Mercenaries: Guns for hire head to PS2 and Xbox

LucasArts have just unveiled the first details of combat-action outing Mercenaries - and below you'll find our first impressions and an interview with the game's producer Peter Hirschman. We also have the first shots of both the PS2 and Xbox versions.

Mercenaries is a third-person combat-action title in the open-ended mould of Grand Theft Auto. LucasArts are conscious of the genre-defining achievement of the GTA series and see Mercenaries as the first game to apply the go-everywhere and do-anything ethic to a combat scenario and pull it off. From what we saw of the game, it looks very likely to do just that.

We viewed the PS2 version of the game being played on a cinema-sized screen and it was certainly impressive. The explosions and particle effects stood out as being exceptional, particularly the huge smoke clouds towering over the city after a teeth-rattling air strike. Vesuvius had nothing on this bad boy. Such was the visual quality that we had to remind ourselves that this was being run on PS2.

A similarly eye-boggling moment occurred when an incoming missile pounded the ground with earth-shattering velocity ahead of the main character. Up again went a graphically stunning dust cloud and, as the debris and particles cleared, an enormous crater was revealed. Better still was the impact damage of the surrounding area, with concrete cracked like a mosaic over a large area and buildings exhibiting signs of bombardment abuse. Clearly, from the graphical point of view we were very happy bunnies.

The gameplay similarly promises a memorable gaming experience. Although the game is open-ended, there is a structure running throughout. In the same vein as the for identifying the Iraqis they wished to apprehend, there are 52 fugitives in the game's North Korean de-militarised zone (DMZ), each one being represented by a playing card. You're the mercenary sent in by a private military company to capture or kill those fugitives before they can initiate a nuclear attack.

Being a mercenary it's all about the cash - this isn't Solid Snake or Sam Fisher hero territory - and, by hook or crook, it's in your ongoing interest to accumulate as much money as possible. Fair is foul and foul is fair as you take advantage of the two factions in the Korean DMZ that are prepared to pay a buck or two for your services - namely, the UN and Russian mafia. During the game you'll have a faction rating and your actions directly influence your standing with the two parties.

The action itself can be played out, like in GTA, as you wish. It really is up to you how you approach the deck of 52 missions and the literally hundreds of on-the-fly missions that the game generates in response to your actions. There are more than 20 vehicles for you to play around in, from hummers to choppers, and 30 weapons are in the game for some ramped-up carnage.

We really hope the finished game will deliver what the demo seductively promised and, if that does happen, this may well be a title you'll be talking about for years to come. Fingers crossed, eh?...

For the inside track on the game, read our interview with its producer on the next page.