Matt Bassos
26 Feb, 2005

Mercenaries Review

Xbox Review | Blowing stuff up has never been so much fun.
Ever since the 3D incarnations of the Grand Theft Auto series stuck gold with its “free-roaming-go-anywhere” type gameplay, developers have been trying to emulate this unique gaming style - with various levels of success. Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction features such style of gameplay – you’re free to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Calling Mercenaries a Grand Theft Auto clone however, borders on blasphemy, as it offers so many enjoyable and refreshing concepts, that it feels like an entirely new experience. To put it more simply, Mercenaries is a cross between Grand Theft Auto meets war, so get ready for free-roaming gameplay, with some new twists, as you attempt to blow the living !@#$ out of everything in sight.

Welcome to war!

As the game’s title implies, you play as a mercenary, sent into a fictional future war, set in a war-torn North Korea. The story for Mercenaries is straightforward. When North Korean president Kim, begins to assimilate North Korea as a democracy, his son General Song, kills and overthrows with his followers, declaring himself leader. To make matters worst, Song acquires a nice array of nuclear weapons, which instantly gains the attention of the rest of the world. A bounty is placed on Song’s head and his most trusted advisors, businessmen and body guards, which are separated into a “Deck of 52 cards”. Executive Operations; a mercenary organisation, sees a profit to be made in the now chaotic North Korea, as Allied Soldiers, South Korea, the Russian Mafia, and Chinese all invade for personal reasons.

At the beginning of the game you choose between three different Executive Operations mercenaries – Chris Jacobs, Jennifer Mui or Mattias Nilsson. While all three mercenaries generally play the same, each one offers a unique skill. The American Jacobs can take a bit more punishment on the battlefield then his fellow mercenaries. Mui the female British mercenary, specialises in stealth, while Nilsson the crazy Swede, is faster on his feet. Mercenaries is played in third-person perspective, but unlike Grand Theft Auto, includes an aiming reticule for precise fire. The controls are easy to use, with the left thumbstick moving your hero, the left for aiming and the camera, and the right trigger to fire. Your mercenary can also throw grenades with the left trigger, while switching between the two weapons that each mercenary can carry is done with the black button. Mercenaries is a run and gun game in all spirit. You’re normally firing, driving, or flying into danger; moving constantly and engaging enemies. There defiantly isn’t a lack of enemies seeking your head in North Korea.

Blowing up buildings - one of the many duties of a mercenary.

Blowing up buildings - one of the many duties of a mercenary.
Blow stuff up

Following Grand Theft Auto’s free roaming gameplay, you land in North Korea able to go just about wherever you want and blow up just about whatever you want. Your main objective is to find Song and claim the impressive bounty on his head, but to do this you’re going to have to work up your Intel from his lower ranking associates. Every time you capture a card in the “Deck of 52” you receive information on where higher ranking cards are located. Furthermore certain factions will provide you important information on certain cards - that’s of course if you’re willing to work for it. Once you build up your information you can locate the Aces of the deck, Song’s most trusted associates, which if captured, will eventually lead to Song himself. Every bounty captured (or killed) will supply you with cold-earned cash, which can be used on weapons and other goodies, as well as letting you progress through game, so it defiantly becomes one of the main features of Mercenaries.

Blow more stuff up

Of course there are plenty of other things to do while not hunting bounties of the deck. Taking another leaf from Grand Theft Auto’s book, you can hijack any vehicle that you can get your hands on. There is a large array of military jeeps, tanks and helicopters from different factions to acquire and this is a good thing as you’ll want to explore every inch of the environment. Pandemic Studios has done an amazing job in creating a war zone, brimming with life, and small scale skirmishes, which can be intervened at will, while you’re exploring the militaristic landscape. Going on sporadic rampages and blowing up random stuff is also very entertaining, but unfortunately it costs a great deal of cash to transform you into a one man/women army. While collecting bounties will be your main source of income, there are many challenges scattered across the map which will offer a little extra dough on the side, and range from racing vehicles through checkpoints, to hunting down bunkered North Koreans in Allied territory.

Let's be friends

As mentioned above, Mercenaries is divided into five different factions. The Allied Nations simply want to eliminate Song from regime, while South Korea, controlled by the American CIA, wants to spread democracy. China on the other hand wants to conquer North Korea and claim it as their own, and the Russian Mafia is there to supply all the other factions with illegal weapons and other notorious supplies. Finally there is North Korea themselves which are simply attempting to wipe out all other factions from their territory. This is where the first defining feature that Mercenaries differs from the Grand Theft Auto series, as these five factions will decide how you play the game and what contracts and missions you undertake. As North Korea is the bad guys, you are always hostile against them, but the other four factions will differ from time to time. Each of these factions will either be hostile, neutral, or friendly. Helping factions by accepting jobs and missions will make them happy and increase their friendliness towards you. Killing their soldiers however will make them angry, and you don’t want to make a faction hostile, because they will shoot on sight and may even cut of some of their services and Intel, making it even more difficult to capture the “Deck of 52.” North Korea is also populated by a heavy dose of civilians, and while it’s not encouraged that you kill them, (as it produces bad PR for Executive Operations) it probably won’t stop you from blasting away some wanted-bounty that is using civilians as bullet shields.

