NAME: Johnny Barnstorm
AGE: Sometime in the late twenties.
LOCATION: British Columbia
PREFERRED GENRES: Anything where a sassy she spy blows things up. Adventure games. Racing games. Fighting games, too, to some degree. Side-scrolling hit-those-guys games.
KOOBERT'S SYSTEMS: Turbografx-16, PlayStation, Sega Nomad, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation2, XBox, Nintendo DS, XBox 360, PSP, Sega Saturn, PlayStation3.
GAMES WHICH MAKE KOOBERT WAX NOSTALGIC: Manhunter: New York, Star Control 2, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Police Quest 2, Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire, Phantasy Star I & IV, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, Shining Force, Driver, Metropolis Street Racer, Bushido Blade. Yeah... and that Smashing Brothers game. Fine.
CURRENTLY PLAYING: Braid, Penny Arcade Adventures, The Strong Bad Game for Cool and Attractive People: Episode One, Final Fantasy XI, Ys Books I & II, StarFox 64, Chrono Trigger.
Mercenaries 2 is one of those games that seems to try its hardest to destroy whatever good ideas originally came with the series. Mercenaries 1 had the advantage of zero expectations, and offering a surprisingly visceral experience that had some depth with faction control, and became downright thrilling when it came time to blow things up. Mercenaries 2 has the weight of expectations, under which it nearly folds. Not only does it not exceed the first game in many key areas, it is sadly a step back for much of the new content.
So what are the seven things that really try hard to make Mercenaries 2 suck?
7. Awful, awful racing levels.
One of the least enjoyable parts of the Grand Theft Auto series has always been the tacked-on checkpoint races. Check out the forum pages griping about the Catalina missions for San Andreas to read more. Those are forgivable compared to the trash that is an early mission in Mercenaries 2, which has you racing a long, long checkpoint race with a monster truck. This sounds fun enough, especially with a nitrous boosting jump command, but the reality is that the physics and collision detection programming just aren't up for the challenge. As this course, especially in the mine portion, is littered with rocks, you'll find random flip outs very frequent. If your truck lands the wrong side up, mission over, as it does the ol' GTA explode if upside down. And then you are required to use boost to clear a long jump, after which landing correctly is a matter of random luck. You may die, you may not. From then on, things get trickier, with rocket launcher equipped enemies dealing out one hit kills, and, as happened to me at the last point of the mission, a game-ending disc read error or system freeze might just make you do the whole freaking mission again. Fortunately, from here on out, the races are optional, more like the original Mercenaries, whose checkpoint races were easy asides, not game-breaking moments.
The sad part? The actual car feel, especially the handbrake turns, is pretty good. The dirt track stuff with nimble vehicles is actually really fun; take Fiona's Firebird-like car out to some of the s-curves up to the PLAV base and see what I mean.
Other sites have gone into this in more detail, but it should be said again that the machine guns are relatively pointless as, especially with speedy Jennifer, you can just run up, bash troopers with little regard for your own personal health and safety, and perform a one-hit kill. This would be balance ruining if it weren't for the relatively large supply of troops, whose difficulty comes only in numbers. It does, however, render most of the weapons, aside from C4, sniper rifle, grenades, and RPG useless.
5. The airstrikes are poorly implemented.
The airstrikes are the coolest part of the game. And their ease of use has actually been downgraded for the sequel. It was never particularly easy to call them up; you had to select your desired airstrike from a menu, call it up while standing still, and then throw a smoke, use a laser pointer, or sat nav to guide it. But now, instead of just charging you per use of each strike, you have to navigate around the map to each store to purchase new strikes. And any strike that requires you to throw a smoke signal in is questionably useful, because you have to be right next to your desired target. Seriously. Jennifer, you're pretty awesome, but you throw like a girl. And it's not until you unlock the jet that you can get the much needed laser / sat nav aiming for the strikes. So, really, what you need to do is to scour the country side and get as many targets and pickups as necessary, buy up large quanities of strikes from the store, and then use them to your heart's content.
Oh, wait, no.
