LucasArts’ Mercenaries has been somewhat of an oddity in its development. What initially began its development looking like a GTA clone, with some shiny new weapons and themes thrown into the mix, has actually flourished into a surprisingly fun and intense game. Mercenaries is a great game with engaging action and a sharp sense of humor that will no doubt impress gamers with itchy trigger fingers looking to cause some copious amounts of damage.
The story of Mercenaries puts you in the role of three different soldiers for hire belonging to an agency known as Executive Operations. It appears that Kim, the North Korean president, has been assassinated by his son, right on the verge of unification between North and South Korea. The son, General Song, begins to mass-produce WMDs like they’re going out of style and selling them across the world to various terrorist groups. Therefore, it is up to your rag-tag group of destruction experts to take down the nefarious General Song. After that point, however, the choice of how you play the game is up to you, meaning that you can ally yourself with a few different groups looking for a piece of the Korean pie.
Each of the three mercenaries in your team has different strengths and weaknesses that give them a different dynamic within the gameplay. There is an American agent who specializes in physical strength and can generally take more of a beating then the other two, a British agent who prefers to take the more stealthy route in her missions, and the Swede, who serves as the loose cannon of the group and specializes in causing the most all-out carnage. Each of them also has different languages at their disposal, which no doubt enables each of them to communicate with the different factions vying to depose Song.
The official tagline for Mercenaries is “If you see it, you can drive it,” and this is very true, since one of the main aspects of the gameplay is the use of vehicles. You can drive tanks, jeeps, helicopters, anti-aircraft vehicles – pretty much anything in the game with wheels, wings or propellers is yours for the taking. If no vehicle in the stage strikes your fancy, then you have the ability to call one in via radio and have it delivered to your location so you can wreak havoc on your enemies. You can also call in air and bunker strikes to take down huge buildings and other large targets, or have special weapons, like anti-aircraft rocket launchers and sniper rifles delivered right to your position.
Another cool touch in the game is the “Deck of 52”, and your interactions with them. The “Deck” is essentially a collection of influential North Korean military officers and clout-holders with valuable intel on Song and his regime. It is important then for you to collect the bounties on each member of the “Deck,” gaining insight and help on how to take out Song.
The one main downside with Mercenaries (at least, as far as I’m concerned) is the lack of multiplayer features. While the single-player game is definitely a blast and should provide a couple dozen hours of entertainment, Mercenaries would’ve been nigh indispensable for PS2 gamers if it had some solidly implemented online gameplay or even split-screen features.
Mercenaries does a great job graphically, pushing the PS2 to its limits with excellent character models, diverse environments and some truly fantastic explosions. Sometimes the physics can look a little over the top (think of the extreme rag-doll effects in Star Wars: Battlefront), sending your character flying after an explosion, but this adds to the game’s charm and intense action elements. The frame rate gets a bit choppy when the action gets going but otherwise stays pretty solid considering all that goes on onscreen.
The sound is also quite impressive, with a great musical score and crisp sound. The explosions and battle sounds ring in clear Dolby Pro Logic II, and the music does a fine job of setting the mood for the game. The voice acting is also spot on, featuring film stars like Carl Weathers (Predator, Rocky) and Peter Stormare (Fargo, Minority Report) in lead roles.
Mercenaries is an excellent action game, giving gamers a huge amount of freedom and extremely intense gameplay. While naysayers may try to write it off as a GTA clone due to its vehicular aspects, anyone who gives Mercenaries some serious play should enjoy the sleeper hit of the new year.