Giant Bomb Review

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Mercenaries 2: World in Flames Review

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The awesome destructive potential of Mercs 2 is hamstrung by a litany of technical shortcomings and clunky design.

From the Venezuela Tourism Board brochure.
The original Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction was a pleasant surprise for me. It managed to take the GTA open-world format to a tongue-in-cheek, ripped-from-the-headlines military theater that was essentially an international buffet of stuff to blow up. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames changes the theater from a fictionalized North Korea to a fictionalized Venezuela, but the basic idea is pretty much the same. With the added power of current-gen consoles, this should be more than enough for a good time, but sadly, there's a bevy of design and technical problems that keep Mercs 2 from being all that it could be.

While your motivation in Playground of Destruction was strictly financial, it's been spiked with a little revenge this time around after your character gets double-crossed and shot in the ass (an event that the game considers funny enough to harp on for the rest of the game) by the newly anointed dictator of Venezuela. You'll spend the rest of the game working with the different factions in Venezuela--oil companies, rebels, pirates, American military, and Chinese military--to bring down the new regime. Of course, most of these factions have contradictory interests, so more often than not, performing a mission for one will decrease your standing with another. It's a fine idea, if not a particularly new one, but it doesn't always seem to work as advertised, and on a few occasions I found myself hated by everyone, forcing me to pony up a few million dollars in bribe money just to access one of the main story missions.

Your missions will almost always involve traveling to a location, blowing something up, and/or taking out a specific target. The game is at its best when the objectives are simple and straightforward, which is thankfully most of the time. When the game tries to get clever with the mission structures, I often found that I'd end up failing through no apparent fault of my own. For a game that is ostensibly a shooter, the actual shooting in Mercs 2 feels terribly inaccurate, to the point that it's often faster and more practical to just run up to enemies and take them out with a quick melee attack. You can pick up weapons from fallen enemies, and hijack just about any vehicle you see, though anything fun like a tank or helicopter requires you to play out a lengthy and eventually tedious hijacking minigame. Still, most of the time your best gear will come from air-drops that you can call in from the battlefield.

These hijacking sequences get old fast.
The most devastating weapons in your arsenal are air strikes, which come in a delicious variety of flavors, and are highly effective for knocking down buildings and clearing out swaths of enemies. One of the fundamental problems with Mercenaries 2 is the whole process of deploying air strikes, vehicles, and weapon load outs. First you have to travel to a faction-specific location to actually purchase your goods, then pause the game and assign the desired drop to a three-slotted context menu. Once you're back in the action, you have to thumb through the context menu using the d-pad to select the drop you want. If it's an air strike you're looking for, you have to stand still once you've equipped it, and any movement causes it to automatically disable. Considering that there are usually at least half a dozen enemies breathing down your neck anytime you actually need to deploy an air strike, all this standing around and flipping through menus makes it much more practical, though far less satisfying, to stick with smaller-scale explosives like RPGs and bricks of C4. Limiting the number of drops that you can have at the ready to three seems completely arbitrary, especially when you consider the breadth of gear that you need to access this way. It's one of the more significant bottlenecks in the game's ability to deliver a fast-paced, freewheeling experience.

Awesome explosions like this are the best reason to play Mercs 2.
A more streamlined interface would've done wonders for Mercenaries 2, though it's also got plenty of technical issues as well. Graphically, the game could be charitably described as uneven. Texture pop-in and level-of-detail issues are rampant, as are weird clipping issues, though for what it's worth, the frame rate holds up under all but the most hectic of conditions. What really gets me, though, is the sound in Mercs 2. Vehicle sound effects are often grating and monotonous, and middling voice work is made unbearable through repetition. One of the more maddening things about Mercs 2 is the way Fiona, your Australian support agent, will feed you the same completely useless tidbits of information over and over again. At a point I actually found myself mockingly yelling at my TV whenever she'd suggest, often in the middle of a firefight, I come back to headquarters and talk to her if I needed help figuring out what to do next for the 50,000th goddamn time. THANKS FIONA, I'VE KINDA GOT MY HANDS FULL RIGHT NOW.

