Only two things in the beautiful, open world of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames can’t be reduced to smoldering rubble: a handful of structures essential to the story, and a ton of bugs. The latter is a shame, because after playing this otherwise exuberantly destructive shooter to its conclusion, I’d love to call in a carpet-bombing strike on those damned bugs.
Playing as one of three freelance soldiers, you hunt down the leader of a Venezuelan coup who tried to kill you and, worse yet, didn’t pay you for a job. The twist-free vendetta story line is reasonably well executed for what it is, and accompanied by professional-quality voice work - you might recognize Phil Lamar (Justice League, Futurama) as Chris Jacobs and Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic) as Jennifer Mui. You’re turned loose in an open-world Venezuela to obtain money, equipment, and information on the whereabouts of your quarry by running varied missions for the many factions in the area, such as Universal Petroleum, Jamaican pirates, and an allied coalition led by the United States.
Mercs 2 does a fantastic job of doling out its huge catalog of weaponry, equipment, and vehicles as you progress, so there’s always at least one new toy to play with on your next mission. Once you’ve recruited a support team, you can call in equipment drops of weapons or vehicles (saving you the trouble of hijacking them), or airstrikes to crack tough targets. While it’s fantastic to have so much gear at your disposal, and the airstrikes are delightfully destructive, I hate the menu system. It allows you to equip only three support drops at any time, forcing you into the main menu to select new ones with an unnecessarily large number of mouse clicks.
Thanks to a health system that eliminates one-hit kills, your merc can absorb a 500-foot freefall out of a helicopter (where’s the freaking parachute, by the way?) or a point-blank shell to the face from a heavy tank, and casually walk it off. It may be unrealistic, but it gives the game a cartoony action feel and lets you partake in some quality mayhem without worrying too much about bodily harm. What’s frustrating is the uneven difficulty - most missions aren’t too challenging, but a few will repeatedly kill you or destroy objectives you were supposed to protect under barrages of heavy firepower, disrupting the leisurely pace you’d been enjoying. Maybe these missions are supposed to encourage you to call in backup via the admittedly cool and almost completely seamless two-player co-op feature, but it’s a pain when you’re playing solo.