Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

(Pandemic/EA; Xbox 360, PS3, Teen)

While other action franchises may boast of giving you whole cities on which you can sow your seeds of destruction, World in Flames — the sequel to the 2005 hit action game — gives you an entire country to turn into your blood-soaked sandbox. Pandemic Studios’ shoot-’em-up drops a three-person team of pay-for-play soldiers — Mattias Nilsson, Jennifer Mui, and Chris Jacobs — into a war sparked by a power grab in Venezuela. The trio’s looking to get even with a would-be leader who once reneged on a deal and take on assignments from various factions to fund their revenge. Don’t go into Mercs 2 expecting a clever and twisty story, though. It offers a pretty standard version of run-and-gun gameplay, with plenty of weapons and ordnance at your disposal; the sheer amount of explosiveness makes you almost forget the lack of any real plot.

As in the first installment of Mercenaries, you have the awesome capability of calling in air strikes — even, when you see fit, of nuking a location. The game offers some interesting tweaks on the hijacking of vehicles (more specialized transports require minigames to make them yours) and forces the player to think about fuel management (after all, wars are won by logistics). But numerous bugs, inept AI, and repetitive, uninspired dialogue make slogging through the jungles a real chore. The game’s sole saving grace comes in the form of some truly terrific online co-op play. It’s great that the game’s technical polish lets you blow up an entire country — but it’s a shame that you won’t want to.

? Blowing things up (some things never get old)
? Playing co-op online is like tearing your way through an action movie
? Tons of (hijackable) vehicles means you’ll be traveling in style

? The lack of a cover system makes it hard to play strategically
? Playing solo can get pretty boring
? Hearing the same chatter over and over again will make you want to jump on a landmine
? The driving controls feel counterintuitive
? A surprisingly unpolished experience from such a high-profile game