Monday, July 13, 2009

Mercenaries 2: A Love/Hate Relationship

I've started playing Mercenaries 2 again, and I'm not entirely sure why. I've already beat it, but I started up a new campaign last week and I'm already halfway through. It's a terribly buggy unpolished game.

Examples of the bugs and general annoyances (Many, many examples):
  • The soldiers yell out wrong phrases - whenever I hijack a helicopter, the male pilot I've just thrown to their death yells "I've killed the merc!" in a female voice with a heavy Jamaican accent.
  • The random quips the AI soldiers make are usually wrong, repeated way too often, and very grating. If you make the mistake of picking up some UP mercs in your vehicle, you get to listen to them complain about the heat with the same two lines, every thirty seconds. I stopped the car, got out, and beat them to death in the street about the second time this happened.
  • There's not much point in taking allies along anyway. They usually die in the first few seconds of an engagement. If you're lucky, they'll toss a grenade at your feet as they fall. If they're manning a gun that shoots explosive rounds, they have an unfortunate tendency to fire at point blank range, blowing up the vehicle they're riding in.
  • There's almost no point in using guns when you can run up to someone and bash them in the face, instantly killing them. It's quicker than getting in a firefight and way, way overpowered.
  • The AI is questionable at times - soldiers that spawn on rooftops love to jump off to their deaths. Enemy drivers will gladly step out of their vehicle and let you take it if you so much as point a gun at them. Your allies will continue to fire on a vehicle as you're hijacking it, sometimes destroying it just as you finish another painful hijacking quick time event.
  • The quick time events are a huge pain. Especially on the PC, since instead of flashing the exact key you need to press, like "E" or "Shift", they flash an icon that represents the action the key is bound to. That extra second it takes to tell if that waving fist is the melee attack or use is one second too long. Some of the harder sequences for attack helicopters and heavy tanks take multiple tries for me, running through it until I have the sequence memorized long enough to forget it before the next hijacking attempt.
  • Speaking of quick time events, if you fail one while trying to hijack a helicopter, afterward the pilot has a tendency to be sitting six feet to the right of his helicopter, floating in midair.
  • There are some serious pop up issues - buildings and walls will pop up a few seconds after you've driven into them, trapping you inside. I failed at least one mission because of the pop up - the Pirates have you hauling rum in the back of a truck that can fall out as you drive. Only the rum spawned before the truck, so I instantly failed the mission since the cargo was crushed under the wheels before I could even get there.
  • Machine guns, road blocks and obstacles can sometimes spawn six feet above the road. Enemies occasionally spawn inside rocks and buildings - especially frustrating if they're calling for reinforcements and it's impossible to kill them.
  • Damage is inconsistent. Signs and small rocks will take a quarter of your vehicle's health if you bump into them, but you can slam through guardrails and telephone poles no problem. You take ten points of damage if you fall walking down stairs, but you can fall from a helicopter and live.
I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Most of these can be seen within a few minutes of play, should have been spotted in QA testing, and could be fixed with a simple patch. I would tell Pandemic about the bugs I've found, but there's no contact info anywhere on their official site - only a link to EA Support, which told me they don't answer questions unless they're about "technical" issues. The PC patch that has been released fixes only a handful of hardware compatibility issues and a few graphics tweaks, but all the above bugs still remain. Another patch was promised sometime last year, to no avail.
The reason I still care is that besides all these issues, there's still a fun game there. Blowing stuff up is fun, and when the game sticks to that, it can be a blast. But all these little quibbles add up, and they break the immersion factor and cause some serious frustration at times. The gameplay itself isn't perfect: there are way too many timed races and trials that flat out aren't fun, and the world isn't lively enough to just wander around in like you can in GTA 4 - there's not the sense of being in a living, breathing place, partially due to the stupid pedestrian dialogue and behavior and the dozens of bugs. There needs to be more battles taking place in the world, more action when you're not in a mission so there are more opportunities for the player to make their own fun. For me, that's the point of having a sandbox game, being able to decide what you want to do in the world without having it be in a structured mission format.
There were so many possibilities, but I'm afraid Pandemic either ran short on money and/or time to polish and test the game. I also hope they will open up to the community a little more. I understands that means having to filter through a bunch of pointless mail, but I'm sure there are jewels of feedback, especially when there are this many bugs.

If anyone knows a way to get in contact with someone at Pandemic or is at Pandemic, I'd love to hear from you. I'd be happy to provide more evidence of these bugs if there was any chance of getting another major patch for the PC version.
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