Upon its release, Mercenaries 2 was utterly savaged by the critics and roundly trounced by practically every reviewer. It was accused of being ‘shallow’, ‘repetitive’, ‘buggy’, ‘unfinished’, having ‘terrible enemy AI’, ‘awful gun battles’ and a ‘rubbish story’. Finally, just to add insult to injury, it was nominated by Gamespot for ‘Dubious Honours: Worst Game Everyone Played’. So, after such a humiliating media battering, heads were sure to be rolling over at Pandemic Studios. The developers had been publically humiliated and would probably have to accept the fact that, like some biblical curse, the failure of Mercenaries 2 would be forever hanging over them. But oddly enough, despite the criticism, it turns out that Mercs 2 sold well. You may be wondering the reason behind this miracle? Well it‘s surprisingly simple: Mercenaries 2 is loads and loads of fun.
The interesting thing about the slamming which it received from critics is that many reviewers were judging it in completely the wrong way. Lost in this haze of pretentious ranting about plausibility, the quality of the storyline, and the depth of the characters, many had lost sight of one important point. Games are fundamentally about entertainment, and although undeniably creative and artistic, what is the point in expecting them to deliver on the same level as a film or novel? Sure, there is no denying the fact that in terms of plot Mercenaries 2 is appalling. In terms of voice acting it is dire and overall it’s about as deep and believable as an episode of Home and Away. But in terms of mindless entertainment, it truly excels.
When looking at the story it is instantly obvious that the game adapts a very standard narrative template. The three Mercenaries are drawn to Venezuela where, in a ruthless bid for dictatorship, some billionaire tycoon needs help to turn his intended coup into reality. Never being the kind of folks to turn down the lure of hard cash, the mercs immediately fly in to offer up their services. As the player, you firstly choose which merc you want to be, bearing in mind that each one has a particular trait. For example the woman is slightly faster, Mattias is a bit better at regenerating health etc, but in truth, these have little impact on the story or gameplay. Things really kick off when, for some inexplicable reason, the ‘billionaire’ refuses to pay up and opts instead to pull a clumsy double cross. With little explanation behind this turn of events, the story is then dominated by the mercs’ quest for revenge.
So it goes without saying that the story is totally ludicrous and illogical, but the sheer level of awful clichés, terrible one liners, and insane plot twists make it a great game to just rip into with a bunch of friends. The entertainment value is further reinforced by virtually every aspect of gameplay. As soon as you begin playing, weapons and vehicles literally rain down upon you from support choppers. In the first 30 seconds you get an M16 and Grenade Launcher, after about 2 minutes you get the chance to unleash a massive air strike; a further 3, and you are given a tank and told to flatten a shanty town… So forget all that Splinter Cell stealth nonsense, after a few hours on Mercenaries 2 you even get your hands on nukes! (And they wonder why people like this game?)
Fun though the game is, I do have to go along with the reviewers when they complain about the dreadful enemy AI. Yes, it is terrible. But then again what’s so great about realism? The dumb bad guys actually make Mercenaries 2 even more fun because you are just unstoppable. Nobody can withstand the rampage as you tear through the levels carpet bombing hundreds of soldiers, dodging RPG’s, running people over, dropping a nuke on one person just for a laugh – it really is such great fun. The reviews also accuse it of being extremely buggy on the 360 and particularly on the Ps3, but on PC it runs very smoothly. The only irritating thing is that, having downloaded the game, the controls are ambiguous. When told to open GPS you are shown a picture of a cat, when trying to hi–jack a tank you are shown an icon of a fist (I later managed to rationalize this to mean melee attack button) and when trying to throw out the driver, a picture of a pair of boots shows up. Huh?
Overall, even though the irritating controls are a pain, the game is so appealing you can lose days tearing around the massive level, totally lost in the ecstasy of blowing s*** up. There a ton of weapons and vehicles to get your hands on and some seriously heavy airstrikes to call in when you have the cash. You are literally able to flatten everything across a dense, well laid out, visually superb city. So, I say the many reviewers who attacked this game should go back and fundamentally address the question of what makes a good videogame. Because there aren’t many which allow you to rampage like Schwarzenegger, never running out of bullets, taking out endless numbers of stupid bad guys. But of course, like the game’s quirky theme song, it’s a question of taste. What comes off as genius to some might be excruciating to others. Although some will undoubtedly hate this game, there’s a hell of a lot who just can’t get enough, and to be honest it’s not hard to see why.