"Mercenaries 2: World in Flames"
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Also available on: Playstation 2, PC
ESRB Rating: Teen (language, use of alcohol,
use of tobacco, violence)
By Billy O'Keefe
Few games in the Xbox/PS2 era were as eager to please as "Mercenaries," which handed players a wild stockpile of weapons, a roster of enemy targets and every tool one needed to turn North Korea into a personal sandbox of destruction.
As sequels go, "Mercenaries 2: World in Flames" is pure textbook — prettier, more technologically robust and grander in all expected ways, but philosophically unchanged. Venezuela's mix of jungles, rivers and urban cityscapes provide a welcome upgrade over North Korea's murky sameness, and Pandemic places greater importance on telling a story rather than simply providing targets to pick off. But the elements that made the first game such a hit — ridiculous riches of firepower, some humor and total freedom in leveling your surroundings and choosing your alliances to your satisfaction — remains "Flames'" primary selling point.
"Flames" chief headlining addition is the ability to play online co-op with a friend. Anyone familiar with the joys of "Crackdown's" tag-team open-world destruction will have an idea what to expect, and "Flames" doesn't gimp the storyline when two players take it on together. Given how lackluster the game's A.I. is on both sides of the fight, enlisting another human to cover your back can only benefit you. The only downside to playing this way: You're forced to stay within relatively close proximity to one another. If, say, you want to just hang out in Venezuela with a friend but go off and cause random havoc on your own, your freedom is limited.
"Flames'" other hang-up — really, hang-ups — will vary from player to player. Despite the lengthy development time, the game is no stranger to glitches. People and vehicles sometimes vanish randomly, enemies occasionally magically respawn in places they shouldn't, guns and cars sometimes don't work, and the aforementioned statement about stupid A.I. cannot be emphasized enough. Fortunately, most of these glitches are minor headaches rather than game-changers. Occasionally, though, "Flames" falls prone to crashing entirely — a somewhat stunning surprise, given Pandemic's reputation for delivering games coated in polish.
That all said, it's hard not to recommend "Flames" to anyone who counted "Mercenaries" among their favorite games of last generation. The game's shortcomings are disappointing and by no means worth glossing over, but "Flames" still offers that special combination of freedom and firepower that no other series quite has, and the inherent fun factor remains potent enough to offset whatever frustration these issues bring forth.
(c) 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.