If GTA 4 is a skinny decaf latte then Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is a double shot full fat Americano with a can of Red Bull on the side just in case. Though both are of the same video game genre, the differences between the two are undeniable. Where GTA 4's Liberty City is a more mature, realistic open world with an underbelly of subtle, satirical humour, Mercs 2's Venezuela is an adolescent, over the top open world with slap you in the face frat house laughs.
Think comparisons with GTA 4 in the opening paragraph of a Mercenaries 2 preview are unfair? Well they aren't. GTA 4 is unshakable in its domination of the genre, and any upcoming open world action game, be it Mercs 2, Just Cause 2 or Saints Row 2, has to endure such comparisons. This is the reality of the market, the bar has been raised, and this is something Pandemic's Cory Lewis, who spoke to us following his live presentation of the game to press at EA's recent Games label event in London, freely admits to.
That's enough of GTA 4 for now. Let's talk changes. Pandemic has increased focus on storytelling this time round, an aspect of the first game believed to be particularly weak. Set in Venezuela, South America, Mercs 2 is a revenge mission in every sense of the word. You start the game as one of three possible playable mercenaries - the same three from the first game - Mattias Nielsen, Jennifer Mui and Chris Jacobs. You've been contracted by a Venezuelan billionaire businessman called Ramon Solano (no relation to the Peruvian trumpet-playing West Ham midfielder) to free General Carmona from a military coup. The game's opening level, which acts as a simple tutorial, sees you storm into a heavily fortified building, blowing the gates open with a mini-game bomb strike and killing scores of unfortunate guards with an assault rifle and satisfyingly destructive grenade launcher. Boom.
You immediately get a sense of the game world's tenancy to collapse under the stress of your imposing weaponry. Trees crumble and fall. Grass and foliage light up in flame. Buildings and structures collapse at the merest whiff of an explosion. Pandemic's Venezuela is designed to be trampled on, blown up and generally made a mockery of by the player, and it will offer little resistance.
The controls are as you'd expect. Although Lewis demoed the 360 version of the game, we tried out the PS3 version afterwards, which we reckon looks just as good. R2 fires your primary weapon (L1 fires secondary), L2 crouches and R1 switches weapons. Triangle is the context sensitive interact button, mostly used for jacking vehicles. Square is for reload, circle melee and X is for jump. Clicking in the left thumb stick will make you sprint and doing the same with the right thumb stick will zoom in. And finally the Select button opens up your PDA and the game's map.
Once you've rescued Carmona a cut scene kicks in revealing Solano to be a two-faced double crosser. Rather than paying you for your plight he tries to kill you, which is obviously not cool. You escape, but not before he shoots you in the, well, ass, since Mercs 2 is an American made game. What the hell. He shoots you in the arse. We're British after all.
Solano then claims Venezuela for his own, which has absolutely nothing to do with the real Venezuelan political situation, we promise. While watching him gloat on TV, and with an extremely sore derriere, you vow to take revenge on the cheap rat. Cheating you out of your hard earned cash is one thing, putting a bullet in your bum was clearly the straw that broke the camel's back.
Lewis describes Mercs 2 as like a video game version of an over the top, tongue in cheek Jerry Bruckheimer flick. Think Bad Boys, The Rock, Con Air and Armageddon, that sort of thing. Ironically, your base of operations in the game is the previously Solano-owned mansion which you wrestle control of in an early mission. From here you're able to build up your own private military army, a new feature added for the second game. This time around there are five factions to either make friends or war with, over 130 vehicles and an 8km by 8km world to devastate. Lewis sums it up for us: "If the question is: 'Can I go do this?' the answer should be: 'yes'."