Game Info
Xbox, PS2
Pandemic Studios
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Mild Language, Violence
The Good

• Large gameworld with lots to explore
• Tons of main missions, side-missions and hidden items to find
• Sound effects do a great job at making the combat feel real
• Support items add a good bit of depth and fun to the action

The Bad

• Some of the natural areas feel less than organic
• Collision detection issues


When describing Pandemic's Mercenaries, one might think that comparing it to Grand Theft Auto would be likening it to the other mediocre titles that have tried to compete and came up short. But, rather than trying to fall almost directly in line with the modern crime settings, Mercenaries decides to take the "sandbox" gameplay mechanic and place it in a different setting, succeeding at establishing a different experience.

The story behind Mercenaries is set in an alternative timeline, where a peace settlement between North and South Korea is destroyed when General Choi Song overthrows his own father as President of North Korea. After some time, it is discovered that North Korea has nuclear weapons and is trying to sell them to terrorists. An Allied Nations force invades North Korea, only to discover they have the near-capability to launch nukes planet-wide. Enter ExOps - an opportunistic mercenary organization that comes in to make a profit for solving the problems of the different factions present in North Korea.

When players start out the game, they're given one of three characters to play as. Each have minor variations in the way they play, but it's not enough to really set them apart. Once set loose into the gameworld, players find themselves with multiple camps to seek employment from, including the Allied Nations (which is pretty much American run), China, South Korea and the Russian Mafia. Each has certain reasons behind their presence in the country and their missions reflect it. Completing missions earns you both money and a bit of Intel that gives you clues as to where to find one of the "Deck of 52" - 52 special bounties that the player must locate. As the main means of progressing in the game, these bounties are require some exploring and often some intense firefights. While you can just kill your bounties, it's actually worth more to you to subdue them and bring in a chopper to cart them off.

The controls for Mercenaries are actually pretty good and feature a far better gunplay/combat system than found in the GTA games. The mercs control with a combination of both analog sticks (much like Max Payne). You can carry only two guns at any time, swapping between them with the Black Button. The main weapon fires with the Right Trigger and your equipped grenades can be thrown with the Left Trigger. For those who might think the two weapon limit is restricting will find the abundance of weapons found on the field more than makes up for it. The face buttons offer the player the ability to reload their weapon, jump, interact with the environment and perform a melee attack with their weapon. By clicking on the Back Button, players can access the PDA, which gives them a pretty good map, email, and access to an online black market for weapons, equipment and vehicle purchases.

Since players can hijack a variety of vehicles, including cars, jeeps, APCs, tanks and even choppers, they will have to adjust to different control schemes for each vehicle set. The four wheel vehicles drive as expected, though some vehicles have gun turrets that can be manned by both the player and NPCs. Tanks drive a bit differently, but this is so that the player can control and use the cannon. Helicopters take a bit of use to get, but if you've flown them in other games, this should be no different.

While a lot of the game will be spent either in vehicle or in basic gun-oriented combat, you will find the need to use support items by hitting Up or Down on the D-Pad. In most missions, you're given some of these as freebies, but other times, you may just need to drop some serious cash from the black market. And, trust me, it'll be worth it. While the black market can offer up weapons and vehicle drops, it can also get you wonderful options like airstrikes and stealth bombing runs, which do wonders in taking out targets, or just wiping out large groups of enemies.

Alongside the mission offered up by the factions are also a number of optional activities to partake of. Players will find both blueprints and national treasures through the gameworld to collect. Also, destroying both listening posts and monuments will earn you cash and other rewards. The Russian Mafia will also pay good money for vehicles that you drop off in their chop shop. And then there are the various challenges laying about, marked by a "$". These are often timed races or something intended to raise your standing with local factions (which is always good when you piss one of them off).

Probably one of the best aspects of a game with such a fine level of depth as Mercenaries exhibits is the way your actions affect the gameworld about you. You'll quickly find that each of the factions is going to want you to do something that is sure to piss off another faction. And when they have you killing other faction members is when things gets dicey as killing "allies" affects your standing. Killing noncombatant and press NPCs will cost you dearly in the pocketbook as the collateral damage comes right out of your pocketbook.

Visually, Mercenaries features a really nice seamless gameworld that offers a nice bit of detail while trying to keep a lot of on-screen action going at all times. The world shifts from city streets to open nature to small village through the span of a few digital miles. Locations offer a lot of variety, but where it excels is in setting the player in combat set locations that feel like your in part of a multi-faction war. Character models have a nice bit of detail and there is some variety. Vehicles and weapons all feature good detail and the game's visual effects really bring home the action. While I like the overall feel of the graphics, I do think there are a few rough edges. Some of the natural locations feel flat and less-than-organic and most of the dense foliage has an invisible barrier around it.

Probably the strength of the audio experience is the sound effects. A lot of care is taken to make each of the weapons sound different. In the heat of battle, you'll really appreciate the effects and chatter from enemy forces. When a rocket or tank shell lands nearby, you'll temporarily lose your hearing. The voice cast, including Phil LaMarr, Jennifer Hale and Carl Weathers, works wonderfully within the confines of the game's premise. You're never made to feel the characters are overacting. They fit fine in their location and how they're supposed to act. The music isn't over-the-top, by works nicely to accent the mood established by the game's visuals and story.

Any complaints I can levy against Mercenaries are really only minor in the face of how much works for this game. There is some collision detection issues, and on the rare occasion, I found myself stuck in a tight corner or between some trees. Also, I really wish there was a higher NPC count to make the cities feel more populated and to make the faction-Vs-faction combat feel less like minor incursions and more like intense nationwide combat.

Mercenaries is an excellent offering that takes the sandbox gameplay and makes it work without taking Grand Theft Auto's formula and repackage it's theme. The military-themed shooter action is solidly executed and with so much content to experience, you'll be playing this one for some time. And, enjoying every bit of it.

- - Kinderfeld

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