The thing is, for all its problems, the basic act of blowing shit up in Mercenaries 2 is incontrovertibly awesome. The way a jeep will flip up into the air in a fiery ball; the wince-inducing white flash of an exploding oil container; the belching dust and debris of a crumbling building; these things are all immensely satisfying, and they make up for a lot of the shortcomings in Mercenaries 2. Unfortunately, while the game's exaggerated physics make for some great, over-the-top explosions, they also make the rest of the game feel weirdly floaty, and it never feels quite as technically sophisticated as other recent physics-heavy games.

That Mercenaries 2: World in Flames isn't better seriously bums me out. Even in its current state you can see so much potential for breakneck, anarchic fun, which makes its laundry list of problems that much more frustrating.
104 Comments
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Posted by TomA

That's crap i really love this game.Although you can tell they didn't tweek the engine AT ALL from the first game.

Posted by Relys

Very nice review.

I'm sad to see this game didn't live up to pretty much anybody's expectations.

Posted by Stokes

Man, I really thought this game was going to be better.

Posted by Kraznor

That is really unfortunate, I was really looking forward to this one. Hopefully Saint's Row II will provide the ridiculous open-world game I crave.

Posted by Ma7moud

Just like I predicted on Forums. Very nice review BTW.

Posted by Vinchenzo

I also gave it a 3 stars, great minds think alive. Except, my mind is not great, and yours is.

Posted by AlexB

Blowing shit up can only get you so far I suppose

Posted by giyanks22

It was technically not a great game, but for just plain fun...it was awesome....

Posted by Rowr

I was so looking forward to this game as well.

Posted by GalvanizedNails

good review ryan. Having never played a mercs game before, and very little open world games for that matter, this game is totally amazing to me, but I understand people's disapointment

Posted by Everyones_A_Critic

Definetly the same score I would give it. Had it shipped bug-free I would've given it a 4/5. Good job dude!

Posted by Foil1212

The ad for this game was HI-LARIOUS IMO.

So was the free gas thing.

Too bad the game didn't turn out so great.

Posted by Crono

This is much more honest than most reviews out there.  I really appreciate that.  I have seen sites that have given it 4/5 or 8/10 and so forth.  It is def not that recommendable of a title... fun, but def not memorable.

Posted by Scarbearer

Very nice review!  I admit I am having great fun playing this game, but it is sad and frustrating it didn't live up to the potential it obviously has!  Hopefully they don't give up on the franchise and keep developing and polishing it.  They've got everything they need to make it a great game.. just need to tighten it up some more.

Posted by HTTenrai

Dude, I yell at Fiona. I know..it's a fucking video game, but it's the only satisfying thing to do when I'm told I can be given "suggestions." *sigh*

Oh well, I can cope. Back to God Mode: The Game.

/I wonder why you didn't mention that weird-ass health system

Posted by keiblerfan69

I enjoy the game but totally agree with almost all the reviews. My saving grace for the game is online co-op.

Posted by TinyGrenade

I hope to see more video reviews from Ryan Davis, he's got an awesome personality on screen.

Posted by HatKing

I agree with a good portion of the reviews going out, this one included.  Althought the bit about factions all hating you is something I haven't encountered.  I think there are ways of avoiding that, you need to make sure you take out dudes reporting you for one.  However I must say after all the tech issues and bugs the game still redeems itself to me enough to where I wouldn't have a problem giving it 4 stars.  Peter Stormare is fucking awesome.

Posted by patrick5152003

ryan does good

Posted by Hexogen

After all the delays I was hoping this would've turned out better. I'll still check it out, but after all the reviews I've been reading I won't be going into it with high expectations.

Posted by Torb

Nice review. Now I know what to expect when I rent it. No way it's going to warrant a purchase...

Posted by Vigorousjammer

they probobly just rushed it out before the upcoming holiday rush, which is apparently earlier now, in Sept and Oct instead of Oct and Nov.

Posted by Mago

The whole "working for one faction will make another faction hate you" thing isn't new, it was in GTA 2.  Although, it definitely isn't used all too often.

Posted by MagicKiwi

This review pretty much hit my thoughts dead on.

