Thanks to the game's recharging health system, you're also practically invincible. Blessed with the ability to sprint around even at two points of health, if ever you're in danger of dying you can pretty much guarantee that running away for ten seconds or so will 'run off' those massive shrapnel injuries. With your health guaranteed to rise back up to 60 or 70 per cent in no time, you can simply return to the battle, pick off the stragglers and carry on unimpeded. And if not, the massive amount of health pick-ups scattered with staggering generosity will get you out of a jam. There's a fine line between removing frustration and completely removing any challenge whatsoever, which Mercenaries 2 doesn't so much cross as burn down and stamp on imperviously.
With the odds so stacked in your favour, chipping through the contracts becomes a tedious war of attrition as you make your way to another building you need to occupy. Rather than skillfully marshaling your forces and tooling yourself up with awesome levels of destruction, you can just run in like a supercharged Rambo, safe in the knowledge that even an RPG pointed at your face from three feet away can be survived as long as you sprint around the corner and wait for a few seconds. Meanwhile you call in reinforcements (by cycling through the d-pad and hitting the right trigger) and let them do a lot of the dirty work.
And if surviving being hit in the face by a rocket doesn't sound ludicrous enough, you'll love the approach Mercenaries 2 takes to hijacking the bigger vehicles such as tanks and helicopters. We can just about deal with the idea that a man could run up to a moving tank, jump on the top it, flip open the lid, drag out the driver, headbutt him and lob a live grenade into the cockpit. But any vague suspension of disbelief is shattering the minute you grapple a moving helicopter, remove the pilot, shut his head in the door repeatedly and jump in to continue the journey - mainly because it's yet another boring excuse to shoehorn a QTE into the game. While it might seem mildly amusing the first couple of times, this is not true of the third, fourth and beyond.
Sometimes, though, the game doesn't let you run around like you're in God mode, preferring that you unleash a 'bunker buster' or other type of aerial assault to remove a specific obstacle. But that's really about the extent of the external help you need. Things get more hectic and a tiny bit more strategic as the game progresses, but getting there involves an incredible number of completely unchallenging tasks in the interim. The chances are you'll never see the better ones.
In keep with The Law of Openworlds, Mercenaries 2 is also rammed with side missions, including some relatively enjoyable racing, target practice and destruction challenges, and even one involving winching crates within a time limit. If anything, these show the game in its best light, seeing as they generally veer away from its combat and AI, but there's only so much entertainment to glean.
Indeed, a lot of people will be tempted to compare Mercenaries 2 to the other crop of sandbox titles around, and in that regard Pandemic's effort falls short of pretty much all of them. Even two-year-old games like Just Cause, Saints Row and even GUN provide superior thrills, and in a sphere now luxuriating in the greatness of GTA IV and Crackdown, Mercenaries 2's poverty is particularly apparent. But it's not only openworld titles that Mercenaries fares badly against; it's most of the third-person action genre as well, and when your game is falling way short of providing the thrills of the likes of Army of Two, you know you've got problems.
Some might reasonably argue that the inclusion of 130 vehicles gives Mercenaries 2 the edge, which is a fairish point. They're all easy to control, too. The problem is that unlike, say, Battlefield: Bad Company, the context in which you use them is overwhelmingly uninspiring. Likewise, the satisfying (and visually impressive) ability to blow almost everything to smithereens is a novelty that wears off in light of the ruinously poor missions and catastrophic AI.
Question marks, too, hang over the wisdom of designing the game in parallel with the PS2 version. In so many regards it bears all the hallmarks of a last-gen title with upscaled visuals, like horrifically low-polygon, low-detail vegetation. Sometimes it threatens to look quite good, as in the massive close-ups of the lead characters, but there's always something to drag it down, in this case the goldfish lip-synching. Even at its best, the generic art style fails to make a positive impact, and while the engine provides a smooth gameplay experience, it's hopelessly dated next to the competition. It's hard to think of too many experienced gamers gleaning much enjoyment here, and on balance it feels like a failure.
Given its troubled, delayed development, hope remained that Mercenaries 2 would deliver on the series' promise. Instead, the usually reliable Pandemic has produced a game that not only fails to compete with any current-generation openworld, but somehow takes a backward step from the original. With uninspiring combat contributing to a succession of desperately poor missions, the only remaining question is whether the developer will get a third chance to rectify matters.
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