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Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
Score: 77%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Pandemic
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Free-Roaming

Graphics & Sound:
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is the videogame equivalent of a Michael Bay movie. There are numerous technical issues and the story leaves a lot to be desired, but after a few massive explosions, everything seems right in the world.

The best way to grasp the game's scope is by jacking a helicopter and taking an aerial tour of the country. Once you're in the air, you'll begin to notice that Mercenaries 2 manages to look great and okay at the same exact time. The fog-covered jungles look cool, but the water looks terrible. You'll notice the same issues while on the ground - great-looking trees next to cruddy rocks. Of course, in the end this doesn't matter that much since you'll more than likely blow it all up. Well, the parts that you can blow up anyway.

As advertised, you can destroy nearly everything in the environment. This is where most of the game's fun stems from, though it does create some odd moments. It's just odd that a missile can level a building, yet do nothing to a rock. I understand the technical and gameplay issues involved, but at the same time, it does create moments of unintentional humor.

Dialogue is atrocious. The accents are stereotypical and borderline offensive in some cases. Of course, the lines aren't that much better; many lines are reused as both positive and negative statements, ruining the sense of place the giant maps are attempting to create. There are some weak attempts at banter, but the three mercenaries have a tendency to repeat themselves, which gets tiresome.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames story takes the Road House approach to story. A client screws you out on a contract and proceeds to take over Venezuela. Rather than getting the hell out of Dodge like everyone else, you decide to stick around and screw with the new regime, hopefully making a few bucks along the way. The entire premise is absurd, but the only times you have to pay attention to the plot are at the beginning and the end.

Even though the open-world structure gives the illusion of free-roaming design, when you break it down, you're incredibly limited. Your main goal is to get to the country's newly-installed leader, Solano, though in order to get to him, you'll have to make friends with other factions who have their own interests. If you're familiar with the original, the sequel's gameplay structure is largely the same, but while the "Deck of 52" mechanic from the first game was a neat progression mechanic, taking contracts from the three factions doesn't work that well. Taking missions plays on a simple "Enemy of my Enemy" dynamic. All of the factions hate each other and the intent is that you can play each off one another to get to Solano. The system doesn't work as intended; you can destroy one group's compound, yet shoot a few rivals and they'll happily give you another mission. It might look complex, but you're just completing missions until one advances the story.

Even though the huge, open-world environment is technically impressive, it isn't as impressive when you actually begin to explore it. There isn't that much to do in each area besides complete missions, which tend to be a bit repetitive or make little sense (such as the forced racing levels). People who enjoy kicking down sandcastles on the beach will undoubtedly find fun in blowing up structures and burning down whole forests just because they can, but destruction is only fun for so long.

Bringing a friend along for some Co-op play does, however, brighten things up and, in my opinion, is the preferred way to play. It ends up making missions incredibly easy, but at least you have someone to hoot and holler at explosions with.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames walks the line between easy and difficult, but not for the reasons you would expect. The A.I. is mindless and, unless they outnumber you, aren't much of a problem. If you aren't right in front of enemies, they won't see you and if they do they make no effort to pursue you. If they manage to do some damage, all you need to do is run a few feet away and regenerate your health. Even if you're standing in the open, if you're not in range, they're not that interested.

There are also a few A.I. glitches that make missions easier. If a guard sees you, all you need to do is scroll his icon off the mini-map and he'll forget about you. You can also trick them into destroying their own vehicles. Of course, there are some glitches that make things more difficult. Allies will sometimes shoot at you and, when you're trying to rescue people, they will run into enemy fire or find other ways to make sure you can't save them. Some enemies can also shoot through walls and missiles are incredibly accurate.

Game Mechanics:
Each of the three playable mercenaries - Mattias, Jen and Chris - has their own unique abilities. For example, Mattias heals a little quicker and Jen is faster. In the long run, however, these slight differences are meaningless and rarely have a major impact on the game. Except for a few lines of dialogue, all three share the same plot and missions, so to that end, you're really just choosing the character model you like best.

The best part of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is the number of vehicles and weapons at your disposal. The number of vehicles you can hijack is insane; motorcycles, tanks, helicopters... you name it. Most of the vehicles are available from the very beginning, though once you meet the mechanic, you can nab just about anything you come across. Getting into jeeps and motorcycles is as simple as a button press, though if you want to steal a tank or helicopter, you'll have to complete a short quick-time event. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I'm getting tired of the mechanic, but I have to admit the sequences in Mercenaries 2 at least look cool.

Along the way, you'll also meet a pilot and unlock the option of calling air strikes. These are some of the more powerful tools at your disposal - especially when you can afford the small nuclear bomb. The problem with strikes is that they aren't that useful during missions. You have to get really close to a target to paint it, and by then, you're usually shot to hell and back. Eventually it makes more sense to complete missions without air support.

If you consider Michael Bay's collective works, some of the best Hollywood has to offer, you'll like Mercenaries 2. Otherwise, rent it or skip it.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker