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March 23, 2005
Mercenaries - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
11/2/2005EA GamesLucasArts/Pandemix1-2M15+Medium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
590KBDolby PLIIYesNoNoneNo

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Graphics are quite nice...
Mercenaries is the latest game to use the vaunted Grand Theft Auto system of completing your objectives any way you see fit in a free roaming environment. Whereas the Rockstar crime classics have focused on a living breathing world for you to explore, Mercenaries drops you off in a North Korean war zone and lets you do as you please. This game is all out run and gun action similar in many ways to Freedom Fighters.

Developer Pandemic has clearly been watching a lot of CNN news telecasts if the story of Mercenaries is anything to go by. The game begins by telling the story of North Korean president Kim who is changing his wicked ways and starting up a bit of a peace treaty. Sounds good, but not to his son General Song who assassinates his old man, then takes control and decides that starting up a weapons distribution service for known terrorists is a good business to get into. Quickly North Korea is teaming with the Allied Forces who are the all round good guys out to bring Songís reign to an end. The Chinese are out in force trying to reunite the Peoples Republic. The South Koreans who are looking reunite the whole country and the good Old Russian mafia who are there to do some jobs and get paid. You take control of one of three mercenaries who work for a group called the Executive Operations, the three Mercs all have different skills, the female British agent prefers the stealth option, the tough Swede who goes for the all out destruction method and the one man army American who is more of an all rounder and can absorb more punishment than the others.

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Explosions are spectacular.
Mercenaries is a third person action game where the emphasis is very much on the action. Whichever merc you choose to use you will find yourself armed heavily with many punishing weapons and gadgets such as the standard Machine Guns, Rocket Launchers and Grenades which are pretty common in these types of games. The big difference with their inventories is having the ability to call in an air strike to level a building, or have an army tank dropped off by a chopper or having some medical supplies and ammo dropped to your current position, all of which are very satisfying to use. All of these cost cash however and the only way to gain cash is by completing missions for the various factions, along with gaining cash for these missions you also build up respect which each faction. This is important as the higher your rating with a faction the more information they will give you on the whereabouts of known terrorists. These terrorists have all been allocated a card and form the deck of 52 (again too much news coverage I think), with the Ace contracts coming at the end of each chapter.

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Hopping in the tank.
The missions in this game are pretty varied and the great news is that they can be completed in many ways. For instance you are called upon to take down some satellite dishes to disrupt enemy intelligence, you can sneak in and place a C4 charge sneak back off and hit the detonator, you can go in blazing shoot everyone and blow it up with some grenades, call in an air raid to level the entire structure or just steal a near by tank and blow the living daylights out of everything. So there are options there for anyone, though stealing the tank and blasting everything in site is usually my first choice. In another nod to the GTA series you can jack any vehicle you find, this is good on two counts, one it gives you more ways to complete a mission, and two the game is huge and traveling on foot is a very slow option. One area where the game comes out in front of GTA is in the shooting controls, the game uses an auto aim feature so firing in the general direction of an enemy will usually land at least a few blows.

I feel that the developers let a great chance go by in Mercenaries by not including any form of multiplayer or online options. The thought of a two player Co-op mission is great as there would be so many great gameplay opportunities, such as you driving a tank with your mate manning the guns. Two player versus matches would be awesome as well, the thought of calling in an air strike on your unsuspecting mate sounds so good it is a huge shame that you canít do it. Hopefully a sequel will come and rectify these problems.

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A war torn battlefield.
That is not the only problem however, there are a few niggles that hinder this game. The most obvious to me is the lack of story, the only time you see a cut scene is when you go after one of the ace contracts. The rest of the story is sent to you in email form on your PDA and is pretty dull. Another problem is with the factions, in one mission you are killing Russians by the boat load, but to do missions for the Russians only involves a cash bribe and all that killing of their men is forgotten. You do get to choose in which order to do a mission, but you end up doing all missions for all factions at some point. To me this is very disappointing as the faction system was highly hyped and ultimately it didnít really exist. Also as the game goes on your characters do not develop any extra skills, what you are at the start of the game is the same as at the end. More character development would have been much appreciated. Also this game suffers from some truly bad load times, when you are in the game it is fine, but it does take ages for you to get to action. This game is pushing the PS2 hard, but the loads are more than a touch long.

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Checking out the PDA.
The graphics in this title are fantastic from the big chunky and highly detailed characters to the realistic look of a future war torn North Korea. The real highlight though has to be the explosions, whether it is by a humble grenade, rocket launcher or air strike the explosions look great. Seeing a huge building reduced to smoke and rubble is a more than satisfying experience. All vehicles look realistic as well and there are no load times during this action and no noticeable slow down either. Overall the graphics are a step above the competition.

The sound does a pretty good job of matching the visuals as well. The character voices are all handled by professionals and sound great, especially the American merc who is voiced by Carl Weathers best known for his work as Apollo Creed from the Rocky movies (and Dillon in Predator! - Dave). A big orchestra kicks in when the action gets intense and the explosions sound spot on. The sound in this game is of the highest quality.

Pandemic has done a good job borrowing from the GTA formula and created a very enjoyable action game in Mercenaries. If they had developed some more original ideas and included a better story as well as some multiplayer options we could have been looking at a game of the year candidate. If you are in the market for an explosive fast paced action game then look no further. This is a blast.

Review By: Graham Darko

Order your copy now from Gameswarehouse (PAL version) or Amazon (NTSC version)
GRAPHICSDetailed characters, superb explosions and fires, great environments.
SOUNDQuality voice acting, loud explosions and decent music.
GAMEPLAYFantastic run and gun action with multiple ways through a mission.
VALUEWell over 20 hours of gameplay as you find all 52 deck members.
OVERALLMercenaries is one of the best action games you will play this year. If you are after a single player action gem, then look no further. This is well worth buying.

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