Oil thrills

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

If the plot of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is to be believed, revenge is a dish best served aflame and with a side of crude oil.

Picking up shortly after the previous title, this EA/Pandemic game again features three professional soldiers in their quest for cash and big, explosive toys.

Sniper Jennifer Mui, soldier Chris Jacobs and Swedish psycho Mattias Nilsson have left their former mercenary company in favor of more direct contract control. During a mission for Venezuelan businessman Ramon Solano, the name of the game changes from cash to bloody vengeance following a failed coup and double cross.

While the game has a central story, this is a sandbox title all the way. It's similar in many ways to the Grand Theft Auto series, except that instead of a small-time thug, the player is a major military merc with an agenda that leaves them fairly free to do harm in the chaotic setting of the game. Add in a highly destructible environment - you can blow up buildings and landmarks at will - and you have a recipe for devilish fun.

Oil plays a big part in the game, and not only because of the connections between the back-stabbing Solano's new oil-hoarding regime. It's also a lucrative commodity that the player can capture and spend to generate resources and capital.

There's not only a change in setting this time out but a change in focus from the first Mercenaries - the landmark deck-of-52 approach shown in the 2005 original is replaced with a less iconic High Value Target system. Players need only check their handy GPS to find green targets and then eliminate or capture them at will. There's little story motivation to do so, and this approach disappoints in comparison.

One major flaw keeps the game from an "A" rating. The enemies are beyond stupid, and their tactics don't seem to evolve as the difficulty suggests they should. Early cartel members charge and shoot you the same as the corrupt government and oil company thugs.

But the cooperative multiplayer mode almost makes it a must-have. Players can team up with a friend and complete the game's missions on Xbox live or the Sony PSN. This is truly the best way to play Mercenaries. As if the wanton destructive power at your fingertips isn't enough, there's nothing quite like tag-teaming an enemy base with a buddy.