Pandemic Studio's 2005 Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, took the sandbox genre and placed it in a military setting with rather impressive results. Three years, various delays, and a purchase by Electronic Arts later, Pandemic gives us Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. Swapping the previous game's Korean setting for Venezuela, Mercenaries 2 ups the ante with improved graphics, an enhanced arsenal, new fire physics, and am all-new multiplayer co-op mode, Has the leap to new and improved consoles produced a new and improved game? See what happens when game critics team up to take on Mercenaries 2: World in Flames.
...apart from some cool explosive effects and solid controls, Mercenaries 2 is utterly mediocre in almost every sense that matters. From the initial sorties onwards it's bogged down by the worst kind of brain-dead cannon fodder enemies, lead-you-by-the-hand level design, arbitrary boundaries, and some technical howlers. It lacks challenge, excitement, personality and any real verve whatsoever.
One of the fundamental problems is the AI of enemies. We've seen plenty of action games with dumb enemies, but those in Mercs 2 rank very near the bottom of the list. They show almost no signs of intelligence other than raising alarms or occasionally moving to a vacated gun emplacement. We regularly saw enemies stood motionless between buildings, firing RPGs at us from touching distance and driving into each other
Mercenaries 2 seems balanced for two players more so than one. Especially since, in co-op, your teammate can revive you if you die. They just have to get near you, hit the proper button, and you're back on your feet. In single-player, death kills you, so to speak. It helps to communicate, as one man's explosion can often be his friend's untimely demise. With two people calling in air strikes, these can get pretty crazy on screen. There's something eerily poetic about laying a hail of bullets on an enemy as your face is awash in the glow of a nuclear detonation. Co-op is a powder keg of goodness.
There's also the occasional odd visual glitch or letdown. Scooting about in a chopper, at one point, we were engulfed in the thickest fog of war seen this side of an RTS. Other glitches saw the AI spot our position even though we were obscured from view, and our support chopper got stuck on the environment on more than one occasion. That said, these aren't deal breakers. For a virtual world that spans 8 square kilometres we guess this sort of stuff is, at times, unavoidable.
But what makes the game a true standout is how streamlined its design is -- the controls are extremely approachable and players are trained slowly in their use. Rather than inserting endless fill-in dialogue, "Mercenaries 2" makes in-depth data on characters, locations and story elements available for optional reading through an intuitive menu interface. The overall effect is that players can concentrate on everything there is to do in the game world without getting stuck in an overburdened story or overcomplicated controls.
Things aren't always simple in the world of mercenary game critics.