Upon initially playing Mercenaries, the first thing to come to my mind was "it’s about time!" Someone had finally taken the random, destructive fun of the Grand Theft Auto games and centered a whole game around it. We all love to blow things up, and the game’s developers, Pandemic Studios, know this. They’ve created a huge, battle-filled world for you to run around in and wreak massive amounts of random chaos. The best part? This is no extra curricular mayhem for you to have fun with between missions. It’s what you have to do to actually beat the game.
We must get all the comparisons to Take Two’s magnum opus series out of the way in order to truly appreciate what has been created here. Yes, everything is mission-based from different points on the game map. Yes, you can hijack vehicles to complete those missions. While it may be unfair to call the game wholly original, it’s also unfair to label it as a simple knock-off. Mercenaries builds upon the gameplay elements established by GTA and in some ways, even surpasses it.
As one of three battle-hardened Mercs (no real difference between them) employed by a private company, you’re tasked with taking down North Korea’s dreaded "Deck of 52," which is comprised of the elite members of General Soong’s military machine. Each of his three closest aides are "aces" and their subordinates all make up the rest of the suit the aces represent (10 of clubs, king of spades, etc). You can either capture or kill them, though a death will result in half the potential bounty. Soong himself, who came to power by killing his president father, is your final target and is by far the most deadly. He has the world on the verge of nuclear war, with everyone from the allies (basically the U.N.) to the Chinese vying for control of the peninsula. The sooner you eliminate Soong, the sooner the world can take a collective sigh of relief. The Chinese, South Koreans, and the Russian Mafia are all locked in a bitter struggle for control of the region, so you’re going to find yourself playing sides with every mission. This is the beauty of the game, as you’ll be helping a particular faction, in one mission, only to work against them in the next.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the plot you’re going to get here. The barebones storyline is forwarded via short mission briefs and radio messages from your liaison. You are rewarded with news broadcasts every time you take down one of the four aces, but that’s as far as it goes. Gamers who loved the adventures of Tommy Vercetti and Carl Johnson will have to look elsewhere for a Goodfellas quality story.
One thing that Mercenaries does have over its Mafia-bred competition is that now your actions have consequences. You can’t go around randomly killing anything that moves or you’re going to be severely penalized. Killing a member of the press, for example, results in a 500k deduction from your account. With too many civilian casualties, you’ll soon be without the funds for much needed equipment and vehicles.