In Mercenaries you are what you drive. So if you find yourself cruising in an Allied hummer, you’ll be disguised as an Allied unit. Similar if you’re driving a North Korean jeep, you’ll be disguised as North Korea. This allows you to infiltrate into different factions regardless of what their feeling are towards you. Committing a hostile act in front of soldiers of a particular faction however, will blow your cover. Being spotted by a high ranking officer of a faction will also blow your secret disguise. Just remember what vehicle you jump into, as driving around disguised as North Korea will get you shot at by just about everyone! Control in vehicles for most of the part is good, although vehicles do have a nasty habit of getting snagged on terrain glitches – which can result in your vehicle being flung high into the air, or being stuck indefinably.

PALGN will not stoop to tank jokes, tank you very much.

PALGN will not stoop to tank jokes, tank you very much.
Throughout the game, you’re going to have make choices, as it becomes nearly impossible to stay friendly with each faction; if the factions themselves are offering you contracts against one another. It is advised however that you try to keep friendly with the Russian Mafia, as they offer you services to their online black-market, fondly known to them as the “Merchant of Menace.” As long as you have the cash this market can supply you with weapon and health drops, airlifted vehicles and most importantly powerful air strikes.

Keep blowing stuff up

The power to call in devastating air strikes is another significant feature for Mercenaries. As you progress through the game you will acquire various strikes, which can be used as you see fit; often helping to capture or kill a contract that little bit easier. Strikes range from the low-key missile surgical strike, to the powerful wide covering carpet bombing. Mercenaries unquestionably earns its Playground of Destruction subtitle with these air strikes, some able to level entire cities in one go and are exceedingly pleasing to use… as long as you have the cash!

A new meaning to the term: Death from Above.

A new meaning to the term: Death from Above.
The artificially intelligence in Mercenaries isn’t the sharpest knife in the draw. While they understand some basics of cover fire, and when to retreat, they are an incredibly bad shot, and a great deal of the time, don’t even recognize your existence. For example you could be five feet away, yet the A.I will only spring to life once you open fire. The lacking intelligence however, does make the game a walk in the park, as most of the time you will pitted against overwhelming amounts of soldiers, tanks and choppers which ante’s up the challenge. The difficulty in Mercenaries scales up nicely, starting off easy but can quickly become frustrating. The ability to tackle contracts and bounties in a multitude of ways however, will always have you coming back.

Fog of war

Visually Mercenaries fits the picture of a war-zone. Smoking debris, cloudy fog, and spectacular explosions fill the landscape. The environment itself doesn’t become boring or repetitive either, thanks to the all the different variations in the map. Frame rate runs smoothly even in the biggest of battles, and the animation found in Mercenaries is fluid. The jump animation is the only thing that looks out of place throughout the game, otherwise everything else is top notch. Load times are also fast, happening before the game starts and when receiving contracts, but there are so few of them, the game moves at a constant pace.

The sound is crisp and vibrant, while the musical score is outstanding, which includes full scale orchestral pieces. The music really takes off however, when in battle, which gets your blood racing as you enter combat. The voice acting is also a huge plus, and is well done for all characters featured in the game.

Mercenaries includes no multiplayer or online access, and therefore suited for single-player gameplay. Playing through the game once is a good twenty hour run, and that’s if you don’t include all the side missions, exploration, and all the other goodies that can be found throughout the game. Mercenaries is the type of game which could rack the fifty hour limit and still force you to come back and blow stuff up because it’s just that damn enjoyable.


While the words Grand Theft Auto have probably appeared more times then the game title itself, rest assured Mercenaries is far more than a simple clone. It takes the best elements of Grand Theft Auto, adds its own unique ideas and flavour and brings you one of the most pleasant free roaming experience that you can get your hands on at the moment. While the game is not without its faults, Pandemic Studios should be congratulated for making one of the most enjoyable games of the year.
The Score
While it may only be early on in the year, Pandemic Studios have created one of the most enjoyable games to be played in 2005. Aside from a few annoying issues, Mercenaries proves you can take the "free roaming" gameplay and transform it into something unique.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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9 years ago
yay! random gas explosions!
or was that the bomb planted in the toilet last week?
9 years ago
borders, not boarders...

and as for the vehicle disguise, i was told that beeping your horn exposes you to however is shooting at you...

otherwise, as i said elsewhere, i'm seriously thinking of getting this game next week...
9 years ago
Yes the horn does give away your disguise, so if you're covered as North Korea, you're gonna have to keep blowing that horn.
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    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

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  Pandemic Studios


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