Such a weird combination of highly rewarding moments and extreme frustration, you just have to love it!
Let me give you a little bit of insight about that. Essentially, in it's essence, this game is a tactical turn-based strategy game with a lot of RPG elements and management involved. You play as a rugged mercenary who receives an e-mail from a banished prince of a fictional banana republic called Arulco. Enrico, the good and honorable prince, has been banished and cast aside by his evil wife Deidranna, a stone cold b**** who eats babies for breakfast. So now he's begging for your help, like any other guy who gets his butt kicked by an ugly woman. He offers you a lot of money if you help him get rid of his wife and liberate the poor people of Arulco from her evil tyranny (man, those two clearly have issues with one another... talk about being married!). And so, like any good mercenary ought to, you take the job for money and money alone. And a few good kicks. Clearly, your character enjoys killing people more than Darth Vader.
Anyway, this is where the game starts. You create your character, hire a few average mercenaries and off you go. At first you'll be equipped with simple pistols and handguns, and it's up to you to scrap all the equipment you can get, until you earn more money and get access to more advanced weapons and equipment. The game itself takes place in real time, but as soon as the combat starts the game jumps into turn-based mode. In real time you can talk to people, explore new areas, travel, take side quests, etc., etc. It's like a good RPG. While in turn-based mode, you just shoot and shoot until all your enemies are dead. And here we come to the first issues - communicating with other characters. You can click on whatever NPC character you want to talk to, but you can never actually choose what to say, you only sit and wait for a conversation to end. And hope you learn something important from it. Really, there's no way you can tell just who the heck is important enough for you to talk to, and who's just bugging you with useless gibberish. Next, we have the issue of difficult learning curve. And that's the main reason why I was so frustrated with this game at first. Really, a phrase "read the f***ing manual" is something that shouldn't be taken lightly in this game. In the beginning, I didn't even know where to get more guns, ammo, equipment, or even that I could've created my own character from the beginning.
But, as soon as I learned the ropes, that's when the fun started... for a while. Very soon, I was stunned by the insane number of enemies the game throws at me. Especially at the beginning, when you still don't have the advantage of superior equipment to deal with all that. It seems that the evil dictator has an unlimited supply of men and guns at her disposal, since she's sending them wave after wave at your newly conquered towns and mines. I mean, really... you'd think that after losing about a few dozen men to my 3 or 4 commandos, they'd decide to cut their losses and pull back, maybe fortify their remaining towns and brace for an impending attack. Or get more men, wait for a week or two to prepare and then attack again with better-trained men and better equipment. A thing that would be, you know... strategic. But nooo, they simply send more and more men for you to butcher. They also seem to be able to move pretty fast while traveling on foot, since there is rarely a day when there are no bad guys on your territory. That alone is enough to drive you insane sometimes, since your enemies are really smart and always seem to find perfect cover.
That being said, that's about the worst thing about this game. Very soon you'll get your hands on more equipment and money, and you'll be able to train militia to defend the key strategic locations. You get money by conquering mines, of course, which is essential to your war effort. But beware, the enemy needs money as well, so they'll often send their soldiers to recapture them. So, you took control over a few mines, you got some money, it's time to build up your army... All the management in this game is done by your in-game laptop. Your laptop is your lifeline, since you purchase weapons, hire mercs, receive e-mails and update your journal on it. You have to plan ahead and think carefully on what to buy and who to hire, if you're planning to survive. Tough, eh?
As for your army? Well, they're all mercenaries, of course, big bad mercenaries. They don't give a damn about anyone or anything, they just want the money. Like you, really... However, in this game they are portrayed so well, you just have to love them. They're loud-mouthed, rude, sarcastic and often sadistic. Dark humor is present throughout this game all the way to the end, and if you're a person who likes that, expect a few good laughs with your mercs and their comments on the situation around you. But then again, what can you expect? It's really hard to give a crap about the people you're here to protect, since all the Arulco civilians are nothing but a bunch of spineless cowards, just waiting for you to come and solve all of their problems. Despite the fact that there are tons of weapons lying all around them, none of them even tought about picking up a gun and standing up for themself. You'd think that the arrival of foreign mercenaries would inspire people, fire up the rebellion against the dictator they all allegedly hate. But nooooo-o-o-o, my friend, they're just sitting on their butts while you and your men do all the work. No wonder their country is in such messed-up state. You even have to train and finance their militia yourself. So yes, you probably won't even care about them. Like any other mercenary, you'll simply enjoy killing people for money, not giving a damn about the civilians, or this backwater country.
Well, the combat itself is awesome enough, since your enemies are extremely smart, and use cover wisely. I actually played the Gold version of this game, with 1.13 patch, which provided some really cool features, like the ability to see good cover spots with a simple press of a button. After you kill a person, he or she will simply drop down on the ground in a pool of blood, with a death moan so real it'll send chills down your spine. Really, the combat in this game is so gruesome, there's blood everywhere, not to mention the scenes when you blow somebody's head off at point blank range, or nail him to the wall with a machine gun. Even after you kill your enemies and leave the area, their corpses will still be there when you return, only now you'll see them decomposing, vultures picking them, entrails lying all around... makes you wanna puke. But hey, war isn't pretty. It's gruesome. Deal with it!
All in all, what to say? This game is a classic after all, and if you give it a chance, it will suck you in so hard you won't be able to leave it easily. But because of it's extreme difficulty and steep learning curve, as well as some minor issues, it simply cannot score more then 8.5. Sad... If, by any chance, you are an adult who read about this game in the magazines as a child (as I did), you won't be disappointed. This truly is a game you simply must have!