Mercenaries. Bounty hunters. Call 'em what you will, they're the scum of the earth, fighting only for the cause of filling their own wallets. They're in it for the money; it's as simple as that. But despite their lack of principles, it's easy to see that being a mercenary is a hell of a lot of fun.

Well, maybe not in real life, but certainly as far as the videogame world is concerned, and nowhere is that proved in more startling fashion than in Mercenaries. An open-ended third-person affair with more than a whiff of GTA about it, the game sees you accepting contracts to take out 'the deck of 52'. That's 52 unpleasant characters that require roughing up and left behind bars to rot.

The game kicks off in Korea (the new lair of today's bogeymen, it seems) with you helping the South Koreans against the marauding North. Naturally, the introductory missions are just that, designed to show you the ropes, and while simple, give a glimpse of how much fun Mercenaries might become.

Depending on your mission objective, there's procedure to follow - after apprehending our quarry, we had to call in an airlift to take him to justice and, presumably, a face full of apple pie. After that, we called in an airstrike on some pesky artillery and zipped between barricades to thwart an invasion.

Variety is the watchword here. And Mercenaries is stuffed with it. From the plethora of vehicles and weapons, to the multitude of ways to complete a given mission, this easily lives up to its GTA comparisons, whilst still being a completely different game.

With three factions to accept missions from and three different playable characters, plus an enormous pile of side-missions to delve into, this game is big and brash. Mercenaries offers a new and fresh virtual war experience that's a breath of fresh air compared to the glut of war-based first-person shooters doing the rounds at the moment.

It's also technically wonderful - while San Andreas struggled under the weight of its ambition, Mercenaries is never less than utterly gorgeous-looking, whether it be the sun filtering through a haze of war-smoke or the magnificently rendered vehicles.

We've got high hopes for this. Time will tell if Mercenaries will have the requisite depth to complement its kitchen sink approach, but it appears to be coming together rather nicely indeed.

Mercenaries will be released for Xbox and PS2 on 18 February