"What, not how" is a refrain you hear over and over again when talking with the developers from Pandemic Studios. The Los Angeles-based studio is knee-deep in producing Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, an open world action game with a lofty goal: Give the players mercenary missions to accomplish, let them loose in a huge, open fictional Venezuela, and have them get the job done. Hence the three-word phrase that stands as the semiofficial motto of the gameplay design for Mercs 2: What, not how. In other words, tell players what they need to do, and let them figure out just how to go about it. Based on what we've seen of Pandemic's Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, the mantra seems to be paying off in spades.
Mercs 2 is the follow-up to 2005's original, Mercenaries, a game that found a lot of its success through the sheer staggering amount of firepower you could wield in the game. If something wasn't blowing up every few minutes, then you probably weren't doing something right. That same kind of explode-first, ask-questions-later approach is still well intact for Mercs 2, but this time around, the game's larger scope means that the types of missions you engage in will be just as varied as the approaches you have for completing them.
The three main characters from the original game are returning for Mercs 2: Jennifer Mui, the money-loving femme fatale; Chris Jacobs, the hard-bitten ex-military with a sense of duty that nearly equals his dislike of his fellow human beings; and Mattias Nilsson, the tatted-up Swede who looks like something out of a Scandinavian biker flick. Each merc has his or her own dialogue to coordinate with his or her unique personality. As the developers told us, each is meant to represent a particular aspect of the real-life job of the mercenary: the go-for-broke mentality combined with a sense of personal honor and a love for the high-pay paydays that come with the territory.
In fact, that payday is a major impetus in the storyline of Mercs 2. Hired to do a job for an up-and-coming entrepreneur named Solano in the South American country of Venezuela, your chosen merc finds said client violating the number one rule in the mercenary business: The customer always pays. When Solano refuses, it's up to you and your chosen mercenary to extract your payment--be it in money or blood. The game sets you out in the jungles of oil-rich Venezuela as you hook up with the various factions that form the dense political landscape of the country. Because this is a Mercenaries game, however, it isn't long before your explosive antics attract the attention of some much larger players, which threatens to turn a simple revenge mission into a global conflict.
Completing missions in Mercenaries 2 will not just earn you money you can use to fund your next job, it will also earn you the respect (or enmity) of the various factions in the game. Those factions include the aforementioned guerilla army; Universal Petroleum, an oil company intent on protecting its interests within the country; Caribbean pirates that run a black market of high-tech gadgets and weapons you'll find invaluable for your missions; as well as the Chinese and Allied (read: American) armed forces. The latter two factions appear later in the game, attracted by the sheer amount of mayhem you're creating in Venezuela.
How you play the factions and their varying missions will be up to you, though it should be noted that it's entirely possible--in doing your best to look good for one faction--that you'll wind up antagonizing another. If you go too far in making one faction look bad, you might even become a target with a price on your head. Once the Chinese and Allied forces become involved later in the game, you'll need to ally yourself with a side. Until that point, it's up to you to play the hand you're dealt and deal with the consequences.
With a tongue-in-cheek approach to its politically charged setting, Mercenaries 2 has more than a great look to go along with its open-ended gameplay. The promised drop-in online cooperative mode for two players should also put an entirely new spin on the tactics used during missions. We look forward to seeing what Pandemic has in store for us at the Electronic Entertainment Expo this year with Mercs 2. It's due in stores this holiday, and we'll be bringing you more on the game in the coming months.