Mercenaries 1 was also notable for providing you with a huge range of vehicles and making them all a lot of fun to drive. Mercenaries 2 has over 150 bikes, cars, trucks, tanks and armoured cars to get in, plus helicopters too if you can (rather ludicrously) hijack one. There are some thoroughly enjoyable driving missions and optional challenges out there, and one vehicle – a sort of Frankenstein monster truck with a hydraulic boost – is an absolute hoot.
Above all else, however, Mercenaries 2 works because it combines a playful and sardonic sense of humour with an appetite for destruction that only Battlefield: Bad Company and Black could hope to match. Where most open world games discourage mayhem, Mercenaries 2 screams “bring it on” as you demolish whole outposts with tank shells and C4 charges, battle helicopters with heavy machine guns, wreck squads of gunboats with recoilless rifles and generally bomb Venezuela back into the stone age. 'World in Flames' isn't just a subtitle – it's an accurate description.
A key part of this is the game's sensibly implemented system of support units. Early on you'll recruit a helicopter pilot and then a drunken Russian jet jockey. Using the D-pad, smoke signals and your central PDA you can use the former to transport you or pick up fuel, armaments and large cash deposits and take them back to base. The latter, meanwhile, can be called upon to bring in airstrikes and bunker busters, making short work of dug-in enemy forces or heavily guarded installations. This isn't just practical, it's aesthetic. I hate to admit it, but watching so much stuff blow up is actually pretty cool.
And the game and its script are funny – and not just unintentionally so. While head mercenary Matthias looks like the sort of standard-issue hard nut found in Army of Two, he's got a likeable, gruff character and a decent set of one-liners, even if you'll hear them repeated too often for comfort. Excellent voice work by character actor Peter Stormare (you might remember him from Fargo, Prison Break or Minority Report) definitely helps, as does a fine supporting cast. What's more, the game never takes itself too seriously. Just wait until you see 'the devastator' and you'll see exactly what I mean.
Finally, Pandemic's game benefits from an excellent drop-in, drop-out two player co-op mode. It's best enjoyed with a friend and using headsets so that you both have some idea of what you're doing, but even dropping into a stranger's game and helping them blast their little virtual Venezuela to kingdom come is fun in a Crackdown sort of way. Somehow, the patchiness of the game helps. When the world itself feels so flimsy, there's no need to be too precious about wrecked cities and shattered alliances. It's all just there to wreck it up.
Do these things make up for the game's failings? No, but they go a long way towards ameliorating them. In a way, it's disappointing that Mercenaries 2 doesn't live up to the potential we once saw within it, but taken in the right spirit and with a willingness to forgive its many flaws, it still delivers a good time. I can think of other, more highly regarded or polished games that can't say the same thing. Given the choice, I know which I'd rather spend my time playing, and you could do far worse than make the same decision.
Dated, unpolished and riddled with faults, Mercenaries 2 somehow survives to be a great dumb but fun action title, particularly when played with others.