What game lets you shoot and steal at will — without having to worry about the cops?
Answer: "Mercenaries 2: World in Flames," which is more than a bit reminiscent of games like "Grand Theft Auto." It’s offers a huge open world, where you have an overarching goal but are free to pick up side missions and commit all the freelance mayhem you want.
In this third-person shooter from Pandemic and Electronic Arts, you play as one of three mercenaries — the punkish Mattias Nilsson, the strong and ornery Chris Jacobs or the sleek and swift Jennifer Mui.
Whoever you choose, you’ll end up in Venezuela working for an industrialist who’s asked you to track down the leader of a military coup. However, the two quickly decide to work together to take over the country — and take you out of the picture. Luckily, you’re only left with empty pockets, a wounded butt and a serious desire for payback.
Chaos quickly erupts as various factions — the military, an oil company, guerillas, etc. — try to gain leverage over the country and its resources. Of course all of these groups are willing to pay mercenaries for their help. They offer you big bucks to complete missions or smaller bucks in bounties for picking up or destroying various items. And you can take jobs from all of them.
As a result, you can earn money, fuel, goodwill or gadgets for almost anything you steal or destroy. And you can steal and destroy lots. Need a ride? Just run up to a vehicle and bash the driver — a deed that’s only a little more difficult with a tank than with a motorcycle. Think that bridge obscures you’re panoramic view of the bay? Take it down.
However, don’t harm any civilians. That’s bad PR and cuts into the profits.
Along the way, you can recruit other mercenaries to join your private military company. These can provide fire support, transportation, vehicles and other assistance. However, you do virtually all of the real fighting on your own — like some sort of militarized superhero.
Despite the grand scope and plentiful action, the game has a shallow feel.
The enemies’ artificial intelligence is usually idiotic. They fire ineffectively, rarely take cover and almost never pursue.
The physics is unrealistic. Cars and trucks can bounce off each other and suffer little, if any, damage. You can fall from the top of a three-story building with barely a scratch.
Items — and people —will occasionally explode for no apparent reason.
The graphics are OK, but have a relatively soft feel.
The game play is pretty standard for a shooter. There’s lots of running and gunning, driving, flying and calling in support. There’s nothing spectacular, but there’s nothing particularly bad, either — although I’d prefer a bit more zoom when crouching to aim at distant targets.
The game can be played solo, or in online co-op.
While there’s plenty of violence, the game is rated T so it’s not bloody or racy. Of course it still seems a bit crass to shoot and loot for the sake of a buck or exacting revenge.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PC
On the Web: www.pandemicstudios.com/mercenaries/index.php