistic merit, and all run on an in-game engine, so they're not even that great to look at.
A quick and easy way of writing this review would be to simply have said "Do you love the design philosophy of the last generation and wished it hadn't changed?" because Mercenaries 2 does nothing to take advantage of current hardware, aside from some online only co-op. The graphics engine it runs on is simply an up-scaled PS2 engine, and so character models look several years past their prime, and environments look about as vibrant as origami. Animation is also incredibly sub-par, with enemies that never look as though they fit in their environment. Those who feel a distinct sense of déja vu after seeing an enemy run off a building with no special animation whatsoever are not alone. It all reeks of the first Mercenaries game, fine for four years ago, but nowadays very questionable.
Even the faction system, which should be a major source of strategic gameplay feels restrictive and unreasonable. Three factions exist in the world, and killing members of one will gain you favour with the other. In practice though during missions it can become a source of endless frustration, a case in point: one early mission tasked me with defending a church from the Venezuelan army with the support of the Peoples Liberation Army of Venezuela. The VZ were attacking with tanks, and the PLAV had an artillery gun set up to tackle them. However, the AI in Mercs 2 leaves a lot to be desired, and so me, taking the initiative, hopped into the artillery gun and had a lovely old time blasting their tanks to pieces. Not so fun was the reaction of the PLAV who saw me taking control of their gun as a hostile action, and cancelled the mission for me, forcing me to start the mission over, which involved making the trek once more across the map.
Fundamentally the game just isn't fun. Even a major selling point, building destruction, fails to satisfy. Like the idea of factions this sounds great on paper; any building you see can be leveled, and so tactical enemies choosing to rain down grenades on you from high windows may be feared no more. However the physical act of destroying these buildings lacks any satisfaction when instead of individual missiles blowing off huge chunks of concrete, they merely deplete the building's life-bar, giving you no visual reward for your efforts until the building's complete destruction. When a game is based off an idea that blowing shit up is fun, and then fails to make it so, a game has issues beyond belief.
Even control manages to annoy rather than aid. When in vehicles the default acceleration and brake buttons are on the face, with no allowance for custom controls. Tanks pose more of a problem, with the game's point blank refusal to allow you to drive with your turret in anything other than a forward direction. Wave goodbye to the mobile tank battles of Warhawk, if you want to battle with some firepower in Mercenaries you must stop first and only then aim your shot.
Mercenaries 2 is not a pretty game, nor is it a fun game. Add to this a lackluster story or any semblance of a decent presentation and you have one of the most mediocre games of the year. But hey.....if you like airstrikes...