E3 07: Mercenaries 2: World in Flames Preview

Pandemic's Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is largely the original Mercenaries game with a new paint job and a couple added features. The same three characters are back in this sequel, but this time they're in charge of their own private company of mercenaries. Much like Apple's takeover of Disney, this means two things: a little more destruction, and ultimately, more fun for fans. If you like blowing things up for hours on end, it's going to look and play better than before--and you won't be as lonely this time around, with two-player online or offline cooperative play.

Running next to Crysis on the show floor, Mercenaries 2 had a lot of competition in the graphics department, and it managed to hold its own with an impressive display of effects. Maybe it was a poorly-calibrated HDTV, but the game seemed saturated in color, almost to the point of fantasy. There didn't seem to be much bloom at work, and yet every object popped off the screen with a vividness I've rarely seen in a game. Characters and vehicles look like polished, animated statues--perhaps too sharply modeled, but fitting within the overall style. Explosions are golden torrents of light, crackling and expanding as huts and forests were torched indiscriminately. Streams of bullets slice branches from trees, although not quite to the precision of Crysis--and the tracer fire is oddly abundant, as if from a laser weapon of some kind.

A helicopter soon hovered into view during my session, the player grappling onto the undercarriage with a single button press. The mohawk-laden mercenary hung on to the vehicle by a hand, then swung himself up to the door, prying it open with a timed button press and tossing out its occupant as if in a combination of Superman and Grand Theft Auto. It was ridiculous, but it worked--and soon the over-sized targeting reticle of the chopper was up on screen. An enemy chopper was automatically targeted, and a missile streaked off on a collision course. Raining fire down on an entire city now, buildings exploded out from the first floor with a more realistic poof of smoke and debris before collapse. It was clear that much of development focused on creating a large, beautiful world for players to raze.

The story revolves around the mercenary trying to get back at someone, and something about Venezuelan oil companies, and Chinese armies, and pirates. Does any of the really matter, beyond the pirates? This is Mercenaries. It's about blowing stuff up. Tiny helicopters can attach cables to oil tankers and swing them around like explosive wrecking balls. If you played the original game, you know what to expect here. With over 200 vehicles to play around in, Pandemic will be delivering more of the same this holiday season. Fans of the original formula will undoubtedly be pleased with the new graphical touches and cooperative support, while those unhappy with the basic nature of the original are unlikely to find much new.

Pandemic Studios plans to ship Mercenaries 2 in Q4 2007.