Reviewed by Cameron Bourne
Jan 21st 2005

Introduction:Pandemic may just be the busiest developer of the year. They have a huge list of games coming out, all looking very promising. The first of their long list of games for the year may also be the first must have Xbox game of 2005.

The Game:Mercenaries could be considered just another Grand Theft Auto clone, although saying that would be a huge understatement. The fact is Mercenaries is the first game to follow really help change the GTA formula. Many of its additions come naturally, for example you can call in supply drops, vehicle drops, and air strikes from the "Merchants of Venice" which is basically the Black Market of the game. This is the main reason why making money is very important, because hey nothings free. The supply drops are very handy, but nothing is more satisfying than watching a North Korean camp get pummeled by an air or artillery strike.

Where Mercenaries does follow in GTA's footsteps is in the open-endedness, and the ability to jack vehicles; however the thing that makes Mercenaries vehicle jacking so much fun is what you steal. For example stealing a helicopter as it swoops down, or jumping on a tanks turret then throwing a grenade in and blowing up the driver is just plain fun. Unfortunately there is one problem with the way the vehicle jacking, that's the annoying quirk where you have to kill the gunner before you are able to steal the vehicle, although it's at first annoying you eventually get used to it and it isn't so bad anymore. The open ended world is pretty big, but it could still be a bit bigger. It may be a good thing because it can be a little hard to find your targets on such a large map that it can at times get pretty frustrating.

You will end up working for one of many factions; there are Chinese, South Koreans, North Koreans, Russian Mafia and the Allied Nations. Each faction is at war with at least 1 other faction and most also having at least 1 ally as well, which can create random battles in the middle of nowhere just because to warring factions meet in the middle of the road, it's pretty entertaining. From each of these factions you will receive missions that differ from killing a designated target, to making a simple delivery. For each mission you complete you receive a bounty, although most of the biggest bounties come from the main quests. These are all about taking out the North Korean Dictators top generals and henchmen known as the "deck of 52", so as you can imagine there are a good number of essential missions. Most of the missions in Mercenaries are fairly linear, but the fact that you can choose which missions you want to do and when you want to do them make them feel a lot more open ended. Also each mission will usually have a downside, it will make the faction you did the mission for happier towards you, but it'll make at least one other faction like you a little less. It's this way you basically get to choose who you want to ally yourself with and who you don't.

The controls in Mercenaries are pretty good, but could have been better. The vehicles for the most part control good, except for a couple of the bigger ones which become frustratingly awkward. Also the on foot controls feel a bit sketchy, but it's not a surprise seeing as how it is a 3 rd person action game and they aren't known for the most precise controls.

The game is long and loaded with variety. The weapons all pack a major punch, and there is a huge assortment of them, there is also a giant collection of military (and a civilian) vehicles ranging from humvees with room for 3, to explosive tanks, and helicopters. The vehicles are defiantly the highlight of the game, and are also the best way to get a mission done, although some of the weapons can create massive havoc, not to mention the C4 explosives or the military strikes which can both create awesome explosions. A multiplayer would have been nice, but with a single player that can take you 40-50 hours and tons and tons of explosive action.

Graphics & Sound:Mercenaries presentation is good; it runs at a solid framerate and had the good polished look that you expect from most games that are now coming out for this generation of consoles. The sound is good too with the fairly dramatic music, but the best part of the sound is easily the excellent voice acting.

Where the game does have a few problems in the technical department is in the look of the world as it comes off looking a bit too dark and foggy (don't they get sun in Korea?). There are also a few problems with the sound of some of the weapons and vehicles as they don't come off sounding powerful enough.

Innovation:This is a tough one, the game is and isn't innovative. In the Grand Theft Auto-esque genre of open ended car jacking games it does serve up some nice new additions that help go a long way with trying to break the mold, however overall the game does borrow a lot from GTA in the core gameplay mechanic.

Mojo:Mercenaries has Mojo that's for sure. The explosive action, interesting quests, powerfully weapons, air strikes! All help to make Mercenaries one of the most exciting and explosive games in the past little while. Not much is more satisfying than carpet bombing a building, really.

Lowdown:The next few weeks are looking like some dry ones for the Xbox so the best thing to do is pick up Mercenaries. If you love explosions, feeling like a one man army, car jacking, and 40 hour gameplay do yourself a favor and pick up Mercenaries, the first must own game for the Xbox in 2005.

Gameplay: 9, Graphics/Sound: 8, Innovation: 7, Mojo: 9. Final: 8.5

  • Massive, open environments that are completely interactive. If you can see it, you can use it, steal it, drive it, fly it, or blow it up.
  • Explosive combat - you have the firepower (choose from a huge arsenal of realistic, military weapons) to lay waste to anything in sight.
  • Flexible gameplay - Use your weapons and your imagination to figure out how to complete missions in a variety of ways in non-scripted environments.
  • Dozens of different military and civilian vehicles, ranging from tanks, cars, trucks, helicopters, and more that can be commandeered at anytime and used for any purpose.
  • Some of the best graphics seen on the consoles - great weather and realistic explosion/destruction effects.
  • Based on the US military's system of identifying a "most wanted" list of enemy targets in a playing card deck, players will use the playing card metaphor to identify missions and enemy targets. Take on missions from the different factions in order to gain intelligence and get new playing cards/targets and access to new areas.
  • Reputation system that is driven by an embedded journalist that records player actions, which determines how civilians and the various warring factions respond to the player.
  • Earn cash from different missions to buy better weapons and vehicles, or sell your vehicles and weapons on the black market.

Playground of

Jan. 2005