Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is a 2005 game released by Pandemic, and was the first of two games released in this series (followed up by 2008's Mercenaries 2: World in Flames). The game takes place in a fictional war against North Korea, which has been seized in a military coup.
The game is set during a fictional war in the year of 2010. North Korea and South Korea were initially getting along with one another as the two countries were preparing to reunite with one another in what was known as a 'sunshine phase'. The union was spearheaded by the leader of North Korea, Choi Kim. Part of Kim's agreement with the South Korean people was that the South Korean government would send money to the North, and in return they would dismantle their military. The agreement was finalized and all was going well, until the night of the unification. During this unification, North Korean soldiers stormed the event, opening fire and killing Choi Kim in order to send the North into anarchy. During this anarchy, Kim's killer Choi Song, who is also his own son, seizes control of the North and cancels all plans of reunion. Song orders all foreigners from the country across the border into the South, and closes the doors of North Korea to press and weapon inspectors. The nation of North Korea goes 'dark', and information only leaks out when it can. Of course all the information leaking out is assumed to merely be rumors - none of it can be true, or that is the story that press spin from the events.
During a search and rescue mission, the Royal Australian Navy encounter a North Korean ship in difficulty in the Australian waters. When the RAN decide to give help to their Korean sailors, the North Koreans are discovered trying to scuttle the ship and disappear. This raises suspicion, and the Royal Australian Navy decide to search the ship. Aboard the ship, the group discover nuclear materials, and a connection is made from Song, to nuclear weapons. Not only this, but Song's nuclear capabilities are vastly underestimated. The North Korean nuclear regime is able to target any location on any continent.
After this, Allied Nations prepare a task force to push into North Korea. The force storms the country, and successfully take over the one known nuclear facility; located in Yongbyon. Owing to the poor experience of what otherwise would be a well trained and ruthless force, the North Korean army is forced to withdraw quickly from Yongbyon. The discovery of documents suggesting that Song is having 30 more nuclear warheads constructed at an unknown facility pushes the AN faster, and makes Song their new top priority. After two weeks of searching for song with not so much as a lead on his location, the AN push out their 'Deck of 52' - 52 of Song's most ruthless and valuable soldiers, all of whom need to be captured or killed.
The lowest group of the Deck are the Clubs, which is built up entirely of members of Division 39. Division 39 is headed by Dung Hwangbo, and is a glorified mafia sponsored by the state. The Diamonds suit in the Deck is built up of high ranking military officers. The Hearts are valuable scientists in the regime, who likely possess knowledge of the nuclear weapons. Finally, the Spades are all-female, and are Song's elite force of bodyguards. The only non-females in the Spades are the commanders, who are male, and Song - who happens to be the Ace of Spades, as to be expected.
The game opens with you, playing as one of the three mercenaries present being transported into the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) of North Korea. In the plane you will collect your kit, such as grenades, binoculars, and an M4 Carbine assault rifle. After doing so, you need to get in the Humvee locked into place. The transport plane will fly low over the DMZ, and you will need to drive the Humvee out and airdrop in. After doing so, your objective is to get in contact with the Allied Nations commander, Samuel Garrett. Unfortunately along the route to Garrett's location, you are ambushed by North Korean soldiers. After escaping the attack, you will discover that the AN HQ has been under heavy shelling for some time, and that you will need to help destroy the artillery that is raining down fire upon the location.
After doing so, you are thanked by Garrett, and are offered missions to help the Allied Nation's campaigns against the North Korean army of Choi Song. Additionally, you are recommended to travel to the headquarters of the other factions in the area in order to make your name known, and help aid yourself in securing missions. After meeting the South Koreans, who are under attack from North Koreans, you must fend off waves of NK troops using mounted guns and recoilless rifles. The South Koreans thank you graciously for your help in addition. The Mafia want you to secure a crate that is unfortunately in the hands of the Chinese army. And finally, the Chinese request that you destroy an orphanage that has since been reworked by the military to become a propaganda HQ. Helping these groups is vital to continuing the game, and you must complete all of their missions in order to get a shot at the leader of that suit in the Deck of 52. The first suit encountered is Division 39, who are the weakest of all the suits. Dung Hwangbo is the head of Division 39. He is nothing more than a thug in a suit, meaning you can hopefully capture him easily.
