Most worryingly, from the start, it's clear that Pandemic has a strange fixation with micromanaging this particular bloodbath: missions explain your tasks with a Rainman-like granularity, not only telling you what to do, but precisely how to do it, too - right down to how many guards to kill to proceed to the next objective. The developers are promising this is just an awkward whim of the tutorial's, but when we're shown a later mission, things are still looking a little too controlled. Given the task of taking down a local warlord, you're not only told that first you'll have to lure him out of hiding by trashing his territory, you're then shown precisely which parts of his territory to trash, a selection of bright yellow targets appearing on specific buildings to save you from any discomfort you might experience by embarking on even the smallest slice of freeform inventiveness during a mission.
Destroying the buildings still looks like a lot of fun, particularly after hijacking a tank, and there's no chance that Mercenaries 2 will fail to make you feel like you're in the demolition business when an explosion goes off, but it's likely to make you feel like a lowly contractor in that business, clearing patches of carefully marked-out ground, as if laying the foundations for a new Tesco, rather than mixing things up like a freeform badass who lives fast, dies in flames, and has a funeral attended only by special ops generals and enigmatic prostitutes.
There's still plenty of promise here, however: the ability to recruit specialists to give you new abilities as you progress through the game should provide the requisite sense of RPG-like expanding empowerment, and there are five colourful factions to make friends with and play off against each other. Most crucially, although it may occasionally look like it was constructed from nothing but egg cartons and good intentions, the Venezuelan environment has a tangible sense of life going on, too. Driving to a mission while spontaneous gunfights between factions erupt around you will go a long way to keeping the game fresh, particularly if your choices with the factions will have a tangible impact on the world.
And besides that, if you choose to skip the missions entirely, Mercenaries 2 should rival the best sandboxes when it comes to the delicate business of orchestrating a quick rampage: cars are loose and springy to drive, there are plenty of people to grind under-wheel, and everything in the game is designed to look good in pieces. One thing the demo build was already very capable of delivering is that flush of Hollywood excitement as you stumble from a smoking car wreck seconds before it explodes, blasting you through the air and taking out a large section of roadside signage.
It's hard to imagine someone who won't find at least a little bit of fun here, but for a game like this to match up to the go-anywhere nonsense of Crackdown, Pandemic still has a considerable way to go. Mercenaries games should feel like larking around on someone else's mobility scooter, its world of explosive japery turning players into gleeful morons who can only express themselves in the universal language of flames and rubble. This may be throwaway fun, but it's yet to approach the perfectly-pitched airheadedness of a genuine guilty pleasure. Mercenaries 2 may have given itself a shot in the bottom, then, but perhaps what it really needs is a shot in the arm.
Mercenaries 2 is due out on PS3, 360, PC and PS2 on 5th September.