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Battle of the GTA clones

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
LucasArts | PS2, Xbox

The setup: Following a military coup in North Korea, three elite soldiers of fortune are airlifted into the country to kill or capture 52 officials, criminals, scientists and generals that play key roles in the new regime. To get information on their targets' locations, however, they'll first need to take on lucrative jobs for the Chinese, the South Koreans, the "Allied Nations" and the Russian mob, all of whom have their own agendas for the peninsula.

The rides: Humvees, Hummer H3s, tanks, Stryker assault vehicles, jeeps, pickups with machineguns mounted in back and a few beefy attack helicopters. You can also have just about any vehicle (or weapon) air-lifted to you, courtesy of the Russian mafia, so long as you're willing to pay.

The violence: Fairly bloodless, but then this is a T-rated game. Like Master Chief, the mercenaries are confined to carrying two weapons at a time, along with a handful of grenades. But the havoc they can wreak with that is awe-inspiring, and entire cities can crumble to the ground if you know how to call in a few well-aimed airstrikes or artillery barrages.



Why it beats GTA: Free-roaming, no-nonsense violence across a sprawling, hilly landscape is nothing to sniff at, especially when you've got military vehicles at your disposal. The scavenger hunt of locating wanted criminals gives the game a lot of longevity, and constantly double-crossing the rival factions has a unique sense of fun to it. Three playable characters - one of whom is a woman who's actually dressed for combat and harsh conditions - make for a slightly different experience each time you play. Plus, you can blow up buildings, and that's always cool.

Why it'll never beat GTA: San Andreas did the sprawling-wilderness thing earlier and better, and its story makes Mercenaries' narrative look skeletal by comparison. Also, the North Korean countryside features only small, sparse cities, and is remarkably short on good clothing retailers.

Can it survive? This is still one of the best GTA clones ever made, and it's still immensely fun, so yes, definitely. If it's anything like the first one, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames should be one of 2007's biggest games.

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