Completing missions in this manner will continue to offer contracts on each leader of a suit in the Deck of 52. Each suit gets progressively harder, so upgrading your firepower is a must in order to work effectively. After working through the three initial suits and completing the missions against their commanders, the final mission is with Choi Song. The Ace of Spades. The man responsible for the shootings you will no doubt have had to partake in. In order to kill or capture Song, you will need a huge amount of ground forces prepared to enter with you. And luckily, through completing the missions for each faction, they are all willing to co-operate and help North Korea for the greater good. The AN will spearhead the assault alongside the Chinese, and the Russkies will provide vehicular support. The South Korean army will help in any way they can, but you must soften up ground defenses on Song's island fortress, which is heavily guarded. After complying, you will discover a prison area on the island that was not planned for. Entering the prison will reveal a revelation: Choi Kim, the previous president of North Korea, is not dead. Song had shot him, and press believed this bullet had killed him. However, this was not the case. Song does display his ruthlessness however, through the fact he has imprisoned his own father. Kim demands that you end his son's regime over the country.
After calling a bunker buster bomb onto Song's bunker, he will flee. At this stage you can choose to either incapacitate him, or put a bullet in him. It is your choice, but killing him will halve the bounty of $100,000,000 that has been placed on his head.
The North Korean soldiers are the most commonly encountered army in the game, and are always openly hostile. The North Koreans are in abundance considering the fact it is their home territory. They have access to some valuable vehicles, such as APCS, tanks, and occasionally some helicopter gunships. Despite this, their weaponry is lacking in comparison to that of other factions. The majority of NK troops will be wielding AK-47s and RPG-7s, but occasionally they will use light machine guns and SMGs. The standard soldiers of the North Korean army wear brown uniforms, with darker brown hats. The elite Korean soldiers wear black, and favor light machine guns, though they occasionally will equip themselves with anti-air and anti-tank missile launchers. Officers are ranked above even the elite soldiers, but more commonly carry SMGs. The main reason that officers pose a threat is that they can see through disguises, such as vehicles, which in some cases is impossible, but it's a game.
The AN is a replacement for the UN in-game, and is headed by American Colonel Samuel Garrett. The AN is a global army, but appears to be built mainly of US troops. The majority of AN soldiers wield M4 Carbine rifles, and their main vehicle is the Humvee jeep. Despite this being the main vehicle, the AN do have access to APCs and other valuable vehicles. Oddly, the AN troops have much more health than any other soldiers you will encounter. Additionally, there are reporters embedded within the AN. These reporters can occasionally get in the way of players, though this is not extremely common. The AN are the faction responsible for helping you take on the different members of the Deck of 52, on which they have issued bounties. Due to this permission by Garrett is required to attempt any ace contract.
While the Southern Korean army is part of the Allied Nations, a splinter group also exists. This splinter identifies itself as the SKU, or South Korean Union. Despite being a splinter group they are funded by the CIA and are backed by Special Agent Mitchell Buford. The South Koreans are fiercely aiming for reunification, and have access to some extremely useful airstrikes and equipment from their connections with the CIA. Due to their relationship with the CIA the South Koreans use Humvees as their main vehicles too, but their models are a more winter-camo than the Allied vehicles. On top of this, they are customized in some situations with anti-tank missile launchers, and even anti-air turrets.
People's Liberation Army of China
The PLA is headed by Zhou Peng, and aims to take over the North Korean country for their own usage. The aim is to make North Korea a pro-China regime, putting them at odds with the AN and SKU. Officially the Chinese are part of the Allied Nations, though they have their own forces operating in the North Korea area. The PLA is the largest military force in the world, and can offer access to some incredibly high firepower. For example, they offer a Fuel Air Bomb, which is comparable to a Nuke. Despite this fact, they also offer smaller, lighter vehicles, like their BJ2020 Scout jeeps, which are comparable to the North Korean Sungri Scout.
The Russian Mafia is a criminal organization in the North Korean area, and as such have little to no military presence. Despite this factor, the Russian Mafia are arguably one of the most useful factions to be friendly with due to their online shop: the Merchant of Menace, where supply drops, airstrikes, weapons and vehicles can all be 'acquired'. Also useful is the Chop shop, located near their HQ vehicles can be dropped off here for spare cash. The Mafia use a nightclub as a front, and are led by Sergei Voronov. The Russian Mafia mainly use technicals: pick-up trucks with weaponry mounted on them. Their weapons of choice are mainly shotguns and sub machine guns. Voronov is a paranoid man, and as such is aided by Josef Yurinov, an ex-member of the Russian KGB. Voronov's paranoia ultimately leads him to send Yurinov and the player into a North Korean ambush. After the pair escape they kill Sergei and from then on Yurinov heads this faction.
