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Mercenaries review

Excellent

OK, let's get it out of the way right now. Pandemic's war-fuelled action game is possibly the most blatant GTA clone we've ever seen.

You can walk, fly or drive across a huge landscape and you can even commandeer (or, in GTA terminology, 'jack') every vehicle that you come across (except planes... damn).

But if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, you may as well be buttering-up the greatest game out there and Mercenaries does a good job of doing just that.

Unlike GTA, the action takes place at a fictional war-torn landscape in North Korea but, although Mercenaries gives you a total sense of being open plan, the cul-de-sacs of the mountainous terrain put paid to any random exploration.

And unfortunately the inability to swim and the notable absence of naval vessels prevents cutting across the sea like a scurvy-ridden pirate. But hey, we can't have everything.

Across this restricted, yet massive area, you'll find four factions battling for supremacy.

There's the Allied Nations (like the UN, but with a different first letter), the South Korean and Chinese armies and, finally, the shady characters of the Russian Mafia, who allow you to purchase supplies from their named website, The Merchant of Menace (see the 'Internet Shopping' bit).

When you visit the HQs of these groups they'll send you off on missions, rewarding you with cash and weaponry. They also give you information as to the whereabouts of The Deck of 52, but we'll get to them later.

The objectives that you're set range from daring ammo-recovery raids to razing an enemy compound with an airstrike.

Being a rogue agent, though, your actions are going to piss off each faction at some point and using the indicators at the bottom-left of the screen, you can see if a group wants to hang you out by your lower intestine or not.

When they've had enough of your hypocrisy, they'll try to kill you on sight. But don't worry because money talks and it's possible to bribe your way back into their good books. Simple.

As well as playing through the core mission structure, there are sub-missions to earn you a bit of extra moolah to spend on better guns.

For instance, you meet a news crew that need to be driven to a conflict zone. You then have to pedal it and get them to a checkpoint before the timer runs out. It's a bit like Crazy Taxi, but with the dayglo cartoon commuters replaced by angered soldiers, flying shrapnel and trenchfoot.

Mercenaries, like life, is full of choices. However, life asks dull things like 'tea or coffee?' or 'shall I pay the bills or go to jail?' Mercenaries on the other hand asks 'avoid conflict or mow down everything in sight?'

For example, you'll be making your way down a quiet road, and in the distance you'll see a skirmish between two rival factions. You have a split second to decide whether you should just drive on through or park up your jeep and take a piece of the action.

The latter option's always the best, especially if you need information from one of the groups.

Charge into the battle and hit Triangle as you approach a tank, and you climb up the cannon and bung a grenade into the driver's hatch, splattering him all over the tank's insides. Lovely.

The aforementioned 'information' that you need to gather points you in the direction of one of The Deck of 52. Each 'suit' has an Ace who'll be particularly tricky to apprehend, and you'll need to clear the lower enemy 'cards' in order to find the higher-ranking criminals.

You can deal (pardon the pun) with The Deck of 52 in two ways: kill 'em or apprehend 'em.

But arresting the criminals is a dangerous - and fiddly - game of cat and mouse unless you have some stun grenades, because as you're running toward them desperately hitting Square to deliver a rifle butt to the head, they'll be frantically back-peddling while firing off an AK47.

Once you do manage to club them down, you press Triangle to slap the cuffs on and then you've got to call in a chopper to take the subdued villain away.

But this can only be done from an enemy-free area. So you've either got load up your rifle and kill everyone in the surrounding environments or throw the Card into the back of a jeep and drive a million miles to somewhere safe.

Then again, you could just call in an artillery strike and eradicate the Card and his entire army, but you wouldn't get your cash bonus for turning him in alive. The scope for wild, anything-can-happen gameplay is therefore enormous.

That said, one thing that pales in comparison to GTA are the vehicles. The usually robust chassis of a humvee feels featherweight and if you drive into a stack of wooden boxes, the car jumps into the air as if a grenade has been planted under it.

Also, a majority of the cars are slow, and the fast ones (a pseudo-Dodge Viper), can't be accessed until later on in the game. It slowly becomes a bit of a grind having to crawl along everywhere, though eventually you'll get access to the better motors.

As for the tanks, even though they're capable of levelling a small country, they're really tricky to drive.

Unlike the cars, which use X and Square to accelerate/decelerate, when you're tanking it up, all the controls switch to the left stick. That's accelerating, braking and steering, all with the left stick. It's so fiddly it just feels wrong.

Another vehicular problem lies within the cockpit of the choppers. Initially, piloting one of these whirly-birds seems fine, as you switch between rockets and chain gun on the fly.

But when you start to steer them, they veer in the opposite direction to that which they're turning. Weirdly, this only applies to some of the 'copters. Others turn the way they should. It's all a bit strange, really.

On a whole, Mercenaries offers more entertainment than 90% of games on PS2. Look past the minor imperfections, and you're staring at a game that'll keep you coming back for more.

But the ability to see between the game's cracks to the contrived structure below hampers what could have been a truly immersive experience.

Fact is, it has more than it's fair share of GTA rip-offs but it still feels fresh, fun and deliciously violent to play. If you can't beat them join them.

Mercenaries is fighting for territory in stores now for PS2 and Xbox

It has lived up to the hype and that's no mean feat when you consider that it's been billed as GTA War. Only the lack of total freedom and iffy handling hold it back

More Info

Available Platforms: PC, PS2, Xbox

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2 comments

  • Zuko53 - October 29, 2008 12:36 p.m.

    Mercenaries is the best game in the world.
  • Sizzler - October 17, 2008 10 p.m.

    This game is epic, but I hadn't noticed the Helicopter thing...

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