E3 06: Mercenaries 2: World in Flames Hands-On

The sequel to last year's great full-throttle free-roaming blastathon is headed to the PlayStation 3. We got our hands on the E3 demo and shot up the joint. Details inside.

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LOS ANGELES--Pandemic Studios, the experienced developer behind Mercenaries 2, is showing an early version of the game behind closed doors at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Like its predecessor, Mercenaries 2 will invite you to step into the combat boots of a number of different hardened bounty hunters willing and eager to get involved in the world's ugliest, most dangerous problems. Also as in the previous game, Mercenaries will let you throw in your lot with a number of competing factions, possibly playing them against each other in what's decidedly a dog-eats-dog sort of gameworld. But whereas the previous game in the series took place in the North Korea, Mercenaries 2 takes you to Venezuela, throwing you headlong into a crisis with big oil companies at the center of it. There are a number of great things about oil. One of them is that it blows up real good.

The producer for the game was on hand to walk us through the E3 demo that the company prepared. It starts off with the grizzled, heavily tattooed Matias Nelson exiting an outhouse in a Venezuelan village. An armed militia is loitering nearby, though Nelson's much more heavily armed with his AK-47 and shoulder-slung rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Nelson quickly received a mission from his nearby contact to demolish an offshore oil rig belonging to Universal Petroleum, a massive and presumably corrupt organization (though you'll be able to work for them if you wish). We watched as Nelson surveyed the situation--all in real time--by looking offshore with his binoculars. The oil rig itself looked heavily guarded, what with plenty of rifle-wielding soldiers patrolling the perimeter. Nearby was the real threat, though: a military base, complete with a tank. And in between the rig and the base, patrol helicopters kept a watchful eye for intruders.

This is the sort of mission that Matias Nelson would describe as "tough to solo." But that doesn't stop him from requisitioning a Scorpion buggy for the job. The vehicle doesn't appear out of thin air--Nelson tosses a smoke canister to mark his location and an Osprey transport aircraft ships it, pronto. The vehicle looks highly detailed and features fully articulated suspension, plus room for a passenger and a gunner. We later got our hands on the controls and confirmed what seemed like a good, responsive feel to the steering from our brief time at the wheel. The rest of the game's visuals seemed quite good at first glance, though the frame rate did tend to drop during particularly insane explosions. The South American setting was instantly recognizable, and the lush jungle environments made for a spectacular place to cause mayhem.

Realistic physics are put to good effect throughout the gameworld, and not just in the bouncing of buggies off of dunes. At one point, Nelson takes a shortcut through a village by scaring the local populace with gunfire, stealing a junker of a car, and then simply smashing right through a shantytown, straight into the military base seen previously. Such behavior is by no means necessary, but the fun of Mercenaries 2 will presumably come from being able to perform such actions at any time and for any reason.

To drive this point home, the producer reiterated that the goal with Mercenaries 2 will be to be able to say "yes" in answer to any question starting with "Can you..."? So, can you shoot rockets into your mission contact's back? Can you shoot a grappling hook into a helicopter, climb up the rope, crack open the chopper's cockpit, throw the pilot to his death, and then claim his aircraft? Can you swim? Can you drive boats as well as tanks? Can you play cooperatively with another player? Can you jump on the turret of a tank, climb your way up, and throw a grenade down the cockpit to kill the crew, so you can take it for yourself? Can you shoot an oil tanker, watch all of the gas spill out of it, toss a lighter over your shoulder, and watch as the fuel trail lights up, detonating the whole thing in a spectacular explosion?

Yes, indeed. That about summarizes the new features showcased in the demo we got to try out, which was running on a PlayStation 3 development kit and was already looking quite good. The game uses the Havok 3.0 physics engine, which is apparently being optimized for the PS3's cell processor, so expect to see far more complex geometry and bigger environments than in the previous Mercenaries games, and, more importantly, even more destruction than ever before. Some of the features that were emphasized in particular include the new grappling hook gun, which certainly looked like a lot of fun when used to jack helicopters; and the new hijacking minigame, which will force you to input a sequence of commands in order to steal a vehicle from its pilot. That helicopter pilot doesn't go down without a fight, so it was exciting to see the two characters struggle over the controls. We also spotted a new character, a female bounty hunter named Eva, hailing from Los Angeles. To that end, the cooperative two-player mode seems like another compelling new feature, especially since you'll be able to jointly use vehicles to obliterate your foes. Pandemic confirmed that split-screen co-op is presently the focus of Mercenaries 2's multiplayer offering, but admitted that an online option is being investigated.

