Mercenaries 2 is a game that has received plenty of coverage over its rather lengthy development cycle, but thus far little of that coverage has dealt with the highly anticipated cooperative multiplayer. We have heard that it will be a seamless experience in which the joining player simply drops in and out of the host player's session. The players will run around Venezuela blowing up everything they would in a normal single-player mode, but with the added benefit of being able to revel in all that destruction alongside a friend. We're pleased to say we finally had the opportunity to experience Mercs 2's co-op mode at yesterday's EA Showcase event in Redwood Shores. But we're even more pleased that this feature is every bit as simple and fun as we expected.
The process of getting into another person's game is a simple and painless one. You simply accept an invitation if it's a private session or jump right in if it's an open session, and then you're automatically teleported from whichever part of the expansive Venezuelan setting you were causing a ruckus in all the way to where your buddy is. For example, if he's in a helicopter shooting missiles at an oil refinery when you join his game, you'll automatically be put in the gunner's seat of that helicopter. Right from the get-go, you'll be able to engage in acts of wanton destruction as soon as you join his session.
You're given a lot of freedom in co-op mode. None of the missions change from single-player to co-op; you and a friend can progress through the entire story as a pair. On the flip side, there are no co-op-specific missions. That puts a lot of pressure on Pandemic to make sure each and every mission in the game is fun to play with either one person or two, since none are geared toward one or the other. Thankfully, the mission structure in the game is so open-ended that we can't imagine the "Do what you want!" approach to co-op will be much of an issue. If anything, the sheer variety of ways you can go about achieving a goal should be an asset to the co-op experience.
That's not to say there aren't any limitations on the Mercs 2 co-op experience. The one that will probably become the biggest hurdle is the tether system. On the map in the corner of the screen you'll notice a circle with a red boundary. That circle is the only area you can go to while in co-op mode. It adapts to the movements of both players, not just the host. Once you've reached the outside area, you'll see your screen go gray with static, which is Pandemic's cheeky way of saying that the camera signal is going bad. However, at half a kilometer in size, the tether is a pretty huge area. In our hands-on session, we spent a long time cruising around in anaconda helicopters, plowing through buildings in tanks, and tossing nuclear bunker busters like they were baseballs before the boundary become an issue.
Achievement fanatics will be pleased to hear that Mercs 2 will be offering a few co-op-specific achievements, including a viral one that begins once someone plays against a member of the Pandemic team and that spreads like wildfire from then on. Unfortunately, it doesn't look as though PlayStation 3 trophies will be supported as of yet. However, the co-op experience in Mercs 2 is a blast with or without the incentive to rack up rewards. Mercenaries has always seemed like the type of game that would be exponentially more fun in multiplayer, and now our suspicions have been confirmed. You can expect to see Mercenaries 2 arrive in a matter of days. Its release date is currently pegged at August 31.