Gameplay in Playground of Destruction is based around destruction, unsurprisingly. However, while this is a major part of the gameplay, an even bigger focus is completing objectives and other tasks around the North Korean landscape. Destruction does play a large part in these objectives, and in some cases can be worked to your advantage or disadvantage. Due to the different factions operating in the area, you will have to work strategically in order to play them off without compromising yourself.
All of the factions present have their own view of you. Angering them will make them hostile. In turn, making them hostile will mean that they will direct their firepower at you. Pleasing them will make them happy, and you will get different bonuses from making the factions happier. The Chinese, for example, will grant access to some of their massive firepower. The AN will give access to military grade vehicles, and so on. In the case of the Russian Mafia, they will give you access to the shop that allows access to all of these: the Merchant of Menace. This shop is vital to playing as a mercenary effectively, as it will allow you to have weapon drops brought to your location, as well as vehicles. And if needed you can always call in an airstrike and let the bombers do your bidding. If you fall out with a faction you want to get in with again, you can pay a bribe to them in order to turn a blind eye to previous actions.
During the opening of the game, you will be asked to select one of the three characters to play as. These characters are Jennifer Mui, Chris Jacobs, and Mattias Nilsson. All three have their own traits, and they all know one of the languages spoken by a group in the area. Jennifer knows Chinese. Jacobs knows Korean, and Mattias knows Russian. Each character therefore has their own advantages with each faction. The only real differences are these linguistic skills, the camera model, and another advantage to each character. Mui is not immediately detected by North Koreans after opening fire. Jacobs can bring much more ammunition to the party, and Mattias can take more damage. The more commonly selected characters for this reason are Mattias or Jacobs.
When operating in Song's Korea, you will be able to disguise yourself as a member of each faction, by entering one of their vehicles without being seen doing so. Disguises mean that you will be able to enter restricted areas. Unfortunately, the disguise is not foolproof. Grabbing the attention of an officer from that faction will instantly blow any disguise being worn, but it can be regained through not being sighted again. Each faction controls its own restricted areas, which could potentially be beneficial. Arguably the most interesting restricted area is that of the Chinese-controlled airport. Additionally, you can disguise yourself as a civilian, which will allow you to get a little closer to the enemies.
In-game, you can acquire C4 charges as well. These C4s are among the most common pieces of equipment, and among the most rudimentary. C4 allows you to collapse buildings extremely quickly, and it is arguably massively exaggerated in its power. Despite this fact, C4 allows techniques such as car bombing, where cars can be plastered with C4 before being parked up and detonated. C4 can really wreak havoc with enemy locations, and it is extremely cheap to purchase more. Charges can also be planted around buildings if an objective is to collapse the target.
One of the most important parts of the game is the Russian black market shop; the Merchant of Menace. After advancing further through the game you will be granted access to the Russian shop, which deals in vehicles, weapons, and airstrikes. Vehicles can be airdropped to your location, and vary from mundane Korean manufactured cars, to tanks and helicopters. Weapon crates can also be dropped to locations, and contain fixed content. Examples of this are the sniper rifle drop, which contains a Dragunov SVD, and ammunition. Different airdrops cost different amounts of money, and they contain different contents. As a general rule of thumb, however, they contain some C4, a rifle, and ammunition for that rifle. Airstrikes are just that: airstrikes designed to obliterate the area. Different strikes have different effects (eg. the AN "Air Superiority" strike will destroy enemy aircraft), and in some cases, they have different targeting systems. The targeting ranges from hurling a beacon to the ground and running like hell, to using a satellite to get the perfect coordinates. Different airstrikes have different effects, due to their different power. The most powerful strike in the game is the Fuel Air Bomb, which is offered by the Chinese PLA. Airstrikes and weapon drops change in availability depending on the current mood the factions are in.