You still have to worry about the new resource: fuel. So, really, you can only use a couple until you go through the outpost missions unlocking the extra fuel capacity. And then you have to keep stealing it in order to use your weapons. Fail a mission? Guess what, that spent fuel and strikes ain't coming back. Jesus Christ, Pandemic.
4. The music just isn't trying hard enough.
Mercenaries 1 had some great musical moments. The dynamic soundtracks had a knack for ramping up at all the right moments, and the John Williams-esque score accentuated the moments of intensity, isolation, and the ethereal landscape well. Mercenaries 2 seems to forgo that previous theme for a mix of generic brass battle music, which is forgettable, and the occasional Neil-Young-from-Dead-Man crazy guitar pieces (which are actually good.)
3. Everyone refers to Jennifer Mui as a man.
It seems like a small thing, but it's emblematic of greater dialogue problems in the game. As Jennifer careens around town, locals may ask "What is he doing?", or call her "el mercenario" (Which would be the masculine form of "the Mercenary", as she would be "la mercenaria.") Perhaps the developers thought that the shitty Matthias character was so charming that no one would choose the female option, and therefore didn't bother reprogramming the audio to suit the gender of your choice? Yes, it would require re-recording and providing alternative audio choices for some situations, but it's better than constantly being referred to as the wrong gender. There is much laziness in the audio design, with the most infuriating example being Fiona's constant nagging for you to return to base when you aren't engaged in a mission, but also in characters, especially Fiona again, saying the same things over and over as you pass them. GTAIV, this isn't. Heck, it's not even Psychonauts.
2. Everyone speaks English.
One of the coolest little details of the first game was that every faction spoke their own language. Russians spoke Russian. The Koreans spoke Korean. Chinese spoke Chinese. And now, it's been reduced to this: speaking English with fucking accents. Non-English dialogue helped immeasurably in setting the real-world atmosphere of the previous game. It even added depth to character abilities, as Jennifer was able to understand Chinese conversations she overheard, providing subtitles to the player. People speaking English with accents is ridiculous shit which pretty much just serves to piss players off and make the developer seem ignorant or lazy. Maybe focus testing did reveal that people love to hear "realistic" accents on English dialogue, but that would just underline the real point that focus testers are drooling morons.
1. The game isn't finished.
When you pick up the ammo dumps near your mansion base, the helicopter will frequently charge you for repairs due to a mystery attack which you can't see or prevent. Who is attacking? No one, the actual flight path between these pickups and the mansion is about 200 feet of shrubbery. The helicopter snags itself on geometry while trying to pick up about 20% of the time. Sometimes instead of flying off, it'll slowly, mysteriously sink into the ground. Civilian AI is some of the worst ever seen in an open-world game. I sat and watched a businessman twitch and rotate in a building corner for a few minute. Teammate AI is beyond braindead, with necessary companions getting snagged on objects, not leaving vehicles, or randomly deciding to kill you. If you see an enemy, they can see you, no matter what. No stealth is fine, but it reduces the usefulness of cover, sniper rifles, and, you know, strategy. Yes, Mercs 1 had better line of sight. Some missions glitch out, preventing their resolution. For instance, an early UP mission required that you place listening posts in no particular order, marking them with smoke grenades. Get to the last one, and dependent on the order in which you completed them, the smoke grenade won't trigger the appropriate result. Shoddy.
This game has been delayed for a year, and during that time, you'd hope they did more than tweak the engine. Evidently, they didn't. It's sloppy, and it's lazy. And yet... I still play it. Mostly because I like the foundations of the gameplay, and even through these Driv3r level headaches, they shine. The vehicles are fun to use. The airstrikes invite an unprecedented level of destruction. Jennifer Mui is an unusually well-clothed female character without the usual giant jugs that you'd expect. It's got a collect-a-thon mechanic which is enjoyable. And when it hits the right notes, as you're driving through a smoky, debris filled city with flaming embers dotting the sky, and the anarchic guitar tracks play, you might stop worrying about the things that make the game so shitty.