Sunday, 13 February 2005
Ever wanted to be in a band of ruthless murderers that kill purely for the sake of earning extra cash? Now's your chance, my bloodthirsty friends.
War is a terrible thing. I think the vast majority of us are all in agreement with that little statement. It’s often been said that no-one “wins” at the end of a war. There are only losers, with death and destruction on all sides. But in today’s modern world we’re all only too well aware that people do gain due to wartime. You only have to look back over the past year or two, the wars that have been waged, and the monetary benefits a select few have accumulated. Not to mention the fact that Mr Bush now has an even better excuse to transform America into something akin to the oppressive atmosphere found in George Orwell’s 1984, but I digress.
Here in Mercenaries, your part of a group of mercenaries (imaginatively titled eh?) who are looking to gain as much cash as possible due to the ongoing conflict in Korea. Taking control of one of these characters in particular (you have a choice of three) your dropped into the battlefield with only one goal. To make as much money as you possibly can. You see, there’s a whole bunch of warring factions here, from the Russian Mafia to the People’s Army. And each of these are more than willing to give you as much money as you can carry in order to give them an upper hand in the overall state of things.
But akin to the game that this has been liked to, and is somewhat similar in many respects (that game being Grand Theft Auto), taking on mercenary jobs isn’t your only source of financial gain. The Allied Nations have distributed a “Deck of 52”, cards that show the 52 most powerful players in this war. As you progress through the missions that you take on from the various “employee’s”, you gain more and more info as to the whereabouts of each of these 52 characters. Once you have the info needed, your all set to go take them out and claim your bounty. But you have two options. If you manage to take them alive, you’ll claim the full bounty amount. Kill them, and prove it with a quick snap shot and you’ll only gain half the amount. It’s a case of risk assessment, as you ponder whether or not to attempt to take them out hand to hand to gain the full amount, while at the same time putting your life in great danger. While the first dozen or so of the deck are quite simple to rush towards and claim the full monetary amount, as you approach the Ace Of Spades “General Song”, things take a turn to the difficult and you may just find yourself settling for half the cash in order to keep yourself clinging to life.
Each mission you choose to undertake has it’s both plus and minus points. Take on a mission which sees you mercilessly slaughtering hundreds of Chinese soldiers and they wont be too happy at all to see you in their area begging for work, and may only allow you in, in exchange for a cash bribe. You can check out your standings with each faction via your in game PDA, where you can also check out your current missions, and take a quick peek at a map of the area. Here comes one of the first minus points of the game overall. In order to make sure you stand in good stead with all factions, you’d expect to have the opportunity to somehow utilise stealth to make sure that your not spotted. While it’s not impossible, it’s massively under developed, and all out action becomes the option of choice at all times.
But there’s so much more. There’s a reason this game has been likened to a more destructive version of Grand Theft Auto. You can quite literally go anywhere, and do whatever you see fit. The only problem is, whereas in GTA it was quite thrilling to attempt to out run the police, speed through road blocks, and run down pedestrians, here it’s not as exciting. You can only blow up so many vehicles and buildings before your craving the opportunity to take on another mission and actual succeed in a goal rather than unmerciful destruction. There are items dotted around the map that can be collected/destroyed for extra benefits, and checking up on your PDA will give you an idea of what you have left to find, but it’s simply not as enjoyable as the rampages of GTA.
A game like this wouldn’t succeed at all if the weapons weren’t up to par. Luckily the wide variety of faction specific weapons and vehicles mean you’ll never get tired. There’s all types of machine guns, and grenade launchers to get your hands on and rain down destruction on all that surround you. Plus if you spot a vehicle, you can clamber into the front seat, honk your horn, and a fellow faction member will take on the gun emplacement in the back. You can even take control of various tanks, allowing you the chance to really cause some ultimate destruction.
Unfortunately the enemy AI doesn’t stand up to the test. All too often an enemy will stand still, seemingly none the wiser that his pal to his immediate left has just taken a sniper bullet to the temple. In this more arcade like gaming atmosphere its doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience, but it does cause frustration.
Pandemic have taken a leaf out of Rockstar’s book and created a quite large and attractive gaming world. It falls somewhat short of San Andreas however, with the total area totalling a much lower amount, and the graphics much less detailed. Though with it being a war zone and all, you cant help but feel that was part of the conception in any case. The physics involved however are of a very high standard, with vehicles and boxes reacting as you’d expect to a swiftly thrown grenade.
Mercenaries is quite an impressive title. The fun that can be enjoyed, despite the fact that the “sandbox” feeling that you can go and do almost anything is somewhat under cooked, is quite high on the radar. It has it’s flaws, some of which could have perhaps been negated with a few months more development time, but we still have an enjoyable title on our hands. The biggest praise that can be heaped upon the title is the fact that mere moments after turning my Xbox off, I was craving another piece of the enjoyable action. And isn’t that what gaming’s all about?