Mercenaries: Guns for hire head to PS2 and Xbox

Tell us about how you first got involved with the development of Mercenaries...
Pandemic started developing it before we ever got involved and their aim was to build the best combat experience possible on any platform. I think the most exciting thing about Mercenaries is that it's new and different. It's a dream for me to be able to play in a combat environment in a giant, open area. I think Grand Theft Auto really launched the genre, just as Doom launched the first-person shooter genre 10 years ago. We're getting to a point where it's not 'GTA with this' or 'GTA with that', it's just a new, better genre of game pioneered by GTA. You can just sit back and be entertained watching the UN NPCs [non-playable characters] fighting the North Korean NPCs using cover vehicles and all sorts of weapons. And it's up to you as a mercenary, since you don't answer to anybody, to jump in the middle of that firefight and choose which side you want to be on.

When your guy initially enters the world, is he already allied to the UN faction?
At the very beginning, yes. The UN is friendly to you, the mafia is friendly, everybody is friendly to you except the North Koreans. In the level we showed you, if you pull up to that checkpoint and run over a couple of the UN guys, they'd start shooting at you.

So there could be a situation where the UN will hate you and the North Koreans will like you?
North Koreans don't want any outsiders in there messing with them so they're always going to be trying to shoot you on sight. The biggest interplay comes between what you do for the mafia and the UN. They're diametrically opposed. The UN aren't always in there for peace-keeping reasons but are there for humanitarian reasons, while the mafia is just there to make money, to profiteer. So they're always butting heads. Balancing those faction ratings is a challenge.

Could you give us an example or situation where helping the UN might affect what you do with the mafia and vice-versa?
The mafia could be stealing food from a convoy and selling it on the black market and you can get involved in a number of different ways. You could go after the warlord that's selling it, capture him and give the food back. The mafia will be ticked off with you but the UN will love you. On the flip side, you could go in and steal the food yourself and sell it to the mafia for a profit and the UN will hate you. And either way you make more money, which you then spend on kit.

Where do you buy stuff?
From all different places. The mafia will sell you kit like the smoke bombs you saw in the demo. Stuff just becomes available to you - we make it very easy for the player to access the fun and it's all context sensitive.

Why did you go down the mercenary route rather than a traditional hero type, as in Splinter Cell?
Because mercenaries let you do a lot more, giving you a lot more freedom. The whole idea of the private military company [PMC] was an inspired idea by Pandemic. It allows you to go to any hotspot in the world no matter what's going on. The whole idea of PMC in real life has become prominent over the last five to 10 years. A lot of the US military's training is supplemented by private military companies. PMCs tend to be founded and operated by ex-military guys that have got out of the service, formed an organisation and become a contractor with the defence department. We took it a step further and we doubt the US government would hire the PMC in this game. But the idea is that you have these 52 fugitives loose in the North Korea de-militarised zone [DMZ] and the UN's having trouble rounding them up.

Are the 52 fugitives all Korean?
They vary. There are enemy combatants, evil scientists building weapons of mass destruction and they tend to be members of the old North Korean hardline. And you work your way through them one by one from the two of clubs to the ace of spades.

Who is the ace of spades?
General Song, the guy who orchestrated the coup that started this whole mess. In real life, North Korea is slowly starting to make overtures to the west and open up communications. Our idea is that openness scares the military: they feel like they'll lose influence and control so they stage a coup and everything goes to pot.

Was the game always set in Korea or has it changed recently?
The Korean DMZ has always been the idea because it's such a geographically diverse area. If you do a game like this there's a danger that you're going to bore the player with repetitive environments. You go from gritty Soviet urban environments like you saw in the demo but then jump in your hummer, drive a few clicks and you'll be in a very lush and green river valley, then you go up into the mountains and it's snowing and you're among snow-capped peaks. It's just a nice geographically diverse area.