Plummeting from a thousand feet in a bright yellow jet ski towards the Venezuelan city of Caracas, I find myself asking questions that I never had the clarity of mind to ask before. Why do we fight wars? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a bright yellow jet ski? What does balsa wood taste like?
As I scream towards the ground, the red skyscrapers and fuzzily textured streets come into a sort of half relief. I shoot through the ground and find myself at the top of the world again, still falling. Is this hell, or is this heaven? Neither. This is “Mercenaries 2: World in Flames.”
“Mercenaries 2,” theoretically a Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox set in war-zone Venezuela, dares to ask a difficult question: “Does a video game have to work?” Come to think of it, it’s not really a difficult question; the answer is yes.
Reviewing a game like this provides a unique challenge. It’s similar to reviewing a restaurant where they seat you and set the table, and then as they’re bringing the first course the waiter freezes in mid stride while an engine noise endlessly loops and you have to turn off the restaurant and reboot but your meal still won’t load.
“Mercenaries 2” just doesn’t work. It has a lot of promise, I suppose, a lot of cool features and missions alluded to in the strategy guide and in the manual, but you’ll be hard pressed to actually experience any of them. If the game doesn’t freeze every five minutes then your target doesn’t load, or you find yourself swimming beneath the world, or you just start falling.
I wanted to like this game quite badly, and I gave it a real effort. I sat in the basement for hours, turning the game on, going through the menu screen, playing for five minutes, turning the game off, repeating. The challenge of beating the game soon became the challenge of just playing the game, and then quickly thereafter became the challenge of understanding myself while trying to play the game. Unable to even process that last one, I kept repeating my nightmare until even falling through the world was construed as a meager kind of progress.
It’s unclear why Pandemic has decided that they can release a video game that doesn’t work, but you do have to admire their guts. Either they didn’t play the “final” build of their game, or they did, found out that it didn’t work, and figured that they could cram it up the collective ass of the video-gaming community anyway. I bought it.