July 24, 2007 - Mercenaries 2 is a game about 'blowing @!%* up', according to Pandemic's Jonathan Zamkoff. His latest demonstration of the game, at EA's recent Producer day, starts as it means to go on: with an almighty bang. Lots of them. If you've played the original Mercenaries, you'll know the drill: contemporary combat in sandbox environments full of all sorts of vehicles and weapons and over-the-top action. Except this time around it's bigger, badder, louder, and even more action-packed than before.
Hijack an enemy vehicle and ride around undetected. Until you start blowing things up.
By way of demonstration, Zamkoff dives straight into that action. Ostensibly tasked with setting up three listening pods, triangulating the location of a kidnapped marketing executive and then rescuing him, Zamkoff decides to send in Mattias Nelso, a Swedish mercenary who dresses in biker chic and who, apparently, revels in the chaos of battle. And chaos is the right word: the mayhem that follows is the sort of concerted symphony of violence, destruction and action that most games, if they get there at all, take a little while longer to reach.
First, Zamkoff climbs into a combat chopper (one of the 130 different types of vehicle in the game, along with bikes, cars, tanks, ships and boats). Then, after briefly warming up with some machine-gun fire, he starts launching rockets at a bridge, bringing it toppling it down, then at a shipyard, reducing it to rubble. Next, he flies over to a massive oil rig. The scale is breathtaking. At last year's E3, this oil rig was a full-blown demo in its own right. Now it's just another of the game world's infinite destructive possibilities as Nelso circles round to it, laying more missile-based waste.
And then, while Zamkoff explains the 'what, not how' philosophy behind the game (telling players what they have to do, but not how they should go about doing it), he lowers a winch and lifts an entire oil tanker into the air, swinging it like a huge pendulum before dropping it on to the floor below and firing yet more missiles into it. Even when he starts following his objectives, the mayhem doesn't end: from shooting down trees to provide a route to the first objective, to creating what Zamkoff calls a 'Mercenaries door', ie. a pile of rubble where once a wall stood, having destroyed it with C4. In fact, the demo concludes with the destruction of entire city blocks via air-strikes with fuel air bombs.
Mercenaries 2 feels all the more epic thanks to those spectacular draw distances.
So the major difference between this and the original Mercenaries is one of scale: more weapons, more vehicles, bigger explosions, incredible draw distances and massively huge maps. Every single object in the game is interactive in some way - and mostly that way is by means of destructability. "Obviously the next-gen consoles are allowing us to do a ton more with the physics," says Zamkoff. "The asset density is much higher, there's a bigger world, bigger explosions, really cool articulation on the vehicles - we have moving suspension. So it's a lot more, bigger, cooler stuff with a much better story and co-op multiplayer."
Ah, yes. As if Mercenaries didn't provide enough wanton destruction, one of the new features is that it allows two players to team up to create even more. "Adding a co-operative multiplayer element is a huge difference from the first game," continues Zamkoff. "It's really taken the game to a new level - we're just discovering things that you can do in the co-op that we didn't know you could do. All of a sudden our QA guys are running over, saying, 'Oh my God, look what I just did!'" It's also a bit of a technical challenge keeping those huge environments in memory while two players run around causing mayhem, so you'll only be able to move so far from your partner.