By mdnthrvst 6 Comments
This blog only covers these games’ mechanical aspects. If I get a good response, I’ll follow up with a non-mechanical comparison, comparing their stories, settings, characters, factions, music, and all that great stuff. This is also my first blog ever, so feel free to criticize me as harshly as you honestly can.
As a fan of the first Mercenaries, I was always bummed out by the lack of similar games in this current generation. Since Mercenaries 2 exists in my same cognitive space as the Matrix sequels, the only recent game that’s tried to approximate POD’s military-GTA structure is Just Cause 2.
And damn, is it a good game.
But I’m torn, dear Internet.
JC2 has a lot going for it – it contains the single best open-world of a non-RPG ‘sandbox’ game, it flouts the laws of physics with the best physics-flouting-thing since the Gravity Gun, its utterly fantastic Grappling Hook, which, by the way, is borrowed if-not-directly from Mercenaries, though I wouldn’t know, as I never played JC1. Regardless, this grappling hook makes Mercs 1’s simple and limited helicopter-hijacking mechanic seem childish. Well, partially, but more on that later. The vehicles – though there are fewer of them, and no tanks among them – handle better than the ones in Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, which sort of floated across the landscape like a hovercraft. There are also motorcycles, and motorcycles in open-world games instantly make those games awesome. The gunplay is also better from a mechanical standpoint, headshots are satisfying and easy and the ragdoll physics are fun to observe. But, the guns’ variety is very limited, and though they can be upgraded they only consist of the expected archetypes, without even any proper descriptive names. There is a Black Market dealer, who is simple, reliable, and invincible, though his stock is quite… erm, Spartan. Destruction is the game’s bread and butter, with a tracked ‘Chaos’ meter that rises from destroying military property and taking upgrade pieces, but there is no full destruction a la Bad Company 2.
Mercenaries 1 is almost to the letter this game's opposite.
Its open world is smaller, though it doesn’t feel small as scale is the critical issue. Mercs doesn’t have planes or magical Spider-Man gauntlets, so the pace of transportation allows the world to feel perfectly fine up against Just Cause. Also, there are two world maps, something which imprinted itself on my adolescent brain as true and good and causes endless disappointment due to its absence in pretty much everything else. Though hijacking in JC is easier due to the grappling hook, it’s also less interesting than Playground of Destruction’s implementation. Both use quick time events, but Mercenaries’ are fully animated cutscenes unique to each vehicle, while Just Cause’s are simple three-face-buttons punch outs with the pilot or driver. Mercs’ are also harder, in that you can actually fail them and they use more buttons, though you are invincible to enemy fire for their duration, which isn’t the case with Just Cause. Mercenaries also has better vehicles, though their handling isn’t the greatest. There are real tanks in addition to APCs, many more civilian and military models, and the only thing lacking is the absence of planes, which actually helps to slow transportation and in the long run makes the world feel more expansive. With respect to weapons, there are many more, up to and including classic LucasArts cheat-code type bangers as portable airstrikes (housed in an RPG) and portable artillery (oddly, this one’s a pistol). However, let’s just say modern action games do the whole shooting thing better than open-world PS2 games. The Black Market dealer is better, but more difficult to make use of. His inventory is way more expansive, but each piece of merchandise has to actually be dropped from a helicopter (or landed if it IS a helicopter), which is far more complicated and failure-prone than simply spawning it in like in Just Cause. Destruction in Playground of Destruction is a playground’s worth of fun. Every building in the game can be leveled, albeit in a smoke-and-sinking-polygon PS2 sort of way, and military structures can still be destroyed for cash, though unlike Just Cause 2 this also includes vehicles. I also think the sound cue is better.
With the mechanical elements of these games, an uncanny trend arises. Mercenaries has more. More vehicles, more guns, more world maps (having 2), more stuff for you to buy, more unlockables, more QTEs, more destruction, but Just Cause 2 does it all better. So I can’t – or I won’t – place one above the other. It’s a matter of Depth vs. Polish, and different gamers are looking for different things.