The demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea is described by some as the most dangerous place on Earth. It is a landscape of nightmares; a wasteland thick with artillery craters, barbed wire, minefields, graveyards, and the skeletons of villages. The earth has been shelled, mined, overgrown, booby-trapped, burned and abandoned, and it is here the entire duration of Mercenaries takes place.
From Pandemic, the studio responsible for the likes of Full Spectrum Warrior and Star Wars Battlefront, it's obvious from the outset that there's a wealth of military clout behind Mercenaries. If you're looking for cute, you're in the wrong place. If you're looking for a war-themed GTA then, surprisingly, you might also be in the wrong place.
The DMZ is full of warring factions, each with grudges against one another. Obviously North and South Korea have a presence, as does the UN, the Chinese military, and black market racketeers the Russian Mafia. It is these organisations who'll feed our bank balance if we help them with a few 'favours', and these that we'll then be shamelessly attacking when revenge hits are called for.
The five groups will each be indicated on screen as a flag, but only when you're in favour with them. If a hit goes wrong or you back out of a contract, your standing with each group will fall, only to be redeemed with a cash donation or the recovery of stolen items you'll find littered around the map. Fall too far out of grace though for, say, destroying an entire military airport for shits 'n' giggles, and you'll be shot on sight by any patrol or scout that encounters you from there on in until you literally bankrupt yourself to stop the hits.
The DMZ is a huge, sprawling area so there is little chance of incurring too much wrath without being able to escape and earn those much-needed Brownie points to get back on side with a contractor. Populated with rolling hills, misty mountains, and secret outposts, the DMZ is easily as large as Vice City. Unfortunately it isn't as easily navigated nor half as pretty, despite being fully free-roaming from the start. Without an off-road vehicle, many missions are limited by the layout of the roads, and although every car is free to attempt a slightly inclined climb, few actually make it, making for a lot of meandering gameplay down endless roads.
It's also a bit of a bummer when it comes to hitching a lift if you find yourself standing next to a burning wreck that was once your vehicle. Sightseers and Sunday drivers are few and far between, so there will undoubtedly be portions of the game where there's nothing for it but to walk everywhere. Manage to carjack a vehicle though, especially one with city-flattening capabilities, and the world is your oyster, and you're a bloody great hammer ready to smash it to smithereens.
During the game you'll have to bring down the 52 Most Wanted Korean generals, designated in a deck of cards system, but how this is executed is entirely at your discretion. You can employ stealth (of a sort) and sneak in for a snipe, or you can call in full bunker-busting wrath of hell stuff and scorch the earth away (and anything on top of it). If you can conceive of a way to kill, Mercenaries lets it happen, and that's where the beauty of the game unfolds. Every man-made structure, be it a humble watchtower or a huge fortified skyscraper, can be destroyed. You can flatten and stomp, explode and implode everything you see. Pack a stack of cars against a building or under an arch, set one off, and let them blow. Hijack a chopper and fill it full of tank-busters then rain them down on your target. Buy special weapons drops from any of the factions and you'll be laser-targeting buildings for an airstrike, calling in artillery strikes, carpet-bombing compounds, or watching those bunker-busters bore into the earth before sending up a spray of dirt and bodies. It's damned, dirty fun and we're encouraged to make the most of it.