Since “Grand Theft Auto” emerged as a gaming phenomenon, developers have attempted to produce comparable games that offer fans free-roaming gameplay. While lookalikes such as “Driv3r” come off as weak “GTA” clones, LucasArts’ “Mercenaries” is a solid, well developed game that goes above and beyond.

TV/New Media Reviews
Girl with grenades. My prom date is here! (Courtesy of LucasArts)

Set in a war-torn future, “Mercenaries” puts players into the role of hired guns, sent to capture North Korea’s corrupt government officials. Gamers run through farmlands and cities searching for wanted North Korean officials from a deck of cards straight out of the Desert Storm II. Depending on the targets’ type of service to the former regime, bounties are issued for these former heads of military, science and government. The game’s objective is to capture the deck’s Ace of Spades, General Song.

“Mercenaries” puts a unique cooperative spin on these missions, allowing the location of the “cards” to be known only after intelligence is gathered from warring factions. Players must help factions achieve goals before they can gain access to information leading to where prominent officials are hiding.

Even after locating a target, players must still take out an entourage of tanks, rocket-wielding guards and roaming riflemen before finishing the job. By punching and binding a wanted figurehead, gamers gain the ability to call in a helicopter for transport. But if things get too hairy, players can still pick up half the booty after killing their target if they snap his picture. This is just one of the features that provides “Mercenaries” with a wide range of mission-completion options and varying levels of success for gamers.

While some vehicle controls may be choppy — such as turret with one stick and driving direction with another — the game is tailored for fast action. Hijack an attacking helicopter and wreak havoc with simple two-button acceleration and stop/reverse controls. Shooting can be finicky at times — bullets missing their mark for no good reason — but the game never falters with its camera or controls. Gameplay is so simple that in less than 20 minutes, a new player will be blowing up tanks and taking out generals with no trouble.

The graphics are just as impressive as the controls. While some soldiers may look too similar to others to confidently shoot a tank shell at them, the explosions and environment interactions are superb.

This game feels like “GTA,” plays like “GTA,” but goes into an arena “GTA” never could. Taking the elevated third-person vehicle “Mayhem” theme from the popular franchise, “Mercenaries” is an outstanding inclusion to any Xbox collection.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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