First, let's get something straight. If you came to Mercenaries 2: World in Flames hoping to find an epic single-player campaign with a finely crafted storyline to draw you in, you'll be sadly mistaken. At its heart, Mercenaries 2 is quite a simple beast: blow lots of sh*t up and have a fun time doing it. Though alongside all of the pure joy of reigning cruise missiles and tactical nukes over your adversaries, the game has a number of annoying bugs and AI issues that slightly detract from the unadulterated, chaotic fun that the title brings.
At the start of the game, you choose to play as one of three characters (though it has been confirmed that more characters will become available for use with the upcoming DLC slated for release in the coming weeks) - Mattias Nilsson, Jennifer Mui, or Chris Jacobs. Each character comes equipped with their own unique traits. For example, Jennifer has the ability to move more swiftly throughout the game in comparison to her male counterparts. The slight differences between gameplay don't have much of an impact on the game, but they do offer you the ability to pick a character that is more suited to your style of play. Either way, whomever you chose, you'll end up with a hired gun with an appetite for destruction and a love for a big wad of cash.
As previously pointed out, Mercenaries 2's plot is about as thin as the paper that the game cover was printed on. But ultimately it serves its purpose of providing gamers with a reasoning behind the carnage. Essentially, the title revolves around a war torn Venezuela, where oil companies, local rebels, rogue army elements, and the Chinese and American governments all lining up for a for a piece of the crude oil pie in order to exert their authority over the fossil fuel guzzling nations of the world.
How exactly does this bring your character to Venezuela you might ask? Like any good mercenary there is much money to be made in war, and you've put your hand up for a very large chunk of it. But when you are betrayed by an employer in the opening scenes of the game, business becomes a little bit personal. Your mission in Mercenaries 2 is quite simple: earn money and do jobs to work your way back to the man that betrayed you. As you take out contracts with many of the game's various shady factions you will often find that they are at loggerheads with each other, making your position even more precarious as many of your contracts will involve you disrupting the operation of a rival faction in some way . Meaning that your reputation and money making abilities with that particular faction will ultimately take a hit. While your objectives from mission to mission are very linear in their approach, the ways to execute them are absolutely limitless, making the replay value of this game extremely high... if you can be captivated past the slow start of the game to unlock the really juicy weaponry that you unlock as you move forward.
Combat in Mercenaries 2 is a very straightforward affair. Use the large cache of weaponry at your disposal to shoot and kill those that stand in your way. As well as hotfooting it around with guns drawn, there are a number of vehicles peppered throughout the game for you to take for a joy ride. Motorbikes, trucks, jet-skis and attack choppers are just some of the vehicles on offer for your hijacking pleasure.
The more high-end combat vehicles, such as tanks and choppers, come complete with hijacking mini-games where you need to press the right coloured button as it appears on-screen in order to successfully hijack the vehicle of your choice - and watch a killer cinematic to boot.
While rolling through town in your beastly tank creating potholes and other assorted mayhem is a fun way to soak up a few hours, the real fun of Mercenaries 2 is the ability to call in air support. This feature allows you to call in weapon and vehicle drops to help get you out of a tight jam, but the real highlight of this effective tool is the ability to call in an air strike. Air strikes can either be found through exploration of the game world of by purchasing them from one of the game's factions. As well as having the appropriate amount of dough to pull off these support drops, you will also need to keep an eye on your fuel supplies as all air support features will cost you fuel, but thankfully, there is plenty of fuel to steal throughout the game world that you'll find it becomes much of a non-issue after the first few hours of play.
For all of their destructive fun, air strikes can be an absolute pain to execute at times as you need to stop moving your character in order to open up the air support menu, select your choice of air strike and designate a target area, all the while keeping your fingers crossed that the group of soldiers shooting at you won't kill you before you can send them on a fiery path to hell. Bombing runs, nuclear bombs and cruise missiles are just some of the many air strike options that you'll have at your disposal in-game, and they all deliver an impressive array of destruction onto the landscape as every structure and vehicle in the game can be blown to smithereens. Although there are some instances where the frame rate will suffer due to your air strike capabilities, thankfully these are few and far between, a result of developer Pandemic's robust game engine.
Setting the Venezuelan landscape ablaze with nuclear weaponry, hijacking tanks and and rolling over hired goons in your massive army truck are just some of the destructive possibilities of Mercenaries 2, and ultimately they are the saving grace of the title as the lack of polish in other areas does take some of its shine away.
Poor design choices will leave you scratching your head as come across such weirdness as being able to ram your tank into over a dozen vehicles with barely a scratch, only to find that knocking over that fire hydrant and bus shelter shaved off ten points of armour from your vehicle. The other main gripe with the game is the extremely poor enemy AI, which typically results in the enemy pointing forward and shooting at you rather than displaying any tactical awareness of the situation. The AI is almost laughable when you approach enemies in vehicles as they have the boneheaded tendency to exit their vehicle, allowing you to quickly and swiftly punch enemy soldiers and hijack their vehicle for yourself.
With no scalable difficulty, you'll find that the missions of Mercenaries 2 get much tougher towards the end of the game, but thankfully this is easily combated if you tackle them with a friend in co-op mode. Joining a co-op game will take you to the host player's game world, where all of the missions you play will be for the sole benefit of your in-game buddy. Thankfully, being the other player does have its reward as you will be able to unlock cash and other loot to take back to your own saved gave once the session is over.
Whether it's on your own or with a buddy in tow, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is a fun pickup-and-play title that is filled to the brim with hours of explosive goodness that will quench your thirst for chaos and destruction.