Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 01/10/05 | Genre: Action
At first glance Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction might seem to be just another Grand Theft Auto wanna-be, but it manages to generate a generous amount of elbow room for itself in the genre. Instead of wanton destruction and thuggery, it focuses on a hired soldier who accepts missions for various fictional factions (and dishes out some wanton destruction). The difference between completing missions as a means to resolve an on-going war and simply jacking cars and cracking heads as a lifestyle choice was a big enough distinction that I didn't feel like the cops were going to bust down my door and slap the cuffs on me while playing.
Set in the near future, Mercenaries opens with war raging in North Korea with various sides competing for peace, control, padding the wallet, or whatever reason. In an effort to either end the warfare or profit from it, an ExOps (a highly-trained and effective mercenary group) member has been contracted to capture General Choi Song. That's where you come in, playing as one of three mercs. Along the way, there are other officers and targets of interest to capture that are designated by the "Deck of 52" as in the Iraqi War.
You start out working with the Allied forces, but you are quickly introduced with the South Koreans, Chinese, or the Russian Mafia (�Fugedaboutit, Comrade.�) Each faction has different tidbits of information to pass along to help capture various cards, assuming that you complete missions for them beforehand. They won't scratch your back unless you scratch theirs first.
Getting in good with the Mafia goes as far as letting you have access to a black market. Find yourself on foot with nothing around to commandeer (a la GTA3)? No problem; you can spend some of your hard earned bounty bucks to have a ride air-dropped in moments. Artillery strikes, medkits, and ammo can all be purchased. With the artillery strikes and bombing runs, it takes money to make money. One of my favorite base-busting tactics revolved around calling strikes in to destroy troop barracks, so I could eliminate bigger threats. Barracks keep pumping out troops, so you can find yourself surrounded by enemy troops unless you keep them in check.
Mercenaries has a lotta good things going for it, but the AI is weak in spots and really good in others. When you involved in a firefight, the enemy will try to take cover or hop into vehicles to flee or take you out. Going against a squad of enemy troops is tough, so generally the AI is good. It falls apart in situations where you are attacking from extreme distances. Once I had a sniper rifle, I could pick off enemies all day long without them doing anything conducive to my demise. Sure, they might scatter, but they'd wander back into my sights sooner than later. Sometimes the AI seemed oblivious that I was even striking down their numbers.
The other place that it seemed weak was when I went in to capture one of the Card characters. Pop a few of the support guys, and then rush the important person and smack them with the butt of your rifle a few times to guarantee their cooperation. As long as I had near full health before rushing my target, I could withstand a few bullet hits as I got into range.
My allied troops also got in the way at times. They would cross my line of fire, get hit, and then open fire on me instead of the other bad guys. They also liked hopping back into the driver seat of whatever vehicle I was currently driving when I left it unmanned for a few moments to take care of some business. I guess they didn't mind me tossing them back out on their can, so I could drive again each time. Most of the time, I preferred to proceed solo, unless I just needed some cannon fodder to draw the heat away from me.
Don't get me wrong; Mercenaries is a good game with lots of things going in its favor. The missions were never overly repetitive, and it was fun to explore and uncover some of the Deck of 52 by stumbling across them by accident. There's so much to do, in fact, that you can get distracted from your main objectives. If the game had offered some sort of multiplayer options, I think it would have been near perfect. It would be a blast to attack missions cooperatively or against other players trying to complete the same goals and steal your paycheck. It comes down to if you loved the GTA series, then you will love this game.