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Mercenaries 2: World In Flames
From: EA
For: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Teen (13+)
Mercenaries 2: World In Flames
EA's new go-anywhere, over-the-top sandbox combat game, brimming with Hollywood-grade, oft-comedic violence, is very aptly named. "World in Flames" indeed. It's all good.
Posted August 31, 2008
It would seem even a high-profile, bad-attitude, immersive marvel like the jaw-dropping Grand Theft Auto IV just... wishes to God that it had the level of sheer, world-altering, bloody-minded freedom as Mercenaries 2: World In Flames.

With insignificant exceptions, every man-made structure in the game's entire, seamlessly-sprawling, extremely-convincing world -- from the smallest, most insignificant supply crate to the nastiest tank/helicopter/patrol boat to the most imposing modern office-building to the most magnificent seaside fortress or dug-in, hard-target military bunker -- can be laid glorious, apocalyptic waste. And you get paid for it (well, somebody somewhere is going to pay -- that's for damn sure).

The original Mercenaries' comparatively drab, rank-and-file North Korean color/environment palette has been swapped for that of a modern-day virtual Venezuela, a warlords'-cache of variety in terms of missions, player freedom and environmental variance, verily alive with ambient activity both friendly and hostile.

You take the role of one of three characters. Jennifer, the unflappable, sexy, speedy assassin; Chris, the heavy-ordnance badass; and the high-constitution, borderline-psychopath Mattias (voiced to gruff Nordic perfection by Peter Stormare, the creepy thug-of-few-words from the movie Fargo).

Mercenaries 2 obliges players to get creative on the battlefield amid an overarching tale of politico-military conflict over Venezeula's oil reserves -- with a megadose of Eastwood-worthy, Latin American, play-Peter-against-Paulo faction-intrigue thrown in for good measure. There are concrete, primary missions to neutralize and/or collect bounty on high-value targets, but the opportunities for side-missions, extra profit and wholesale theft of cash, property and loose weapons of mass destruction are legion.

Here is a game in which you can:
    - Carjack a rusting, junker Camaro knockoff from the parking lot of some chintzy cantina parking lot;
    - Drive said stolen car down a twisting coastal Venezuelan highway (mowing down the occasional Universal Petroleum riot-geared gringo goon, if he happens to get in your way);
    - Stealth your way into an off-the-path guerilla encampment, hogtying and kidnapping high-value individuals for subsequent extraction-by-helicopter;
    - Use the goodwill stemming from said extraction to sneak past enough Rastafarian pirates to single-handedly knock out their island-based SAM sites (with a tank that you hijacked by first head-butting the driver and then dropping a grenade into said tank just to be really sure);
    - Infiltrate a luckless (now SAM-less) enemy base, via friendly transport helicopter (rocketing any surviving guard-towers to los smithereenos from the air before landing);
    - Test-drive an eccentric Venezuelan mechanic's oversized "monster-truck" abomination/pet project, careening around a desolate strip-mine's roads with nitrous-fueled jumps that would make Speed Racer actively scorn the Mach 5;
    - Use said mechanic's underground cred to hire a (perpetually-drunken) Russian jet pilot; and finally, hire said jet pilot to -- get this -- deliver a tactical nuclear strike on the heart of downtown Maracaibo.

And all of that's before you start experimenting with completely gratuitous, quarter-mile-long, nitrous-assisted muscle-car jumps from the mountains ringing the game's massive central lake, just because you feel like it. World in Flames also offers co-operative multiplayer, letting players seamlessly drop in and out of the game, at any point in the campaign as desired, without interrupting the experience of the other player.

In either its PlayStation3 or Xbox 360 incarnations, the game is, inarguably, a bit buggy -- or at least, quirkily-flawed: Weird (but usually minor) clipping/detections issues will crop up on a fairly regular basis, and there will be moments when, at your last two points of health, you'll suddenly seem to temporarily impervious to bullets. You can still die, of course -- but like some flatliner jihadist, you have to really want it. Thankfully, none of said "bugs" are game-killers; sometimes, they even make the game that more unpredictably, wonkily-entertaining -- in a Hollywood kind of way.

There's no competitive multiplayer, but with this kind of balls-out ordnance loadout, it would soon become an exercise in mutually assured destruction; co-op was definitely the way to go here.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames has some great action/combat/tactical challenges, entertainingly improbable (but totally buyable) physics, a visceral sense of reward, and even a decent sprinkling of cinematic humor.

Even with its warts, Mercenaries 2 is a compelling, satisfying, cartoonishly-combative experience.
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Bang for your buck:
Excellent Rental 
Great New Purchase 
Great Pre-played 
Excellent Bargain-bin Buy 

Score:  4.5  (out of 5)