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Very few games allow you to call in a nuclear missile on your location and then let you walk away. In the Fallout series being within 100 feet of a Fatman’s ordinance is guaranteed death. It’s a game ending kill streak in a select few Call of Duty games. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames didn’t give a fuck. Not only did they let you launch nuclear missiles wherever you wanted they let you cripple a nation’s economy and assassinate it’s leader. This would all be fine if it was in some made-up country whose only population were corrupt officials and genocidal soldiers. But no it was in Venezuela a country full of regular people whose only crime was living in a country with some of the globe’s largest oil reserves.
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is ostensibly a tale of revenge. The player character; either British-Chinese Jennifer Mui, Swedish Mattias Nilsson and American Chris Jacobs, is a mercenary who is betrayed by Venezuelan drug kingpin Ramon Solano. Solano shoots the mercenary in the ass and, to add insult to injury, refuses to pay them. This leads to the mercenary to swear revenge only to find out Solano has somehow lead a coup and with the backing of the military has become the dictatorial leader of Venezuela. From there American oil company UPC, Communist rebels the People’s Liberation Army of Venezuela (PLAV), the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the “UN” (read USA) and a group of Rastafarian pirates become involved in a war over the country’s assets.
The plot is complicated but it ultimately boils down to “Blow the shit out of Venezuela so you can kill its president”. With that said I remember it being a whole heap of fun. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames was an open world game much like it’s predecessor Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction. The destruction that was either explicit or implicit in both titles was derived from the fact you could blow up nearly any structure in the game. If you had the money – and you needed a lot of it – you could confidently lay waste to bridges, bases or even entire cities if you wanted to. Like a lot of fourteen year olds at the time I did want to but once you’ve seen one skyscraper collapse you’ve seen them all.
Like a lot of games studios whose reach exceeded their grasp Mercenaries 2: World in Flames developer Pandemic Studios cut corners. Bugs were consistent if not totally game breaking. Enemies often held their guns – be they assault rifles, sniper rifles or rocket launchers – like pistols. Not so laughable were the bugs that had you drop through the floor. Frame rate dropout was inevitable especially considering the amount of explosions that happened. Other areas of the map looked like they’d been made using the same textures from the first game which was set in North Korea. That was if those muddied textures ever loaded in properly in the first place.
It’s less satisfying when all the shit you’re blowing up looks like literal shit. You’d travel from one of the picturesque headquarters say UPC’s towering skyscraper in the capital of Caracas or the PLAV’s massive tree base into one of the in between areas and it would look like someone had just emptied a very large and very full vacuum bag over the area. The game’s textures might have looked like mud but the politics were a literal quagmire to say the least. It’s the kind of thing you can’t imagine happening in real life but looking at the West’s history in the Middle East and things become a bit clearer.
A former general or even just a rich criminal stages a coup and seizes the country’s vast wealth of fossil fuels for themselves. Then the media in the western hemisphere report on it blowing it totally out of proportion or maybe governments do it through the media. Opposition parties are outlawed and they retreat to the mountains, newly radicalised, and start a resistance. Next the Western multi-national gets scared and starts building up its own private security force complete with heavy weapons and vehicles. Soon enough a criminal organisation has moved in trafficking drugs and weapons in. Then come the big guns: the US, the UN and either Russia or China. It happened during the Cold War and it’s happening now in the Middle East.
Admittedly Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is a slight exaggeration but not much of one. All of the above basically happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria and they continue to happen. With a little bit of thought Mercenaries 2: World in Flames goes from sounding like a bit of explosive, buggy fun to being very, very tasteless. At the time the Venezuelan government were critical of the game and of Pandemic Studios history of developing training aids for the US military. Gunnar Gundersen of the Venezuela Solidarity Network asked: “Can you imagine if a wealthy Venezuelan game-designing company with links to the military and funding from a famous Latin American entertainer invented a game where you invade the US to assassinate the president and take over the economy?”
The United States of America and Venezuela had been at each other’s throats for decades. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames didn’t help matters but it wouldn’t start a war. It was a game designed to be crass and offensive but it came with none of the requirements for the teenagers that would play it to consider it offensive namely: blood, boobs and bad language. For a game that had you mow through people like they were lemmings Mercenaries 2: World in Flames was light on violence. The closest it got to bad language was the occasional “Shit!” Still for a game that let you murder or massacre civilians with almost no punishment in a war zone it’s still pretty crass.