What we have here is an open world third-person shooter set in Venezuela. The story is centred around a political oil plot and an unpaid mercenary who wants their money. Wants it quite badly, it would appear.

It’s refreshing to see a South American setting in a game that doesn’t focus solely on drugs as the reason your guy is killing their guys. However, that other political hot topic cliché, oil, is in its place. I guess global warming just doesn’t cut it as a plot device. It is a bit odd to think of the Venezuelans as baddies, being so used to playing against Nazis, Russians, Koreans, and aliens. Maybe I just don’t know anything about the place, and I’m not sure this game will give me an unbiased view of the country.

My first experience with Mercenaries 2 was an absolute shocker. I had the PC version arrive on my doorstep for review, looking innocent and promising wondrous gaming moments to be had. I was a Mercenaries virgin, having only ever watched a mate play the original Xbox title for a few minutes.

Knowing nothing about the sequel, nor the terrors I would face trying to run it, I popped the DVD into my gaming rig and sat down to check it out - only it wouldn’t install. The installer crashed out of Windows XP giving DVD read errors, no matter what I did. Not easily beaten, I rebooted into Vista 64bit. This time, it installed, but then crashed whenever I clicked on anything in the game menu, including ‘new game’.

Eventually I got the game working by putting the DVD in my laptop, whilst in 32bit Vista Home, and sharing the DVD-ROM across the network to my gaming machine and installing it in Windows XP. Not the best way to begin really.

Fortunately EA has pushed out a patch to resolve the majority of the launch-day issues faced by a multitude of gamers (referenced in many online forums) although surely it would have been preferable to delay the game by a couple of weeks and avoid irritating their customer base? Certainly other players have fared better than I, but the general consensus seems to be that the PC version is not a top notch title, but rather a poor console port.

After managing to get the game playable, you initially choose a mercenary character from three options. One character heals faster, one moves faster, and one can carry more ammo. I chose the fast healing James Hetfield clone simply because he looked like the Metallica singer, and bogans and explosions are always a good mix. A brief cinematic sets up the story – total B-grade here – and away you go.

Unfortunately at this point my ears were forever destroyed by the worst use of an Australian accent in the history of gaming. You have to hear it to believe it, but I nearly turned the PC off right there. She just won’t go away either, commenting on your radio, issuing instructions, and twanging every vowel as she goes. Mate.

However, once over the initial shock, I managed to drown her out with constant gunfire and explosions. Mercenaries 2 survives as a game, and as a game worth owning, on one major principle. When done well, blowing stuff up is just too damn fun. You get machine guns, hand guns, RPGs, grenades and even airstrikes.

The game shines at this. Just about everything explodes if you throw enough firepower at it. I’ve driven a tank through a shanty town, and I mean through. Walls and entire buildings have crumbled at my will, hedgerow mazes have been torched, soldiers and hitmen incinerated. Rambo-esque rampages are common and all part of the plan. The physics engine is certainly about excitement rather than realism, but for a game like this that’s exactly how it should be.

The graphics aren’t too bad, although they don't tend to push a modern gaming rig. They come off a little less polished than some of the latest graphical powerhouse games, and it's a bit of a shame this title couldn't make use of the potential of the PC a bit better, but then if you wanted a technological tour-de-force you'd go out and buy Crysis Warhead. The game type and world size will always have an effect on the quality of the individual models, and on overall polygon counts.

Mercenaries 2 certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a much better game for doing so. It’s not a thinking persons game, but an action/reaction style shooter.

To that end, you'll need less brains and more brawn if you want to succeed. There are no girlfriends to keep happy, no cousin wanting to go bowling every ten minutes; just things to destroy and people to kill. You get missions to complete, but the world is still a sandbox. If you get bored you can drive into town and terrorise other mercenaries - perhaps hijack a motorbike, and try out some stunts. Or take a boat for a spin.

The controls are adequate, and the over-the-top physics, the oddball vehicle handling and the spray and pray aiming all seem to fit.

Another interesting feature of Mercenaries 2 is the multiplayer. Aside from the usual game types you can do two-player co-op, which is a lot of fun. However only the host's single player missions are completed, with the guest player merely receiving monetary rewards. Rather annoyingly, the guest player can (and will) lose their connection along with all of their progress as the developers have only deemed it necessary to include an autosave for the person hosting the game.

You can set the multiplayer options to allow invited friends or even random players to drop in to join you in your missions. Of course random players means you often get someone that steals every vehicle and kills everything before you do. And they can drop in on any single-player game at any time when this option is enabled, which can be quite frustrating.

Maybe I'm just a grizzled old PC gamer with low tolerance for console ports. I was after all trying to play it like a real PC game, expecting the guns to be accurate, the mouse aiming to be very responsive, and supercomputer levels of performance on my latest gaming rig.

It always pays to look up those games you look forward to, so you can decide which version will be best for you. Read the reviews, watch the clips, and most of all read the forums. Remember that reviews and reviewers are important. (And that they should be sent beer in large quantities.)

Mercenaries 2 on the PC has a huge amount of potential but is ultimately let down by the poor nature of the port. It's a sad reflection on the current state of PC gaming that such a title can be released by a publisher the size of EA without any real understanding of what PC gamers appreciate. No doubt the poor sales figures for this game will be blamed on piracy, and it'll be used as another excuse for developers to concentrate on console releases, rather than doing a post-mortem and realising that it was their own fault for releasing such a buggy product in the first place.

If you like sandbox games, or explosions, or the original Mercenaries, then it’s definitely worth your time. Just be prepared to deal with a lot of faults. Perhaps in time the bugs will be ironed out. Even so, the consoles will provide the better experience.


We've mirrored the PC demo for Mercenaries 2 at GP Downloads (1.6GB) if you'd like to try before you buy.