Mercenaries 2 – World in Flames
The first Mercenaries was a brilliant example of innovation within the relatively new "sandbox", Grand Theft Auto-inspired, genre. It was not just iteration on the idea like so many other lifeless clones. Set in North Korea, you were tasked with capturing (dead or alive, depending on how much you wanted to earn) a deck of cards worth of military leaders. The game was literally a huge playset of destructible objects, vehicles and intensely volatile weaponry, beautifully presented in a world where physics actually mattered and simply sniping a helicopter pilot out of his seat was worth the price of admission.
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames looks bigger and better in every conceivable way. From what I saw behind closed doors at last year's E3 and what was shown this year at GDC, Pandemic have taken their destructive approach to open-ended gaming to thrillingly ridiculous heights.
The entire campaign is available for online co-operatively play. I watched someone drop smoothly into another player’s game, then together take down an absolutely MASSIVE off-shore oil rig(that's right, water won't kill you anymore). One player ran around laying C4 everywhere while the other commandeered a chopper - when all was ready, a cacophony of glass and exploding metal filled the screen, and what looked like an in-game square mile or so of chaos ensued. Crackdown on Xbox 360 introduced co-op to a sandbox game, but without a shared narrative experience it was ultimately a bit empty. Tackling terrorists in the Venezuelan jungles in actual missions should hopefully prove much more rewarding.
Perhaps the most inviting feature is the very tangible evolution of the entire free-form destruction concept. You can pick up gas cans and dribble a trail wherever you like, lighting it and watching the streaking inferno that ensues - just think of the hilarious and cruel possibilities. As demonstrated in one of the GDC walkthrough videos, you can strap C4 to the hood of a vehicle, drive towards a base and bail out while you set off the charge at the last second. Everything has been taken a step forward, as even jacking tanks, choppers, etc. now requires a more cinematic button-pressing sequence to accomplish.
Hopefully EA pushes the sequel more than LucasArts did with the first, especially since it's a generally ignored IP that could really have an impact on the industry. It's coming to PS2, PC and 360 in addition to PS3, so hopefully everyone will get to share in the fun when it ships later this year.