Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Is blowing stuff up in Pandemic's sequel a one trick pony?
360, PS3, PC
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In a week dotted with high profile EA releases, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames certainly didn't lack for publicity. Having struck sparks with the government of Venezuela over its jingoistic depiction of the latter, the publisher went one further on Friday by transforming a north London petrol station into a military bunker, complete with jingling dog tags, sandbags, rusting oil barrels and cigar-chomping goons on the hand pumps. £20,000 of the black stuff was made available gratis to canny motorists, and they duly clogged the roads for miles around - much to the displeasure of local residents.
A crass promotional tactic indeed, given the current economic climate, and one which is already having political repercussions, but sadly a tactic no less appropriate to the game in question. Like EA's marketing department, Mercenaries 2 may be big, but it certainly ain't clever.
It's a deeply regressive experience at heart, a wistful throwback to the late nineties when stereotypes like guffawing African American drill sergeants and cheeky Irish nutjobs were still being embraced by cinema audiences worldwide. Likewise, it's a size-12 step back in design terms, with insipid mission types, attrition-based firefights and AI which would disgrace a PS1 title.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Like its PS2 predecessor, World in Flames is a third person action extraganza whose key selling points are its "massive, highly reactive" world and the sizeable assortment of weapons and vehicles it offers with which to drive through, shoot, bludgeon, blow up and loot that world. Your character - a mercenary scratching a living from Venezuela's seamy underbelly - takes a bullet to the seat of the pants after being double-crossed by a client. Naturally you vow revenge for this humiliating injury, and set off to sell your services to various power-hungry clichés while hunting your erstwhile employer.
Everything kicks off with the inevitable tutorial missions, and the disappointment isn't long in setting in. Mercenaries 2 opts for the trusty two-stick movement and aiming control setup, with firing and throwing grenades assigned to the triggers while the face buttons handle jumping, reloading and melee attacks. In a mildly interesting twist, holding L1 not only zooms the view in for precision marksmanship but also causes you to crouch behind any nearby cover, which sort of looks cool but has little practical worth.
Broken this arrangement most certainly isn't - just thoroughly uninspiring, and the gormless opposition does its best to lose what little interest you have left. Mercenaries 2 sets a new low in artificial stupidity, with grunts who not only rush from cover to head-butt your bullets but also mistake you for an ally if you venture out of eyeshot for a few seconds while driving one of their vehicles. It's thoroughly ridiculous - you might have just put an RPG through the local revolutionary chief's French windows, but providing you tuck your Commie-flavoured jeep behind a building for a spell you can return to the scene of the crime undetected.
In fairness this is a deliberate move on Pandemic's part, allowing you to shirk a firefight easily if you're hurting (or, more likely, impatient). But such goldfish recollection hardly does wonders for the challenge factor. And then there are the thinly disguised spawn points - at one point we stood outside a barracks for five minutes, bashing foes silly as they faded into existence - and the rail-mounted enemy (and civilian) drivers. Occasionally you'll be faced with a tank or two and take a few nicks, but the game's mollycoddling recharging health system will soon have you back on your feet, and from there a tank of your very own is only one feeble match-the-button hijacking sequence away.