It might not have seemed terribly remarkable at first glance, but 2005's Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox was a glorious tribute to the pure joy of explosive chaos. Though it was set during a military coup in a fictionalized version of modern-day North Korea, which gave it a real ripped-from-the-headlines vibe, its politics were strictly amoral. You were put in the role of a money-hungry merc whose personal politics made it easy to play the North Korean army, the South Korean army, the Chinese army, Allied forces, and the Russian mafia against each other for a profit, and the execution of your missions relied more on guns and ammo than tact and diplomacy. Having teamed up with EA for the sequel, Pandemic was showing off a playable version of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames at the Barker Hangar during E3 2007, and not only is that one of the most accurate subtitles we've seen for a game in a long while, it's also one of the most viscerally exciting games we saw during the show.
This time, the theater has been changed from a fictionalized North Korea to a fictionalized Venezuela, and the threat of nuclear war replaced with an oil crisis. While the topicality of the premise might give the game a real sense of immediacy, Pandemic felt like the missing link in the original Mercenaries was personal motivation beyond getting paid, and as a result has turned World in Flames into a bloody tale of revenge. It's a story that begins with you taking on a contract for a man named Ramon Solano, a charismatic megalomaniac who seems to have ties to both the military and the narcotics trade in Venezuela. Unbeknownst to you, the contract you've taken on proves to be the trigger to a coup that puts Solano in power. This wouldn't mean much to your character either way, except that when you go to collect for a job well done, Solano turns on you. Not only do you not get paid, you end up shot as well. From here, it's all payback.
Though your personal vendetta against Solano will be your character's primary motivation, you'll have to work your way though a series of around 40 lower-level targets before you get to take on the big man himself. Big-picture politics will also play a factor in how the game unfolds. You'll be able to take on jobs from several different factions, and those jobs will often have you taking the offensive against a would-be employer. Though you'll always be gunning for the Venezuelan army, your relationships with the Allied Nations, the Chinese, the Rastafarian pirates, Universal Petroleum, and the PLAV (Peoples Liberation Army of Venezuela) can fluctuate depending on who you decide to take on missions for.
If the politics sound a little dry, fear not, as the action in Mercenaries 2 promises to be anything but. Speaking with the game's senior producer, one of the primary philosophies behind the game's development is that if it can't be blown up, it doesn't belong in the game, which was quite apparent during our guided demo. The tour started with our merc hopping into a heavily armed helicopter, where he proceeded to cruise over the water, destroying a massive steel and concrete bridge and a huge, incredibly intricate offshore oil rig. He then headed inland, where he found a semi truck parked near a gas tanker. After hitching the truck and trailer together, he hopped back into the chopper, and grabbed them with the chopper's winch. He didn't get far before it struck him to release the winch, and then fire a barrage of rockets at the gasoline-filled semi--causing it, and a good portion of rainforest around it, to incinerate in a huge, satisfying fireball. Keep in mind that none of this had anything to do with the rescue objective that was at hand, but it sure was fun. Save for the contours of the terrain itself, it seemed as though you could destroy everything and anything in the game. The destructive effects looked really marvelous as well, from the way objects would crumble under impact, to the concussive force and heat that was unleashed when we called in a fuel-bomb air strike.
All of this wanton destruction will take place across a single environment that Pandemic estimates is about 8x8 kilometers in size, across which there will be no hard load times. While that might sound pretty big, one of the new features being worked on for Mercenaries 2 is a transit system, which will allow you to get to specific points on the map without having to drive there yourself. While being able to do whatever you want in an open-world game is about half the fun, Pandemic points out that sometimes you just want to get to the action already, and hopes this new feature will quicken the pace of the game. You'll still be able to hijack vehicles with ease in Mercenaries 2, though Pandemic felt that it was a little too easy to overtake certain high-powered vehicles in the original, and has made the minigames for taking control of vehicles like tanks a little more involved. Pandemic is also working on cooperative multiplayer support, and in what appears to be a burgeoning trend, it will work seamlessly with the single-player experience--you can allow a friend to drop into your game at any point and help cause a ruckus, and it sounds similar to what Realtime Worlds did in Crackdown earlier this year.
Pandemic is describing the feel of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames as "Tarantino meets Bruckheimer," and based on our demo, it seems like an apt description. This was one of the most viscerally exciting games being shown at E3 2007, and we simply cannot wait to see more of it.