This is a game with solid gameplay but no framework to give it that extra kick into essential territory, and as the missions tick by it too often feels like a disembodied bonus mode. The stages quickly begin to feel repetitive, and the lack of maps doesn't do much to distinguish one mission from another. Your task is always to kill lots of enemies; sometimes a fixed number within a tight time limit, sometimes in escalating waves, and occasionally in a more freeform style, where the goal is simply to keep killing and topping up the stopwatch with melee kills, head stomps and smashing red statues that add chunks of time to your clock.
Advancing through the missions unlocks new "skills", essentially perks that can be equipped (up to three at a time) and which then level up with sustained use, their effectiveness displayed using a mobile phone styled three-bar meter. Along with hidden characters and alternate costumes, these keep you ploughing onwards for a while, but fatigue sets in before the halfway mark. Ironically for a game with a zombie heritage, there just isn't enough meat on the bones.
There's co-op play, of course, which is well realised. Available locally or online, it's easy to get a game started and even easier to get the top SS ranking with two players popping away at the advancing hordes. There's not much room for tactical play, but sharing the experience definitely alleviates some of the more tiresome elements from solo play. Weirdly, the co-op mode doesn't persist from mission to mission – you can't just work through them, instead having to retreat to the menu, manually choose the next mission and then reconnect to another player before you can continue.
There's also nothing in the way of customisation. You can't mix and match the enemies, weapons, modes and locations to create your own variations on a theme, and all the characters are exactly as you find them – there are no hidden depths or evolutionary abilities to discover. [Correction: It is in fact possible to mix any weapon set with any character in the game, though this option is not unlocked initially.]
Visuals can also get a bit laggy when playing online, with monsters in the distance visibly teleporting across the screen in three frames, and the 3D effect is something of a mixed blessing. It's very effective, but it also suffers from the frantic play. With the shoulder buttons playing such a vital role, I found that keeping the screen in that sweet spot where everything is in focus more distracting than immersive. Progress comes much faster when you slap the slider down and play in old-fashioned 2D.
The 3D is more impressive in the demo of Resident Evil: Revelations, which takes a slow enough pace that you can at least enjoy the illusion of depth without having to wrestle los ganados every two seconds. Sadly, even if you take your time, you'll have sampled this teaser in less than five minutes. It's incredibly short – really little more than a couple of corridors and a few creatures that look like they got lost on their way to Silent Hill – so if you were planning on picking up The Mercenaries for a first glimpse at the first "proper" Resident Evil game for the 3DS, you might want to reconsider.
And, of course, there's the whole save file issue. There's no story, so no real need to "start over", but this also means that unlocking the bonus material becomes a more prominent in-game goal. Picking up a second hand copy with everything already unlocked and the leaderboards filled with somebody else's games will feel a lot like buying some trousers from a charity shop and discovering an old tissue in the pocket. Caveat emptor indeed.
Ultimately, The Mercenaries gets off to a promising start, and in the short term it can be a thrilling blast, but by refusing to augment or develop the core idea from its mini-game roots, Capcom has doomed it to second tier status. Anywhere that new ideas could have been injected, the status quo has instead been doggedly maintained. The result is an above average action game that acts as a decent showcase for core gaming principles on the 3DS but does little to justify its own existence for the long haul.
7 / 10