I like open-world, sandbox games. I liked Just Cause and I liked Crackdown, Iím a fan of GTA IV and anything that remotely sounds like an open-world sandbox gets my attention. Thus it was that I loved Mercenaries on the Xbox and played it to death. I was excited to see what Pandemic could do with the next-gen 360 version and finally after giving the game a good play-through I can say that itís bigger and better than Mercenaries but itís not without its faults.
The original three mercs from the first game are back, Jen, Matthias and Chris. You can choose to play as one of the three in this tongue-in-cheek blockbuster action-movie story of betrayal and vengeance. This time youíre going to level the country of Venezuela to get to the man who shot you in the ass. Each one of the mercs has a trait that sets them apart from the others, Jen is faster, Chris has more ammo and Matthias heals much quicker than the both of them.
The initial tutorial level eases you into the various concepts of the game, introduces you to on foot combat, vehicle control and munitions deployment. Just like in Mercenaries, youíre able to call in variously destructive airstrikes on the targets of your choosing and thanks to the enhanced levels of destruction; virtually everything in the game can be reduced to rubble.
The game opens up when you take over the ex-villa of the evil Solano, killing his men and taking up residence in the villa. It now becomes your PMC, a private mercenary company where no one but you can tell you what to do. You play by your own rules, be it sneaky like Jen, tactically like Chris and over the top in your face destruction like Matthias. However there is a price to be paid for reckless destruction, as you will be billed for civilian casualties. If you can handle the price tag however, donít let that stop you.
Youíre given a variety of contacts you can work for and more open as the game progresses, there are certain story missions that bring you one step closer to your final goal and side-missions that come from the various factions. As you begin the game there are only a few factions open, but continue to do well, rake in the cash and take the right jobs youíll be able to contact more. Just as in the first game all the factions donít quite play well together and they may well ask you to destroy an opposing factionís targets, kill or extract their High Value Targets.
If you upset a faction, you can always bribe them at the PMC. However this also comes with a hefty price tag, so youíll want to try and avoid this in the first few hours of play unless you donít care. As you do missions and jobs for the factions, youíll unlock new weapons, vehicles, support options and airstrikes in the various shops around the country. However the Merchant of Menace from Mercenaries is gone so youíll have to travel to the various outposts to buy these commodities. There are lots of explosive options in the game, there are numerous vehicles (at least over 150) that can be bought or stolen.
In fact, if you can see it, you can steal it. Pandemic are very keen to try and say Ďyesí to the player. A few good examples of this have turned up in our various play sessions as I reviewed the game. Can I steal an airstrike thatís lying on the ground, plant c4 on it and then airlift it into the enemy base, get out and detonate the c4 from a safe distance? Yes.
Can I jack a helicopter, land it, plant an artillery strike beacon on it and then quickly fly it over the base, jumping out before I get there and watching the chopper crash only to have it immolated in the following rain of death?
Yes you can. Itís this open play style that appeals to me the most, where the rules are of my own making. Vehicle disguise (where as long as you arenít seen getting into the factionís vehicle, allows you to sneak around bases like this without being detected. If you are doing something youíre not supposed to be, youíll have a short time to drive away from the spotter or fly in the case of the chopper)