“Mercenaries 2: World in Flames”
2.5/5 Stars

Photos courtesy of EA

“Mercenaries 2: World in Flames” is good for one thing: blowing shit up.

Sure, there’s a failed attempt at a story, and a lot of people shoot at each other, but none of these elements even come close to matching the explosions. As one of the loading screens states, “Remember, everything can be destroyed.”

The game is set in Venezuela where you play as one of three bad-ass mercenaries. The story begins when a wealthy Venezuelan oil tycoon, named Solano, hires you to retrieve a captured general. After you return the general to Solano, both the general and the tycoon try to kill you, but obviously fail as you jump into Lake Maracaibo. Shortly afterward, you discover that Solano and his general orchestrated a coup that overthrew the Venezuelan government. And so begins your revenge mission: Kill Solano and anyone who stands in your way.

“Mercenaries 2” is a shooter, so expect to do a whole lot of it. Combat controls are simple and intuitive, making the game easy enough for a novice to pick up but still interesting enough for an experienced virtual gunslinger. There are several different guns, providing endless ways to fill your enemies with lead. Despite this, shooting quickly becomes boring as most enemies don’t stand a chance in gunfights no matter which gun you use. The game’s most challenging and fun battles involve tanks and gun-towers, each of which are best dealt with using good old-fashioned C4 explosives.

The graphic designers for “Mercenaries 2” had a clear set of priorities. Certain things are beautifully rendered: the main characters, the landscapes and, most notably, the explosions. In contrast, most soldiers appear homogeneous and have unrealistic facial features. Buildings have no texture and are extremely pixilated, especially up close. If each of the three little pigs’ houses appeared in “Mercenaries 2,” you couldn’t tell them apart.

Vehicular manslaughter: Vehicles are one of the most enjoyable parts of the game, but mostly because they operate so unrealistically. If you enter a vehicle with very little health, and the vehicle is instantly blown up, instead of dying, you will probably gain health. When you enter a vehicle belonging to a faction, if you don’t do anything suspicious for a while, people will think you belong to that faction as long as you’re in the vehicle. Most of the time, this is an innovative, sensible feature. However, let’s say Solano’s men are shooting you, and you hijack one of their tanks in front of their eyes, you can just sit in the tank for a few seconds, and the soldiers will instantly forget what they just saw. You can then use the tank to blow up the forgetful soldiers or anything else nearby. Obviously, if you start exploding the amnesiacs, they’ll realize you don’t work for Solano … at least for a few seconds.

I shoot, therefore I … wait, what?: Artificial intelligence is always a tricky business, and it got the best of “Mercenaries 2.” For example, you can walk up behind an enemy soldier manning the gun turret of a vehicle and shoot him in the back. He’ll flinch a little, but otherwise won’t move except to fall to his death when you finally put him out of his poorly-programmed misery. Even when soldiers’ A.I. is working correctly, there’s no shortage of flaws. Your enemies’ decisions to find and leave cover seem to be completely unrelated to your actions. Also, no matter where you throw a grenade, your enemies will not see it. However, the game has introduced some impressive concepts to the A.I. If you shoot up a friendly faction’s base, any survivors will report your actions via walkie-talkie and reinforcements will be brought in. Also, enemies consider the path you’re running when launching rockets, so expect to be blown up a number of times.

We’ve heard it all before: An angel dies every time someone in “Mercenaries 2” speaks. Voice acting is painfully bad as well as notably disjointed from the character’s animations. Most annoyingly, the developers decided to have everyone speak, but only gave each kind of character two or three phrases. The contrived and irritating nature of this is best seen when standing next to a random civilian. Every 20 seconds or so he will echo his phrase, which usually pertains to how hot it is. This will continue for all eternity or until you gouge out your ear drums.

Who’s the boom king?: Even objects that don’t explode in real life can be blown to smithereens in “Mercenaries 2.” If you grenade a tree, for instance, it will launch straight into the air and the leaves will detach in a fiery mess. Among the biggest explosions are those caused by nuclear strikes, complete with a mushroom cloud and radiation emission, which you call in using your friendly jet pilot. But because these are dropped from a plane, they lack the element of, “I caused this with my own hands.” The most fun thing to do in the whole game is blow up the giant fuel drums using grenades. The ensuing explosion is a beautiful mix of golden oranges, fiery reds, flying shrapnel and the death of your enemies. The earth trembles and bystanders shield their eyes from the blinding flash. This is destruction at its finest.

At best, “Mercenaries 2” is a pyromaniac’s playground. Expect to stray from the plot early and often to see what there is to destroy. If you do, you’ll probably have a lot of fun. If you want an engaging story with compelling characters and exciting adventures, you’d best look elsewhere.

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