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Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction (PlayStation 2) artwork

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction (PlayStation 2) review


"But it’s never hopeless. There are no dead ends. There’s always some way, some strategy, some spin that can turn the hardest mission into the easiest. Victory comes from ingenuity. "



Demon days have come to North Korea. General Song has nuclear weapons, the gall to use them, and the willingness to sell them to terrorists. The Allied Forces show up for a fight, but they’re not alone. South Korea dreams of a unified country. China wants more land. Even the Russian mafia skulks in. Five powers in a single country, and each one wants the others dead.

Mercenaries drops you in the thick of it. Literally. They roll you off in mid-air, while you’re in an SUV.

That's just step two; step one is choosing from three mercs. They’ve got different backgrounds. They’ve got different personalities and say different things. But none of that matters. The big black guy and the mohawked Swedish dude and the hot Chinese/British chick (my choice) all control the same way, with only minor differences in speed and strength.

Aesthetics aside, you’re off to North Korea’s demilitarized zone (DMZ) with orders to hunt the Deck of 52, Song and his officers. Get them, get him, get the $100,000,000 reward.

For most games, that would mean a long list of repetitive missions. Not Mercenaries. The Deck of 52 are scattered around the DMZ, but this isn’t glorified hide-and-seek; there’s much territory to cover. Impassable mountains, serene plains, winding valleys; the nature's abundant. But it’s not a gentle setting; this is a war zone. Planes crash, buildings burn, craters show up where houses once were. Only the dense fog, an annoyance that the real North Korea shares, mars the atmosphere.

But, majestic as the landscape is, it can be aggravating. Walking from base to base takes serious time. Cliffs and mountains force your way; either take the slow, low road to play it safe, or take the high road and risk falling. A ride is required for making good time, and it’s simple to get; just wait on the road, hijack a passing car. But why settle for a Sedan? Look hard and you could rock an SUV. Maybe a helicopter. Maybe even a tank.

Before you decide, remember: Everyone hates everyone. Bring a North Korean transport to the Allied base, and…

FWOOM!!

…they might smoke you with a tank. Damn tanks.

The obvious answer is to jack a civilian car, but even that might not be enough to ward off friendly fire. You can take missions from any faction save North Korea, but the problem is that most missions make you kill other soldiers from other factions, which pisses off their leaders. Blowing up South Korean bases for the Russian mafia gets you in their good graces...but it also gives South Korea a reason to shoot you on sight. You'll need a little bribery to get back on the good foot.

The decision isn't fully yours; the order you do the missions is up to you, but advancing the story and finding the Deck of 52 means you’ll work for everyone, whether you want to or not. You can go in random order. But that doesn’t mean you should. Doing a mission for China that gets the Allies pissed might not sound like a bad idea at the time, but what if your next mission for South Korea makes you go into Allied territory? Even if they’re not the targets, they’ll still shoot you. Mercenaries is about as strategic as an action game can get; every move has to take the climate into account. It’s about manipulation and aggressive politics; keeping your friends close and your enemies far away.

Especially the Russians; you want them as close as possible. Need something, anything, and they provide. Health, ammo, cars, air strikes, whatever. Order from the MERCHANT OF MENACE (love that name) website, transfer the money, and they’ll send a helicopter to your position in seconds, dropping off the purchase.

It’s a matter of preference; there’s nothing you need, only things you think you need. Maybe you could use a rocket launcher, maybe you couldn’t. Maybe a shotgun’s good for the scenario, maybe it isn’t. The only way to find out is to try.

Observe: You’re out to destroy a South Korean installation. You ride in with a SK transport so they take you for a friend, but that won’t last once the killing starts. Can’t be helped. You go for it, get out of the car and blast them with your rocket launcher. Annihilation.

Except for that tank behind the bunkers. You missed it. It doesn’t miss you.

FWOOM!!

Try again. This time you wise up and bring a sniper rifle. Subtler. Find a hill and start picking off the Koreans.

Except for the tank. The one that moved away from the bunkers and spotted you on the hill.

FWOOM!!

One…moretime. Screw the rocket launcher, screw the sniping. Call the MERCHANT OF MENACE, order a satellite strike, home in on the target from space and an Allied battleship sends in a few missiles, obliterating everything.

Including that bastard in the tank.

There's a hundred approaches to every mission. Fly down with a helicopter and get the jump on them. Stroll in with one of their tanks and blow them shitless from within. Sneak in Solid Snake style, chopping necks. Hell, if you’re far enough in the game and far enough from ground zero, you can forego the mess with a fuel bomb (like a nuke, only smaller and without the radiation) There’s a hard way, an easy way, an easier way, a best way, and Mercenaries’ is at its peak when you’re figuring out the differences. Your plan could work or it could botch. Trial and error is annoying as hell with most games, and Mercenaries does have its frustrating moments.

But it’s never hopeless. There are no dead ends. There’s always some way, some strategy, some spin that can turn the hardest mission into the easiest. Victory comes from ingenuity.

And there's a final touch. I don't usually care enough about a game's sound to mention it, but with Mercenaries, I’m giving full props.

Say what you want about George Lucas, but his company knows how to make amazing audio. It goes beyond the tone; great as it is, you’ll be hard-pressed to hear it over the rocking sound effects. The roar of jets streaking overhead. The shriek of a helicopter's missile bearing down on you. And when a fuel-bomb wipes some city off the map, it sounds (and looks) like hell is busting wide open. If you’ve got a good sound system, you need to plug it in, play this game, and TURN THAT SHIT UP.

It's a great addition to a complete package; even on mute, it's still a damn fine game. It's intense when you’re fighting and intense when you’re preparing to fight. A vast environment with thunderous noise as you tear through it. Frustration is its biggest flaw; you might turn it off in disgust...but you'll get the urge before long, and Mercenaries will drag you back. Don't fight it.

Rating: 8/10

lasthero's avatar
Staff review by Zack Little (January 30, 2006)

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