We were also curious to know whether Mercenaries 2 might take advantage of the recently revealed tilt sensor in the PlayStation 3 controller, to which the developers said that they were certainly looking into it. The tilt sensor seems like it could make piloting vehicles feel that much more different than running around on foot. Also, we learned that the story would be a stronger element of the sequel than it was in the original. Expect to have to go after a sinister drug lord you've got a vendetta against. Oh, and no word on whether Han Solo or Indiana Jones will be unlockable characters this time around. That'll probably have something to do with whether or not LucasArts publishes the game. Just a hunch. Maybe we'll get Dog the Bounty Hunter this time instead. Pandemic did say it would like to stick some hidden characters in the game.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is slated to release sometime in 2007 for the PlayStation 3. Pandemic is still on the search for a publisher for the game, but from what we've seen, we're reasonably sure it won't be long before Mercenaries 2 finds itself a warm home on some big publisher's 2007 lineup. Stay tuned to GameSpot for further coverage of this explosive game.

Discussion

15 comments
vito_128
vito_128

please dont use the tilt thing lair has me fearing any game with it...

driver64
driver64

Boy am I excited for the new Mercenaries! What a great game!

Ironwulfen
Ironwulfen

Since the engine is being optimized for the Cell-processor, I don't think they plan to do a 360 release too. The original was PS2 only, too. With the exellent graphics in the development phase on a dev-kit, I sertainly have great hopes for the game, graphics wise. Who knows? It might outshine the 360. Only time will tell, but I just can't wait to get my hands on a PS3 unit and a copy of Merc 2 when it is released! Post some work Pandemic!! we want pictures!! :D

coolasj19
coolasj19

hey i wonder if i can you shoot an oil tanker, watch all of the gas spill out of it, toss a lighter over your shoulder, and watch as the fuel trail lights up, detonating the whole thing in a spectacular explosion alnog with burning the whole entire surronding forest and surrounding villages as they run for their lives in an awesome spectacular inferno of death =*) now thats an extremely tall order BUT if they do happen to do what i have said i might put this game over the top EVEN BETTER THAN GTA

nicthekid
nicthekid

it sounds like the south american setting will mean a brighter world (to show of the jungle etc a bit better). i found the world a little dark in merc 1, which added to the feel of it being a war torn place, but sometimes i needed light to see everything better. that was my only complaint otherwise merc rocked!! and is merc 2 coming out on xbox or xbox 360 cos ps3 are expensive and dont even have much better graphics than the 360

yebos91
yebos91

I remember enjoying the first one so much, I truly hope this one lives up to my expectations based on the quality of the first.

ps3king1
ps3king1

it says you can shoot missles in the back of your contact!!!!!

mark_this
mark_this

Some of the features, such as grappling gun, driving boats as well as tanks, etc., sound a lot like features found in Just Cause. However, the physics on that game were all screwy, and the animations and model graphics were pre-next generation at best. It will be freakin' awesome to have a free-roaming, GTA style game with such features (plus, hopefully, a lot more) with all of these problems fixed, with the latest graphics and explosions/animations, and all in the tropical setting like Just Cause. I don't ever recall playing a Pandemic game that wasn't at least pretty good. I'm sure Mercs 2 won't dissapoint at all.

mikado01
mikado01

awesome. i cant wait untill this come out. The first one was so fun

psymon_05
psymon_05

I'd guess at co-op being with everything, including the free-roam. The grappling gun and that mini-game sound awesome! Can't wait! Wish they'd hurry up with the PS3 though...

Alx172
Alx172

Whoohoo, fun fun. Finally some good free-roaming co-op to play with friends... Anyone know if the co-op mode is strictly campaign with timed missions? Or can you do whatever.

deadman578
deadman578

The draw distance is my biggest concern it sucked last time, other than that it seems awesome.

Gundam_Fan
Gundam_Fan

Lol of course it will. It's gonna be on a next gen system. What I'm worried about is if something dumb like indestructable trees will be included again... and they better recheck all their stuff before they release the game... I hate how the ps2 version of the first game didn't have shotgun sounds.

zyzzvya01
zyzzvya01

nice... hopefully the draw distance will be bigger than last time