Although it gave good Korea and featured a muted pallette of CNN greys, deep down, Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction contained all the geopolitical seriousness you could find in a game of knockdown ginger. And rightly so. A brutal - if basic - ball pond filled with loud things to drive and big things to drive them into, Pandemic's noisome openworld private military disco always knew exactly what it wanted to be: dumb and fun in equal proportion. It's a shame, then, that time moves on - a quick session with the forthcoming sequel, World in Flames, suggests that Mercenaries may struggle to find a place for itself in a post-Crackdown world. It's not that the franchise has an out-of-date agenda, it's just that there are other people around now who have shown how to be a bit cleverer when it comes to the serious business of being stupid.
Last July when we went hands-on with Mercenaries 2, the future looked bright for the World in Flames. After that it all went a bit quiet. For ages. Then in January this year, EA came clean about the hold-up, before everyone's favourite silver-haired boardroom fox John Riccitiello confirmed a goal of fiscal 2009. Earlier this month, Mercenaries 2 was given a firm 5th September date on PS3, 360, PC and PS2, meaning that it would be out four months after you-know-what - potentially a deal-breaker for an openworld action game. With all this in mind, we got Pandemic's creative director Cameron Brown on the phone to find out what's been keeping Mercenaries 2, how terrifying it is to go up against Grand Theft Auto IV, and why we should all draw circles around 5th September on our calendars and radio in a holiday.
"World in Flames" may be a typically silly videogame subtitle, but with this one they're not joking. We've had sandbox action games that move beyond GTA's largely indestructible playground before - Crackdown gave us wings and let us toss cars around, for instance - but Mercenaries 2 escalates things to a degree that the PS3's vaunted SPUs and 360's multiple processors have been crying out for. "Every asset is fully interactive," says producer Jonathan Zamkoff as he flies a chopper over a bay. "It's either destructible, scalable or buyable. We do not put it in the game if you can't interact with it." Demonstrating this, he launches missiles into a 200m concrete bridge, taking out a central section that tumbles into the water, giving a few unlucky motorists a permanent bath. "There's no mission-specific reason for me to do this," he says, as a sort of explanation. Good then.
If you played the original Mercenaries, you might recall it was a "brilliantly enjoyable all-action extravaganza of blockbuster proportions" where you got to "blow stuff up", "blow the living hell out of it" and "blow the living hell out of it some more". Developer Pandemic wasn't exactly shying away from appealing to gamers' basest instincts when it made one of 2005's more entertaining sandbox games, and the prospect of visiting another playground of destruction is certainly a tempting one.