Mercenaries review

The good:

The game world feels alive with conflict and detail; everything can be blown up, and this is a lot of fun to do

The bad:

A little bit messy; not always precise and clear


Mercenaries are people who, for all intents and purposes, get paid to kill people and/or blow things up. Many gamers, on the other hand, are people who pay other people to make games where they can kill virtual people and blow up digital things. If you're one of the latter, you'll probably be quite happy playing Mercenaries. We at X-Play are still counting, but this game quite possibly gives you more ways to wreak death and destruction on the surrounding landscape than any other game in history.

There are three characters available to act as your alter-ego, and unless you're incredibly picky you'll find one that you can live with. Rest assured, every operative is highly skilled in the arts of machine-gunnery and mid-air helicopter hijacking, but the superficial differences (including which languages the characters understand, and you'll hear several) are interesting touches good for a few points in the personality category.

The fictional North Korea of the near future is a great place to be a soldier for hire. After General Song, who seized power by assassinating his father and proceeded to turn the WMD (weapons of mass destruction, for those of you who have avoided CNN for the last five years) switch to 'all-the-way-on' position, the world responded by turning the country into a multi-national warzone.

With China, South Korea (backed by the United States), and the Russian Mafia, where do you fit in? Well, pretty much everywhere. Your objective is to take down North Korea's most-wanted list, represented in order of their importance by a deck of 52 playing cards; the Ace of Spades is your last mark, and that's Song himself. You'll gather intelligence and expand your capabilities by playing factions against each other. North Korea will always hate you, you foreign devil, but you'll have a working relationship with everyone else that depends on what you're willing to do for them and how badly you screw them over. Your character is mostly silent when dealing with the higher-ups, but once you hit the battlefield your actions will speak with authority -- not to mention create some pretty spectacular explosions that look very much like something out of a war movie.

It's not the biggest game world ever created, but you're given a pretty decent stretch of real estate to work with -- plenty of room to hide secrets worth finding and great for just tooling around in your armored infantry fighting vehicle. The gritty, rugged, obviously at war chunk of virtual North Korea can be traversed with any vehicle you lay eyes on and riddled with holes from the weapon of your choice. You can get your hands on tanks, jeeps, mobile anti-air missile launchers, helicopters, civilian cars, or just about any other type of vehicle you could think of. Sure, there are no battle-mopeds or combat unicycle, but anything you see is fair game -- even if someone happens to be using it at the time.

There's a nice variety of pick-up-and-shoot weaponry as well. For example, a helicopter can be brought down with concentrated small-arms fire, a well-aimed shot from a sniper-rifle, a rocket-propelled grenade, or an anti-air homing missile. The game works its military angle to great effect, but it doesn't go overboard with realism. Whether you're shooting or driving, the game tends to feel a little loose. Some gamers are going to wish the action was a little tighter, but it's nice that you don't have to have precise aim to bring down an enemy soldier 100 yards away, and you'll be able to get the hang of any vehicle you jack in no time at all.

Instead, you might want to focus on the variety of ways you might approach your mission. In addition to using anything you come across on the battlefield, you can have supplies and favors delivered from the air. Need health, C4 explosives, a sniper rifle, or just any little thing? You can get it dropped from a crate. Or you could get someone else to accomplish your objective for you. Lay down enough cash and you can order one of many specialized air-strikes or artillery hits. Even the biggest, sturdiest building will go down with a bunker-buster bomb.

Mercenaries does so many things right that nearly anyone who's interested in causing things on their television to go boom is likely to have fun with it. The game deserves special props for its amazingly executed setting; the whole world is so visibly at war that every mission in the game feels completely natural. Games this ambitious always have a few inconstancies and rough spots, but the possibilities for unexpected interactive events that spring from circumstances and context generally make up for that. If you can live with them, you'll find that being your own boss on the battlefield is definitely an experience worth having.

(Review from G4- Tech TV)

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