LucasArts strays away from its bread-and-butter Star Wars series, but does it succeed with Mercenaries?
Contract killing has been put into a serious limelight as of late. With such lucrative franchises as Hitman hitting the market (excuse my pun) and not to mention the amazing success of the Grand Theft Auto series, the art of killing for money practically has its own genre. In an attempt to meld all of the winning parts of the great free-form shooters of our time into one amazing package, LucasArts brings us Mercenaries.
A game not unlike Grand Theft Auto in the sense that gameplay is completely open-ended, what order you play missions in is completely up to the player and killing whoever (and whatever) you want is an idea that Mercenaries takes right to its cold-blooded heart.
Gameplay will have most gamers reminiscing of their first experiences with the GTA series. Hijacking or "commandeering" vehicles is common practice in Mercenaries with no real repercussions. The game begins with you picking one of three Mercenaries, two men and one woman round out our squad with nationalities ranging from Swedish to good ol' U.S. of A.
Each Mercenary has specialized abilities such as speaking different languages and harnessing different battlefield abilities such as stealth and speed. Missions can play out a bit differently if the language barrier between a Chinese officer and the American mercenary cannot be breached. But why are we doing all of this and what is the story behind all of this destruction? Read on...
The story centers on the two Korean nations of South Korea and North Korea. It's no surprise that North Korea banned this game from their shores as they are portrayed as the evil nationality in Mercenaries. As nuclear powers begin to butt heads on the Korean frontier, it's your job to defuse the situation. There are 52 high-level constituents that are able to be captured in the game, ironically they have been divided into four suits and have been labelled the Deck of 52. You have to work with four different factions: the South Koreans, the Allied Nations, the Chinese, and the Russian Mafia in an effort to earn the biggest prize, that being the Ace of Spades General Song and his $100,000,000,000 price tag.
Throughout your time in the game you'll notice that diplomacy is actually a serious and intricate part of the game's mechanics. On specific missions, you'll need positive reputation points, and thus you have to make a decision. Do you do the mission and payoff the angered faction with a bribe, or just move on and take whatever penalty is offered up?
What puts Mercenaries over the edge as a truly great action title is its open-ended gameplay. There's really no rhyme or reason to the madness that ensues in the game, virtually any building can be blown up at any time and any soldier is as susceptible to the bullet of your gun as another. Don't like the architecture of a textile plant? Call in a $300,000 cluster bomb to bring the place down.
Money is distributed by missions which are diversified nicely with a solid repertoire of goals. You might be charged with the duty of returning a defected enemy agent or maybe you'll have a more straightforward task of capturing one of the 52 cards. Regardless, missions stay fresh and don't have the same stale feel as the usual crop of mission objectives in shooters today. To even it all out the game has other sub-missions which can be played to earn a little extra coin. These range from Crazy Taxi-esque missions to races.
The one downside to the game that some players will have a problem with is the lack of a multiplayer game mode. For some the thought of playing video games without the use of Xbox LIVE or Playstation's Online service is a bit too daunting. If players give this one a chance then we could very well be seeing the start of a long running franchise that could carry into the next console generation.
The graphics do their job nicely without any sign of drop in framerate. Explosions look very vibrant with balls of fire emanating through their crevices. Buildings topple with ease and the utmost believability. There are no stages of destruction like you would see in a lesser game; buildings topple realistically when their damage has reached a certain level. Character models are done nicely with each player possessing his or her own visual personality. Environments looks very nice, presenting a depressingly drab Korea - something you'd expect from such a war-torn nation.
The sound portion of the game is handled nicely, with good muzzle sounds as bullets start whipping through the air. Explosions have an appropriate kind of intensity, and the voices of the characters in the game are nicely done with good NPCs providing a nice bit of extra life.
Mercenaries is an absolute joy to play; it seamlessly blends elements of other games to deliver a gaming experience all of its own. While the lack of a multiplayer game may be a bit frightening to some players, passing up on this game could mean that you miss one of the greatest games of this young year.