Posted by Coolade

Good Review =)

Posted by DeepSpace9MM

Sure am glad I rented it from Gamefly before I bought it. I really liked the first one, but this one just seems so un-finished. Maybe I just need to spend more time with it but so far it just doesn't match up with the original.

Posted by WEGGLES

Gah, I was hoping this'd hold me out until fable 2, guess not :[

Posted by TheGTAvaccine

I'm shocked that there was no mention of the game's GOD AWFUL dialogue.

Posted by tknight

I am sooo disappointed... I LOVED playground of destruction. From hands-on videos this game looked just as good.   What would it have taken to include good ai and dynamic explosions and some death physics? Not to mention bugs. Geez.

Posted by zoozilla

You'd think that with the amount of delays the Mercs 2 team have issued, they could've fixed some of these issues.  I guess you really do never have enough time.

Posted by ThePoark

It's EA--I'm hardly surprised that it lacks polish and was released with glaring bugs.  Anyway, thanks Ryan--always impressed with your work.

Posted by Smersh

I found the first merc's on PS2 average-at-best so this comes as no surprise.

Guns, explotions and weak stereotypes in games are so 1994.
Posted by Jimbo_N

I need to skip some of the games that will flow out of September. Seems like this will be the first. Thanks.

Posted by Light_Geiger

this game felt like a last gen game- it needed another few months in the can (it's not like there's a drought of games this fall anyway....)

Posted by CraigAA1028

I was 100% ready to give up the game. After a few days without playing it, I popped it in cuz I was bored and I found I WAS having fun with it. Not "OMG best game ever" fun, just silly, blowing up crap fun. I'll beat it and sell it. I completely agree with the rating. Go GB!

Posted by unholyone123

Okay, I have to respectfully disagree with Ryan on this one. A majority of the problems Ryan complained about were minor or rare occurances, texture pop up and clipping for example. 95% of the time this game works the way it was intended. As for the complaints about the stockpile menu...okay I sort of see where he is coming from on that, but I think the idea behind this three box only selection is so you can select the three things you THINK you will need most for your current mission. Oh well, I had fun with it. Just give it a rental some time, that's all I'm saying.

Posted by Trnck

So it is just another premature release from EA?

Posted by ImperiousRix

I'll play this one, but by the looks of all the problems it's having, I'm likely gonna pass it up on the buying front.  It's a shame, Mercs 1 was one of my favorite, if not one of the most frustrating games for the PS2.

Posted by Draugrim

Good review, but I'd like to add to what a few others have already commented on - this is a game where you get out of it what you put into it. If you take the time to plan successful ops instead of just blowing shit up, you won't be even close to hated by all the factions. It's certainly not the type of game where you can just run and gun your way through it (though I did find an interesting bug with Nilsson which basically made it impossible for me to die whenever I got hit with an RPG) between the choppers tanks air strikes and sniper rifles you can make this game as tactical as your heart desires and still enjoy the over the top action.

Posted by calf_exercises

Its a real shame that this game turned out the way it did, it had a lot of potencial and a fair but going for it. ow well, maybe mercs 3 will follow through

Posted by keoskey

how know it could get better with some or maybe a lot of patches

Posted by brocool

exactly what I felt.. great review boss

Posted by FaintDeftone

I've been playing the game quite a bit and I agree with everything in the review. Mercs 2 is a very fun game to play, especially co-op, but the game has so many issues and goofy design choices that it really hurts the overall experience.

Posted by RobDaFunk

loved the first one but with sooooo many great games coming out soon, these techincal issues are enough to warrant a NO-BUY policy.

Posted by yellownumber5

Rockstar should get together with Pandemic to make a new franchise all about "blowing the hell out of everything".

Online
Posted by Tortoise

Seems to be a modern trend to have nagging people phone you up in games at stupid times. Probably started with MGS's codec's incredibly annoying bleeping and never-ending exposition, and can also be seen in GTA4's mobile phone system.

Perhaps should create a concept named "Intrustive NPC Support".

Posted by Davvyk

Im loving it so far. only playing in co-op however

Posted by Kohe321

Great review, I think I want to play this even though it has some severe problems. I love explosions.

Posted by jonano

it may not be great now but just wait for the update in a few months and i ll bet  they will fix a few issues

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