reuptake's Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (Xbox 360) review

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Not Without its Flaws, but Fun in Context

Mercenaries 2 is a somewhat-anticipated sequel to the original game that appeared on last-gen consoles four years ago. Like its predecessor it bills itself as an "open world" game, and obviously it'll be compared against the mother of all open world series, Grand Theft Auto. While that's definitely a burden it must shoulder, Mercenaries 2 is different enough so one can justifiably cry "apples and oranges," to an extent. The plot revolves around a mercenary (you) who's been contracted by a Venezuelan oil baron to kick ass and take names, paving the way for his ascendancy to becoming the President of said country. This baron double-crosses you, fails to pay you, and shoots you in the ass to boot, and of course you can't take that lying down (or sitting). Apparently the developers flipped through the New York Times and discovered that the U.S. really doesn't like this "Hugo" character, whoever he is, and thought they'd make a game out of it.

I'm being harsh, though. The game is beautiful with its stunning vistas, wide range of sight, and gorgeously rendered jungle environments that contrast well with large urban cities. The highlight of the game is that you can play co-op online with a buddy, and honestly, this is the way the game was meant to be played. That, combined with the game's other back-of-the-box feature, the fact that every single building in the game is destructible, makes for hours of mindless fun. As you play through the game on your road to revenge you'll encounter various factions, from Jamaican pirates to soulless Texas-based oil conglomerates and beyond. All of these factions have contracts for you to do, and unique equipment you can purchase from them. Of course, when you do a job for one faction it usually involves pissing off another faction, so you have to balance your relationships and decide who you want your friends to be and who can go pound sand.

The game is incredibly buggy, though. Sometimes contracts wouldn't pay the amount advertised, sometimes missions would glitch, and there's lots and lots of pop-in. The experience can feel a little disjointed at times too, as it's easy to get lost and not know what to do next. When I was playing it, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to Just Cause (or as I prefer to call it "Just 'Cause"), but in fairness, even though Mercenaries 2 can be a bumpy ride from time to time, the sheer amount of pure, mindless fun it provides makes the myriad of bugs and glitches forgivable. It's a game that's certainly lacking in the polish factor, but somehow that seems to be less of an issue when you can order a Mi-21 Hind delivered to your location, jump in it with a friend, and proceed to level every building in a three block radius. You can also order in air strikes and artillery bombardments on positions that lay waste to the landscape and are almost erotic to watch.

The game is filled with several "Oh Snap!" multiplayer moments. Like the time I fired a grappling gun onto an enemy helicopter and was reeling myself in 300 feet above the ground when my buddy thought it'd be a good idea to fire a stinger missile at the chopper, blowing it up, and sending me hurtling ass over teakettle to the jungle floor below. And then there was the time a routine foray into a city to complete a simple mission turned into an epic half-hour firefight with Universal Petrolium's mercenary crew that leveled half the city before we finally escaped to safety. Mark my words, you can do some crazy, crazy things in Mercenaries 2. It's also a very forgiving game, in that you can take an absurd amount of damage before you finally buy the farm, and if you're playing co-op all your buddy has to do is swing by and give you the standard tap on the shoulder to bring you back to the land of the living again. It's very over the top, but in the context of the game it works.

If you're an anti-social type, or prefer playing games alone, Mercenaries 2 is a forgettable experience - but if you strap in with a friend, it's worth every penny of gorgeous, technicolor, bunker-buster destruction.

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