Getting Paid for Something I’d do Anyway

2005’s Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction by Pandemic Studios impressed gamers and critics alike with its open-ended gameplay, violent yet cheeky atmosphere and awesome explosions. Word of a sequel got fans pretty excited.  Pandemic are back in fine form with Mercenaries 2: World in Flames.

Having presumably spent the 50 or 100 million-dollar bounty collected for the killing or capture of nefarious North Korean General Choi Song in the first game, the dysfunctional operators of now-defunct Executive Operations are back at it, this time in South America in the summer of 2010. Powerful Venezuelan businessman Roman Solano enlists the player’s help only to pull a double-cross, kicking off a vengeful manhunt which is complicated when Solano seizes power and unrest erupts across the country.

Players choose one of three mercenaries: African-American Chris Jacobs, Asian Jennifer Mui or Mattias Nilsson from Sweden. Each mercenary has a unique special attribute: Jacobs can carry more ammunition, Mui runs faster and Nilsson regenerates lost health more quickly.


The mercenaries are in Venezuela looking for payback. Since they aren’t part of an organized operation (as they were in the first game), Mercs 2 feels less structured than its predecessor. The downside is that early on you can feel a little lost. The upside is that once things start rolling, the feeling that you can do what you please is very strong. The game includes several improvements over Mercs 1, including:

  • Home Sweet Home: Your Private Military Company has a permanent base  that you can return to whenever you please
  • Heavy tanks: In the first game, armoured vehicles felt too light and reacted to obstructions in much the same way as a jeep or civilian sedan would. In Mercs 2, tanks feel and act like one would expect.
  • Personal Destruction Assistant: Vehicle/supply drop and artillery/airstrike management has been streamlined. Rather than having to scroll through an exhaustive list of all available strikes, the player can now queue up three different drops or strikes (and change what’s in the queue any time by accessing the PDA) for fast, easy deployment or destroyment
  • Better explosions
  • Swimming: No more instant deaths if you end up in the drink. Unfortunately, there’s something in the Venezuelan water that causes vehicles to explode almost immediately after getting stuck in a body of water (actually, this is probably to avoid performance problems resulting from players trying to bridge Lake Maracaibo with guntrucks)
  • Yacht club: Since it’s now safe to go back into the water, there are various boats and other watercraft available.

Mercs 2 also introduces a number of new mechanics:

  • There’s no “I” in Merc: With EO out of business, the player must create their own support network. Vehicle and supply drops demand a chopper pilot, airstrikes require a jet pilot and customized vehicles need a mechanic. All that’s required is to find them and sign them on.
  • It’s Not All About The Benjamins: Scattered throughout the Venezuelan countryside are stashes of powerful ordnance, fuel and even money. Once you’ve recruited a chopper pilot, you can put them to work by marking caches for retrieval.
  • Spawn More Overlords: With no corporate bean-counters working behind the scenes, your PMC is going to have to manage its resources on its own. Ordnance and vehicles found in the field or purchased from friendly factions are kept in your stockpile, ready to be delivered – but delivery requires fuel. Thus, you always need to keep your fuel stocks topped up, and should jump at any opportunity to increase your maximum fuel storage capacity.
  • Reporting Live: Sometimes, in order to make a lot of money, bad things have to happen to a lot of people. This tends to make the people they work for very angry. In Mercs 1, any time you killed a member of a faction, your standing with that faction automatically decreased. In Mercs 2, what a faction doesn’t know can’t hurt them. When you do something bad to members of a faction, one of them will usually try to report in. If you can kill them before they finish their report, then your standing won’t suffer. If you’re too slow, however, not only will you lose standing, but you may also have to deal with powerful backup arriving in APCs and helicopters.
  • Hijack Attack: Hijacking tanks and helicopters is now a little more interactive. As in Resident Evil 4, players must press certain buttons when prompted to successfully jack a ride. Try not to screw up a chopper jack – it’s a long way down!
  • Dead Man’s Hand: The Deck of 52 is gone. In its place, each faction in the game offers bounties on 10 High Value Targets, some of whom are members of other factions.

There are a few items for the ‘Minus’ column:

  • Bail Out! When the player’s vehicle is destroyed, they are projected from the wreck and land more or less unharmed nearby – kind of silly!
  • Hax! If enemies manage to sound the alarm, nearby buildings will become occupied by infinitely-respawning troops armed with RPGs – not fun! (To be fair, the buildings can be destroyed to stop the spawns)
  • It’s Made of Money! Resource caches found around the world respawn constantly. This undermines the resource management angle, since there’s no danger of running out of anything.
  • What Say We Frag This Commander: Enemies [still] show no concern for subdued HVTs. Losing half the bounty because some tool heaved a grenade at his handcuffed Captain is aggravating.
  • Please Shut Up: Fiona is sweet, but I don’t need to be reminded every five minutes that I can talk to her if I need help.
  • Ships in a Week and Still Need: Box art is pretty lame. 

Overall, a fun experience. I’m looking forward to trying out the vaunted co-op mode!