Technically, Mercenaries 2 is a mixed bag. In terms of environmental detail it's roughly on a par with Just Cause or Test Drive Unlimited – both, let's remember, two years old – and nowhere near on a level with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune or Crysis. To balance that, the rendering of characters is a huge improvement on Just Cause, with decent models and plenty of texture detail. More good? Strong lighting and decent shadows make up for the occasional bland surface, More bad? There's a worrying amount of pop-in on the 360 version as bits of grit or small rocks on the road ahead suddenly appear in front of your vehicle. Still, at least the Havok physics engine is employed with real panache. When things go boom – and they will on a regular basis – buildings and objects are blown apart in spectacular fashion. Walls crumble, masonry tumbles and the local population are chucked around like rag dolls. That's just what we want to see in this sort of game.
On the negative side, I should mention that Mercenaries 2 features frequent and repetitive quick-time-event sequences that kick in every time you have to take over a tank or grapple your way onto a helicopter. Things could be worse - they're pitifully easy – but once you've seen the same animation of the driver or pilot being dispensed twenty times or more in the space of a few hours, you'll begin to wonder “Why? Why? Why?”
Now, having read most of the above you might think that I have a real downer on Mercenaries 2. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth. My simple, shameful secret is that while I think it's a bit rubbish, I kind of love it. Pandemic's game is dumb, pitifully unfinished and woefully lacking in any real substance or innovation, but it's also fun, fun, fun. It's nonsense, but ridiculously enjoyable nonsense all the same.
Mainly this comes down to the fact that Pandemic hasn't messed up the stuff that was good about Mercenaries 1. It gives you freedom, but also gives you well structured missions which aren't all about 'go to point A, kill bloke B and destroy building C' but might include arranging to steal certain items with a helicopter, hijacking specific vehicles or tracking down and rescuing a hostage. In nearly all cases you have a choice of a) blundering through against incredible odds or b) looking at the environment and treating each mission as a sort of puzzle to be completed, where an easily hijacked tank or a handily positioned artillery gun turn out to be crucial pieces.
There are annoyances – particularly buildings that regularly respawn RPG-toting goons – but these can be defeated with high explosives, while a generous health recharge system means you won't normally spend huge amounts of time restarting difficult missions over and over again. You could hardly call Mercenaries 2 realistic or even hugely challenging, but neither is it frustrating. Hours go by leaving a big, silly grin in the middle of your face.