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E3 07: Mercenaries 2: World in Flames - hands-on

Whenever you're done slavering over the latest meager scraps of information on Grand Theft Auto IV, the developers of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames would like to remind you that the sequel to one of the best GTA clones ever is also coming out later this year. And with the free-roaming fireworks show they've planned, fans of military hardware and mass destruction might want to divert their attention from urban crime long enough to give it a serious look.

The setup is simple: Venezuela is in chaos, and it's all your fault. Not because you've invaded the country to topple its left-wing government (as said real-life government and its supporters have asserted), but because you've been made the unwitting agent of a military coup. A power-hungry general has tricked you into helping him seize control of the country and its oil supply, and when you found out, he tried to have you killed. Making matters worse, he's refused to pay you for your services. Clearly, something needs to be done.

"Something" in this case involves roaming across Venezuela's vast mountains, jungles and cities, pulling jobs for assorted factions as you work to restore order and fulfill lucrative mercenary contracts. As one of three incredibly dangerous guns-for-hire (Christopher Jacobs, Jennifer Mui or Mattias Nilsson, the same characters from the first game), you'll be able to work for a group of left-wing guerillas and an oil conglomerate, which are polar opposites of each other. There's also a group of Rastafarian pirate types (stand-ins for the first game's Russian Mafia faction) who want to hire your help, and later, the "Allied Nations" and Chinese government will stick their noses into the situation. And if this is anything like the last game, you'll frequently switch sides and help these factions lash out at each other, all with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the new Venezuelan regime.

The short snippet of gameplay we've been able to try out didn't give us much of a look at any of those factions, except for a small group of guerillas. The demo began in their camp, and our objective - which included blowing up a sniper's nest and generally wreaking havoc - was in the nearest city, the towering skyline of which was clearly visible on the horizon. The only things standing between us and our goal were a steep, winding mountain road, a thick tropical jungle and a bunch of Venezuelan military checkpoints and tanks. Lucky for us, just about everything in this game can be blown to pieces.

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