The Deck of 52, as it is called, is a major factor in the game due to the fact that it houses all of Song's key players in his new regime. As you explore the landscape, you will encounter different members of the regime. These members are normally extremely well guarded with tanks and other weaponry prepared to take out anyone set to oppose them. When fighting against a member of the Deck of 52, you have two options: either blow the target away, killing him, or subdue him. Killing is quicker, and normally safer, though it halves the bounty placed on the target (ie. if the bounty is $50,000 alive, he will be worth $25,000 dead). To subdue the target you must get close and press a button prompt, before the animation kicks in. Afterwards, the target is cuffed. Once cuffed he can then be carried to a safe point, where a beacon can be tossed in order to call in an extraction chopper to carry away the target. In some cases, the only option is to put the target into a car, floor it and drive a considerable distance away in order to call the extraction.
Like the majority of free-roaming games that exist, Mercenaries extends its play experience with collect missions. In typical style, however, these collect missions revolve more around explosions than actual collecting. For different missions you will be asked to bomb different structures in order to please factions. Should you be able to find the points required it can be a real benefit to do so, due to the fact that it will almost always be more affordable than paying a bribe to call a truce with a faction. Below are the different destructible points around the game world:
Listening Posts: These are posts set up by the South Korean army in order to try and intercept Chinese attack plans. Destroying these points will please the Chinese.
Song Statues: Statues of General Song, and other related monuments, have been placed around the country in order to drum up support for him. However, they act more as eyesores than morale boosters. As such, the South Koreans would like them leveled in order to reduce morale and help erase the memory of Song's reign.
Weapon Blueprints: The North Koreans are a crazy bunch, and are working on some prototype weapons that could really do damage. Conveniently, the blueprints have been hidden around the country, and are most commonly found around military bases. Gathering these will make the Allied Nations extremely pleased. Additionally, collection unlock new items for purchase on the Merchant of Menace.
National Treasures: Korea's museum pieces were scattered during Song's coup. The player is tasked to collect them by the Chinese, in order to help them to usurp Korean culture. Collection provides the player with cash and increased their reputation with the Chinese.
Car Collection: The Russian Mafia are a criminal organization, first and foremost. As such, they like to gather Korean cars and military vehicles in order to ship them back to the Motherland. Therefore, you can steal cars and return them to the Russian garage near their headquarters in both provinces. The vehicles are worth more if they are not damaged, and in all situations military vehicles are worth more. Stealing North Korean military jeeps and returning them in mint condition is a decent method of making some money and improving Mafia relations, due to the fact the Sungri Scout is extremely common and can fetch a small amount of money.
Racing: As you travel around the provinces of North Korea you may find vehicles marked on your mini-map. Entering these vehicles will trigger a brief as to what you are expected to do. In some cases racing will trigger some scripted events, like North Korean jeeps making a roadblock in order for you to smash through it. Some races are harder than others, which is to be expected.
Playground of Destruction was an extremely controversial release when it was launched in 2005, due to the fact that North Korea and South Korea were edging dangerously close to war. As a result, the game was not sold in Korea due to the fact the Korean ratings board felt fit to ban the game. The same controversy would occur when Mercenaries 2: World in Flames was to launch in 2008, portraying an entirely destructible Venezuela.
The box art for Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is shared across all areas that the game was released. It displays the three playable mercenaries walking through what appears to be a bombed out town. Mattias is walking at the lead, with Chris and Jennifer further back. The art displays Mattias holding an M4 Carbine over his shoulder, and a pistol in his hand. It is possible the art was designed before the game was completed, as pistols were removed from the game (there is only one pistol present; and it involves using a cheat to access it). Behind the trio is a large explosion. Indistinct soldiers are shown shooting into the explosion; in which is enveloped other soldiers and a Humvee, this alludes to both the faction based mission structure and the level of world destructibility.
When Mercenaries released, the advertising campaign revolved around blowing things up. This was due to the fact that destructible environments had been previously unheard of in games - at least not to the extent that Playground of Destruction was said to offer. As a result, the tagline for the advertising campaign was 'Blow it up. Blow it up again.' This advert was shown with scenes such as the airjacking of a helicopter, which was then used to level a building.
- On the Playstation 2 version of the game, the shotgun is silent. This was a glitch that occurred for unknown reasons, but does not occur on the Xbox version of the game.
- Inputting a cheat code in the PDA will change the player model to Han Solo or Indiana Jones, from Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchise who are both played by Harrison Ford.