Written by  :  Matt Neuteboom (989)
Written on  :  Aug 25, 2006
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars

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A playground of destruction!

The Good

Imagine this. You are traveling through the smoldering remains of the North Korean countryside. You’ve just been given an assignment by the Russians to take out a Chinese missile commander. You really don’t want to do this job, but you have no choice. You need to improve your relations with the Russians in order to get back your supply of weapons. You disguise yourself as a Chinese civilian, and make a quick entrance into their base. But a Chinese officer spots you, and all Hell breaks loose. Quickly you hop out of the vehicle as a tank pulls up to blows your car to smithereens. You grab your machine gun and begin plugging away at the troops. As a helicopter comes flying by, you pull out your RPG and fire a rocket at it, but miss. Instead, you dodge bullets and come to a helipad. Just as its about to take off, you hijack the vehicle. The troops become mere target practice for the deadly helicopter-mounted M134 gatling guns. You spy your prey, but he is protected by bunkers and sand-bag mounted machine guns. No problem. You call in an air strike, and a few moments later nothing is left of the area but rubble. Mission complete…

Mercenaries doesn’t lie when it comes to its title. This entire game is literally a playground of destruction. From its vehicles and its air strikes, to its side missions and factions, Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is a game that any hardcore or casual gamer can fall in love with.

The story is this: you are a freelance mercenary who has just been hired to go into the North Korean war zone and hunt the “Deck of 52”. Each card in a deck of cards represents a man on the most-wanted list. Your primary objective is to get the Ace of Spades, the most wanted man in the world. Get him and your going home packing 100 million dollars. Along the way you must also capture the rest of the deck for some cash. The game works much like the Grand Theft Auto series, where you must speak to different people for different missions. There’s five factions, four of which you can work for. Doing missions for one will increase your standing with them, but sometimes it will decrease your standing with another. It’s up to you to find out which you want to remain allies with.

Mercenaries perfectly describes what it is: a giant playground. The game sets you off in a giant slab of North Korea, and from there on the game play never stops being fast-paced and blood pumping. This is a game where you can pretty much play by your own rules. The missions are completely open ended to what you want to do, and there’s so many resources available for you to have a lot of fun with. For one, every vehicle in the game is able to be hijacked, and I mean everything. We are talking from civilian cars to supply trucks and from jeeps to helicopters. Anything you set your eyes on, all you have to do is steal it and its yours. So in the middle of battle, you can pick out a vehicle and grab it. A tank just blew up your jeep? Steal one of theirs and return the favor. Better yet, the one that just shot at you. You can even get supply and vehicle drops if you need a ride or need some more weapons.

The environment even changes around your whims. This means that every building in the game is completely destructible. This includes bridges and even the buildings where you are required to get your missions (you can use a bunker buster to destroy the US HQ, but don’t expect them to be too friendly to you after that). This alone allows for extreme destruction from all over the battlefield. Don’t feel like taking down all of the soldiers? Just plant some C4 on the barracks and that takes care of that. However, what’s even better than C4 is the massive amount of air strikes available to you in the game. There are about 16 types if I’m not mistaken, with things like carpet bombings, surgical strikes, bunker busters, and just flat out power-houses that will decimate an area in seconds. You can level entire cities until there is nothing left on the map. Let your pyromaniac side free and burn the countryside down! Just remember, that these things cost money, so make sure you don’t waste it all on one city…

And speaking of money, how exactly do you go about making money in this game? Well there are many, many ways. For one, you can do missions for the four various factions. It works like the GTA system, where you get to free roam but also go to people for missions. Each of them has their own agenda, so watch out. In the beginning of the game you aren’t required to meddle with other countries, but later it comes to the point where you must choose sides wisely. You have the ability to recruit friendly nations to fight with you, and they will climb in the backs of trucks with you and shoot out of the back. However unfriendly nations will shoot at you if they recognize you. As you proceed and help these people, you will also receive emails from various sources telling you the whereabouts of the “Deck of 52”. When it says a deck of 52, it means all 52 people. Minus the four aces, that’s 48 people you must hunt down. Not all of them need to be captured, but a great incentive is that each of them gives you lots of money for…you guessed it- more weapons and explosives! Once you have enough of a particular suit captured, you will enough intel to go after the ace himself. Besides the main missions, there are tons of side-quests to do. For one, you can go hunting for caches of items that will allow you to access more types of supply drops, vehicle drops, and air strikes, or do a number of races.

On a last side note, both the music and the graphics are absolutely beautiful. The PS2 is not a very graphic heavy machine, but Mercenaries makes the best of it. The fire effects for the game are absolutely stunning, and the landscapes are smooth and don’t look polygonal. Objects are highly detailed, and yet the game can stand scenes with tons of action with no slow down at all. The orchestrated music gets your blood pumping and is professionally made.

By combining free roam areas with all of the resources at your disposal, it allows for you to really get your creative juices flowing and do anything the way you want to. You can just go all out with guns, but that’s pretty boring. Need to access a top-secret Chinese base? Get a Chinese hummer airdropped to you and sneak in. Then let the bullets fly! Don’t want to let the South Korean’s get to their tanks? Carpet bomb the whole row of them! The concept is that no battle is ever the same. Every battle will evolve around your actions, which makes you feel free to do whatever you want to do. The game is quite long, and the fact that almost every battle is never the same will guarantee that this game is going to keep you occupied for months to come.

The Bad

The thing that will definitely piss you off the most is that it sometimes it feels like you are on God mode. Bullets rarely do enough damage that they kill you, so that takes away from the major strategic values of the game. On the other hand, explosions take away tons of your health to the point where you need to retreat from the battle. I suppose they balance themselves out in a fight, but fights without enemy armor are almost too easy for you.

And dear God, where the Hell is the multiplayer in this game! If ANY game deserves a multiplayer, this game is it. The game has so much co-operative potential, it is almost a shame to see none in there. Almost all vehicles in some way come have the ability to hold two people, especially the jeep that has space for a driver and a gunner. Playing with a friend also bumps up the entertainment value, because you can share these once-in-a-lifetime battles with your friend, and the game can get especially strategic having to work together as a team to pull off the perfect assault.

The last bit I complain about is that Mercenaries tries to have a dark atmosphere but does not succeed. The somber music in between battles only makes the game seem boring and empty, and the dark, destroyed landscapes only sharpen the effect. Truthfully, I could have done without some of the more melancholy tunes and gone with some more fast-paced themes, which in my honest opinion would have been much more effective for the game.

The Bottom Line

Combining free roaming with unlimited resources for killing and destruction creates one of the best games anyone can lay their hands on. This is the type of game where you can really use your imagination to get the job done. The over-the-top battles are fun, and with all of the ways you can battle its guaranteed that you will never fight the same battle same way as the last. It is a shame that Mercenaries has no multiplayer because this game is just chock full of those “Holy crap, did you see that!” moments, but it is a forgivable mistake. Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is a game that should not be overlooked by any gamer. If you’ve seen any trailers or screenshots, and thought that it looked pretty damn cool, then you should definitely give this game a try. I did, and I was not disappointed.

Buyworthy: Definitely worth every penny.
Rentworthy: You can, but you won’t get anywhere close to experiencing how much this game has to offer.