Despite suffering from numerous delays that pushed it from a late 2007 to Q3 2008 release window, Mercenaries 2 has been high on the most wanted list for a lot of gamers. The original Mercenaries on PS2 and Xbox proved to be a highly entertaining sandbox action game that differed from GTA thanks to developer Pandemic's focus on destruction. With an army of fans and a fair amount of hype we had expected Mercs 2 to rank up there with the most entertaining games of the year, but numerous gameplay issues and technical problems have made for a game that doesn't feel as good as the first game did on its release in 2005.
Mercs 2 sees you playing as one of three mercenaries (Mattias Nilsson, Chris Jacob and Jennifer Mui), working in Venezuela (a country on the northern coast of South America) setting up a private military company. Mattias regenerates health at a faster rate, Chris carries extra ammo and Jennifer runs faster, but the storyline remains more or less the same no matter who you choose. They take on dangerous missions for big money, usually from the five leading factions in the country (The People's Liberation Army of Venezuela and Universal Petroleum appear early on, with the Rastafarian Pirates, the Chinese Army, and the Allied Nations arriving later in the game). These missions vary from taking out single targets to blowing up massive buildings. It's similar to the kind of stuff you were doing in the original game and should in theory make for exciting gameplay that never provides a dull moment. Sadly there are plenty of dull moments and numerous annoying problems.
At the start of the campaign your primary goal is to recruit members for your new company. You need a mechanic, a helicopter pilot and a fighter jet pilot to work alongside yourself and an operations overseer who remains at her computer and occasionally offers info on your current mission. These early missions which see you having to complete favours for people are among the worst in the game and get things off to an extremely poor start. The way missions are handled and explained verges on terrible, with the game doing its best to confuse you before you've had a chance to get to grips with what you're meant to be doing.
Take the way your helicopter pilot is called in to pick up tagged items that you find. The game simply doesn't make what you're meant to be doing very clear. For a good while we were tagging items and our pilot wasn't budging from his comfy seat back at HQ. It wasn't until we realised that we had to tag items and throw a smoke grenade in order to call our guy in that we were able to pick up the valuable resources scattered throughout the large map. This runs true for many aspects of the game, with the in-game tips not giving you enough information on how certain aspects of the game work.
There are essentially two currencies in the game: money and fuel. Money buys you things and allows you to bribe factions in order to ease tensions, whereas fuel is used for large-scale aerial strikes on targets. Money is pretty much always in plentiful supply, even at an early stage in the game, but fuel is limited by the size of your reserve. To begin with you can store 300 units, which is the number required to launch a Bunker Buster missile. This means that after each of these you have to wander the map looking for fuel that your pilot can pick up. It's possible to buy larger reserves from contacts within factions, but this doesn't help you early on.
Vehicles play a large part as they did in the original game, not only for a quicker way to move from point A to B, but also to help you blend in with the faction forces. If you're able to enter a vehicle unnoticed you'll be able to drive about in areas controlled by that faction without being attacked, just as you are if you're on friendly terms with a faction after working with them or paying a hefty bribe. Vehicle handling is heavily on the arcade side of the fence and feels pretty good - it's just a shame that the draw distance is so short, with the game repeatedly planting cars in front of you as you speed down city streets.
You're not limited to cars either. Tanks are good fun, able to blow up small buildings and huts; Helicopters can be grappled onto and hi-jacked while in mid-air; and numerous water vehicles such as boats and jet skis are available. When hi-jacking the better vehicles you're asked to perform a rudimentary QTE, pressing a few buttons in time with the on-screen prompts. They're so simple it's hard to see why they were included in the first place, and start to grate almost immediately.