Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

January 17, 2005

[floatleft][/floatleft]In my life, I have not been an incredibly violent person. While harboring terrible, burning hatred towards certain things, I have not been known to take up arms against any one individual or individuals. However, I have been known to enjoy doing so in games. [i]Mercenaries[/i] is the equivalent of a large hot tub. You can do a lot while in it, but the occasional brief dip will be both fun and relaxing.

You take the role of one of three psychological train wrecks, an Anglo-Chinese stealth expert, a loner gunman from America, or a grenade-crazed Swede who constantly quips about his love of destruction. Your character is launched into the war zone when the Australians find a nuclear cache aboard a plane headed for a generic terrorist nation in the Middle East; the Allied Nations (and apparently everyone else) haul behind into North Korea. Part of ExOps, a predictably elite mercenary unit, your job is to collect the bounties on the deck of 52-one card for each member of General Song (The Ace of Spades) for money that you can spend upon ordinance of varying degrees.

[floatright][/floatright]NK has been split apart by the warring factions of the North Koreans, the Chinese, the Allied Nations, the Russian Mafia, and the South Koreans. You work for them all, and the formula is reasonably linear-you do two missions for them, and a third leads you to one of the main cards of the suit, meaning the King, Queen, or Jack. These missions are reasonably varied, some requiring a stealthy, sniping approach (though no Solid Snake impressions, and for that I thank you, LucasArts.), others requiring an approach not dissimilar to a Steven Segal film. In the process, you will open up the opportunity to use various insanely powerful and awe-inspiring weapons. Nothing beats calling a fuel bomb upon the buildings of a North Korean base as they attempt to mobilize, seeing your bleached-blonde Mohawk just a little bit too late.

The freedom to cause destruction is something that adds considerably to the game’s atmosphere. Being able to take a situation as you see fit allows for a considerable amount of replay value. You’ve got to break into a base and destroy Song’s missiles and then capture the King of Clubs. Seconds after you enter, the radar is jammed. You’ve got one C4 and three missiles to destroy. You see a Frog-7 missile launcher. You attach it to the truck and drive it by the missiles. A jeep drives up by the missiles and a soldier begins to shoot at you. You pull the trigger. The resulting explosion removes three missiles, two cars, and two soldiers, and nets you a big bonus.

Every single vehicle you see is useable. Although this can be pointless when said vehicle is a radar-jamming device, when it is a heavily-armored Korean chopper filled to the brim with missiles and you’ve got a spade to fish out from deep within the mountains, sometimes those moments when you get lost summon from within the spirit of happenstance. Although many compare its freedom to GTA’s, it seems to me to be far more individual and more like a bizarre mixture of [i]24[/i], [i]Mad Max[/i], and [i]The A Team[/i]. Although the charismatic Australian Fiona lacks the punch of Murdock, the sometimes ridiculous action-packed nature of the game brings back memories of the cavalier soldiers of fortune.

Weaponry does not take a leap of faith from any other games, going for those that will be useful against the many, many different enemies you will have. You’ve got most of what you’d expect-the sniper rifle, the RPG, the AA missile launcher, and a veritable army of different kinds of machine guns. Coupled with these are your grenades ranging from concussive bombs to trusty M67 grenades, useful for toppling buggies and setting alight the fuel canisters near the various Korean bases.

The tone of the game is somewhat dark, with the mercenaries painted at times as taking advantage of the situation, and all of their efforts considered the victories of the Allied Forces. Sadly, the storyline is somewhat sparse, though not as sparse as many have made out-each mission has fully voiced objectives and some excellent set pieces. Although the abridged linearity of the mission system does detract from the realism of the game, in general [i]Mercenaries[/i] feels solid enough to immerse you in its world of sedition and destruction.

[floatleft][/floatleft][i]Mercenaries[/i] is a fun, solid, and varied game. The game is as open-ended as you like-you can treat it as if there are only missions, or you can create your own elaborate set pieces by flying a helicopter straight at the Black Gate of the Southern Province, or just calling an airstrike on a landmark that you don’t take a fancy to. You can also take on the various extra optional quests, such as destroying statues of General Song or collecting national treasures-twenty of which unlock the Han Solo costume just to remind you that LucasArts is still in control. The music is that of an epic action film, with rousing choral movements and orchestral flourishes; but sadly, there is no option of custom soundtracks.

It isn’t without its flaws. The beginning sequence is promising, but the game lacks cut scenes and story-building. Not only this, but every so often the controls on tanks will lead you to become ridiculously stuck between two trees or will just plainly block your vision as the camera swings into a forest. By randomly switching the controls between the left analog stick and the normal buttons for tanks and jeeps, the game can become a little frustrating as you fail a mission because your tank is so slow to move and gets stuck between a mountain and a wall. Some airstrikes cost a little too much for the payload-especially if you miss-and finding yourself out of ammo and C4 at the wrong time can be somewhat annoying. But at the same time, working your way out of desperate situations is an excellent feeling and reminds you of the stupid amounts of fun one can have with this game. Just try stealing a helicopter and taking on a North Korean tank battalion with the few missiles you have before hurtling towards them and jumping out at the last moment, exploding that last pesky general.

If you’re a fan of action, you’ve got to have [i]Mercenaries[/i]. It has come out of nowhere and made other games before it seem boring and uneventful. Graphically, it wows you with its lush explosions and doesn’t seem to have any slowdown. The freedom involved lets you have your own little adventures to bridge the missions or even in the middle of missions as you get sidetracked by an errant AA missile. Just like I wish you could in reality, it allows you to solve most problems through wildly setting things alight and quipping. I pity the fool who doesn’t own this game.