Review: Mercenaries (Xbox)

Posted in Action,Reviews,Xbox by Shawn Wallace on 20 2005f January 2005

Pandemic Studios has shown that they know how to make a gratifying game. From the Battlezone titles to Full Spectrum Warrior, they’ve exhibited skill and knowledge in creating fresh, fun, playable products. So, if you haven’t played Mercenaries yet and you want to get your hopes up… go ahead. It’s good, dirty fun.

Mercenaries finds you as one of three different Mercenaries; the tough American, the black powder-happy Swede or the sly Asian. The differences in each are slight and are more for the player to pick someone they like more than it is to offer widely varying abilities. Once you’ve chosen your character you’ll be paced through a couple opening missions to help you get acquainted with the various control and target acquisition schemes that are commonly used in Mercenaries.

You’ll find yourself in the middle of a war between North and South Korea (I don’t want to spoil the story’s hook for you; it’s nothing hyper-creative but the opening presentation of Mercs is fun to watch and this helps to kind of drive home the overall story arc of the game) with various factions, from other countries to the Allied Nations (I guess the UN copyright was too tough to crack), striving to earn their due from this little conflict. Ultimately, the North Korean regime’s main players have been tagged as the Deck of 52. 52 enemies with various prices on their heads. And, more often than not, the higher the price, the tougher the takedown.

You play a Mercenary (really!?) whose goal is to blow stuff up and make some dough in the process. Throughout the course of the game you’ll encounter opportunities to do jobs for the various factions involved such as the Chinese, South Koreans and the Russian Mafia. Some of those jobs will also require you to piss off other factions and it won’t be from the use of harsh language. One mission finds you driving a truck right into the heart of the Chinese commerce center and taking out four fuel dumps. Now, here’s what makes Mercenaries interesting; you don’t have to take this mission. You can get the lowdown on a mission and, if you don’t like the details or it’s going to make someone mad that you can’t live with, just walk away.

PRO-TIP: Don’t irk the Russians. They run a business called The Merchant of Menace, a sort of web-based purchase portal for such items as air strikes, vehicles and supply drops. The last thing you want to do is make them mad and get caught with no ammo and no way to call in a refill. Keep them happy.

It could be said that Mercenaries uses the GTA ‘sandbox’ style of gameplay. You’ve basically got free reign as far as which missions you choose and where you go. Most missions you formally accept require you to embark upon that mission as soon as you accept it. You will, however, run into impromptu assignments that you can just pick up on and go. There will also be times where your travels bring you within a certain range of one of the Deck of 52. Typically you’re alerted of such and can then plan your insertion method on that Card.

Your objectives run the typical gamut of assault-style, defense and escort, and timed missions. What really makes the game is the weapon choices, the mission style and the terrain you need to deal with. Many Cards will hole themselves up in fairly defensible positions requiring some planning on your part. Note that you get more moolah if you bring your target in alive. So, not only should you plan well but your extractions require a chopper to come in and airlift the subject to safety so you better clear out those air defenses as well.

First, weapon choices; the tools of the trade are varied and satisfying. It won’t take long for you to get access to supply drops that include assorted weapon loadouts. You’ll be able to get a trusty Carbine along with some grenades and some health. Or, maybe stealth is your thing and you’d like to get a silenced HK. Then again, maybe you dig balls out destruction and want to go with the SMG and RPG route. There’s plenty of choices for the diversified play style and all work very well.

Of the manifold mission styles Mercs does a great job of shaking these up. It’s rare that I did two missions in a row of the same type. Granted, many of the missions require you to blow things up but they use different methods to present the challenge to you and offer you diversiform solutions. Maybe you’ll use an artillery strike from your Chinese friends to bring down those barracks; or maybe a Cluster bomb attack is the best method for clearing out that pesky array of enemy soldiers; then again, a surgical missile strike may produce the best results in destroying those North Korean ICBM’s. However it’s done, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak.

Lastly, let’s not forget terrain. You’ll find yourself trading lead in the mountains, in the city, amongst forrested hills, in dusty canyons and everywhere in between… which leads us to the graphics. Mercs looks startlingly similar to Full Spectrum Warrior (which is, by no means, a bad thing). Everything has a sort of lightened glow to it; you’ll also find that wartorn sections of the map have a dusty brown hue, helping to demonstrate that you are, in fact, in the middle of a war. As an aside, it’s not uncommon for you to be driving to a destination and find yourself smack dab in the middle of a firefight between two rival factions. The real question is, do you stop to help?

PRO-TIP: Of course you stop to help! You get cash money each time you take out an enemy’s vehicle. Don’t hesitate to hop out of your jeep and light up a couple NK trucks with your RPG. It’ll make your wallet that much fatter.

The textures do get a little blurry up close but overall the game looks great for being on the Xbox and PS2 platforms. Framerates only really suffer when there’s lots of explosions and equipment on screen. Otherwise you’re in for a smooth ride.I can’t say enough about the sound in the game. All in-game sounds are fantastic (including the voice acting) and the music is action-movie material. Explosions have that dramatic punch to them, weapons are noticably different sounding (and the more you play you’ll begin to detect which faction is firing at you with which type of rifle) and the vehicles sound throaty and powerful (when applicable; the little civilian car sounds like a two cylinder but that car comes in handy for sneaking behind enemy lines). Overall the sound just adds to the overall experience.

Mercenaries does a fantastic job of taking the sandbox-style gameplay to the fields of war and making it happen successfully. From the diverse mission sets to the meaningful gameplay Mercenaries is a stellar experience for the FPS and action crowd. This title is a must have for your console game library.



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