Last generation in the era of games such as Grand Theft Auto 3, Pandemic and Lucasarts surprised the world with one of the most playable and fun games around in Mercenaries. Players took control of one of a number of bounty hunters and, in a sandbox world, completed missions using some of the most powerful weapons you can get. Considering the game's success, a sequel was inevitable and despite the fact we have had to wait oh so long for it, the fact it has made the jump to the next generation should have been enough to carry the game. The problem is that in the years since Mercenaries first shipped, gaming has changed and expectations have changed, and unfortunately it appears Mercenaries has not.
In the next generation title you take control of one of three mercenaries; A Swedish explosive specialist, a wealthy Asian lady or a brute Englishman. This is the same number from the first game and despite the main characters returning for the new game, this is a bit of a disappointment. Each of the characters have their own storyline and the game does play differently depending on who you choose. For instance, Jennifer Mui can run quickly, while Mattias heals quicker. You would think this would give the game replay value, but the game doesn't change all that much depending on who you choose outside of a few basics.
The main crux of the game hasn't changed since the first iteration. You find a contact, get some contracts, complete them, and move on. There is a storyline associated with the game but Pandemic have gone for the cliche betrayal story where our main character is betrayed by someone, in this case the Venezuelan president, requiring you to build up your money and forces and ultimately regain control of the nation. There are a number of factions in the game and keeping them happy isn't so easy. As well as this you can build up your group with other mercenaries for hire such as a helicopter pilot and communications manager. It is possible to go through the game without doing this, but it does make the game harder if you don't.
The faction system is where the first problem crops up. It is very easy to turn factions against you. During one mission we were unable to distinguish an enemy from a friendly, accidentally shot the friendly, and that faction became hostile towards the mercenary. Understandable, but when this completely destroys the progress you have made in the game (as in you can't get the next mission from them until you make them friendly again, all because of a slight mistake in shooting a friendly character), it can be annoying. It is possible to move the game further with other factions, but being able to turn them against you so quickly, especially when you have completed multiple missions for them, is just not fun. Also, unlike the old game, there are not multiple maps to play around with. Instead one map, which is admittedly gigantic, is present. Considering the storyline this makes sense but it still reduces the amount of scenery changes available in the game.
The game is also buggy. Many times we encountered some tearing, and characters moving through walls or trees etc. Considering the size of the game and sandbox nature we were prepared to give the developer the benefit of the doubt, but overall the presentation just isn't up to scratch. There is no doubt that this is not a poster boy for next generation graphics and, if we were to be very harsh, we could argue that this could have easily been put on the original Xbox.
However it's not all bad with Mercenaries 2. The fun factor of the original game remains and once you get into it, it is easy to become hooked. Many of the missions can be repetitive (but there are side missions such as 'high value targets' to capture, which are more interesting) and there are times where the developers do rely too much on the same mission structure, but the actual story missions are quite varied. Also, the fact this game is a sandbox allows you to just play around if you want to. Mercenaries' strength is being able to buy huge weapons and vehicles and then level buildings.
Absolutely everything in the game can be destroyed in the game which again could be a factor in the somewhat lacklustre visuals. The game manages the currency to the player well with contracts giving money to upgrade weapons. You do not have access to the big weapons early in the game as you need to build a contact network but as you do so you get more money and thus can buy the bigger weapons. This also applies to help. Each option such as medievacs and supply drops cost oil which can be acquired by destroying vehicles or stolen from oil reserves. Managing money and oil is crucial to success in this game. Multiplayer online allows you to play co-operatively through the main game and this is also one of the game's strengths. Jumping into a multiplayer server and having the whole world and a heck of a lot of weapons to play around with is some of the best gaming you will find on Xbox Live.
There are so many vehicles and weapons in Mercenaries 2 that even once you have finished the game you will want to go back and try new things. Helicopters, jeeps, tanks and other vehicles are present and offer a number of challenges to the player. Unfortunately the air vehicles are not available to use for the player but everything else is. This is clearly the major strength of Mercenaries 2. The best way to sum this title up is that if you liked the original, you will love the sequel but for those expecting more, you will be disappointed. Mercenaries 2 won't win game of the year but is not a bargain bin title either. Fun times can be had and if you can look past the bugs and lacklustre visuals, you will find a fairly solid title that will keep you entertained during this quiet time of the gaming year.