Imagine a game with a huge, open world filled with dozens of unique vehicles and attacks that lets you wreak destruction whenever and wherever you choose. Now, toss in game-crippling bugs, brain-dead AI, unsatisfying gunplay, a lousy story, and repetitive missions. That's Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. Mindlessly causing chaos can be enjoyable in short bursts, but beyond those all-too-infrequent bits of fun, Mercenaries 2 is a dud.
You play as one of three mercenaries--all of whom have very similar storylines. The game follows your absurd quest for vengeance on a man who hired you to do a job but didn't pay. Mercs 2's story is bad (as is the voice acting), but it's ultimately inconsequential and all of the cutscenes can safely be skipped. The first few missions are designed to get you accustomed to the game's third-person-shooting action and extremely touchy vehicle controls. In the span of 30 minutes, you'll shoot several different weapons, toss grenades, and use C-4. You'll also drive cars and a tank as you secure what will eventually become your home base. After that, the first few contracts you take on are fun, but that's mostly because the gameplay mechanics are new and the thrill of destruction is still fresh.
It's after the first hour or so that you'll start to notice something's amiss. For a game that's all about guns, actually firing one isn't terribly satisfying. Weapons feel weak, it's difficult to hit moving targets, and the damage the weapons cause is inconsistent. In fact, it's easier to hijack a tank or grapple onto a flying helicopter than it is to destroy one. Heavier weapons, such as rocket-propelled grenades, are great and can destroy almost anything they hit, but the amount of ammunition is so limited that you won't be able to use them often. Plus, it's tedious to have to go in a shop, purchase a weapon, go outside, call for the weapon, and then wait to pick it up. Why can't you just walk into a store and buy a gun?
The game's version of Venezuela is enormous, but its size is mostly a detriment. There's not a whole lot to do, so you'll be tempted to make your own fun by blowing up buildings and cars, as well as terrorizing towns in a tank. While this might be enticing (and fun for a short time), it's a bad idea if you're trying to actually make it to the end of the game. Not only are you penalized for harming civilians, but one stray bullet can anger an entire faction. Factions are your main source of income and can be essential to mission progress, but when a faction is angry with you, it will quit offering you work, as well as shoot you on sight. The large world also means that it takes forever to get from one place to the next. Roads wind aimlessly around the terrain; the map is blurry and hard to see; there's no GPS; random friendly soldiers will blow up your cars; and helicopters are frequently shot out of the sky by missiles that rarely miss. To make matters worse, when you're killed after hitting a checkpoint, you typically have to go back to your home base or the outpost where you got the mission and then travel all the way back to your target, even when you select the retry option.
Mercenaries 2 purports to give you all sorts of freedom when it comes to how you exact your revenge, but in reality, your choices are few. Yes, there are different factions and groups spread out across the map, but typically, only one of them has a contract that will help advance the storyline. Most of the contracts are limited to annoying escort missions, fetch quests, or a combination of the two. You can also earn cash by capturing or killing and then photographing high-value targets. This is interesting the first few times, but the money you make for bagging someone isn't worth the hassle. Factions get mad when you take out their people, and friendly soldiers will often kill the guy you're trying to extract alive.
The game can be mildly amusing for a short time, but the fun quickly grinds to a halt as the game's bevy of bugs and problems make themselves apparent. Enemy AI is horrific. If you're injured, you can just run behind a building and hide--soldiers won't make much of an effort to find you. They won't even go to great lengths to shoot you if you're right next to them, often standing there oblivious while you pepper them with bullets. When you have to destroy a object, sometimes the easiest thing to do is get inside of it and let the bad guys blow up the very thing they're supposed to be protecting. The problems just keep on coming. Rescue helicopters can land on your head and crash (if they show up at all); vehicles can get stuck on tree trunks; people you're supposed to escort can't keep up with you; hitting a stop sign or many other seemingly innocuous objects will stop a vehicle in its tracks, which is a big problem if you're trying to make a quick escape. Combat falls flat because shooting guys takes longer and is more difficult than simply running up to them and punching them. Enemy soldiers can shoot through walls and often appear out of thin air, too. Civilians will run right in front of you when you drive, costing you money each time you hit them. You might even be unlucky enough to have the game crash during a load screen or even lose progress due to a save game failing. The list of bugs and problems really is staggering.
Mercenaries 2's visuals are terrible. The draw distance is so pitiful that steering boats is difficult because islands will pop up in your path so fast that you'll run aground. The game's bread and butter--its explosions--are generally disappointing. There aren't many different buildings to destroy, either, so you end up seeing the same explosions again and again. You won't see the buildings fall, though. A cloud of smoke hides the structure, and when the smoke clears, the building is gone. Clipping, low-quality cutscenes, repetitive buildings, enemies that all look alike (right down to the same terrible animation when they get shot), a horrific camera, a drab color palette, and no widescreen or progressive scan support round out the package.
Mercenaries 2 is filled with bugs and glitches that are unacceptable in a retail release. Even if it were possible to overlook the broken elements, you're still left with abysmal AI, repetitive mission structure, awful graphics, touchy controls, and a huge world without much to do. Mindless, random destruction provides some thrills, but there are so many better open-world action games out there that there's no reason to spend your time and money on this clearly unfinished game.