So we're driving through a thick jungle in a tank. We need to get to a drug lord's mansion, but a dilapidated shanty town is blocking the way. Conditioned as we are by years of static game environments, we start on a dusty dirt road curling around it.
But Jonathan Zamkoff, senior designer at Pandemic, stops us. "Just drive through it." And we do, crushing the village beneath our treads and blasting it apart with our cannon, debris flying everywhere. "Remember, you're a mercenary," explains Jonathan to us. "You don't do roads."
The path to the mansion is dotted with enemy checkpoints - enormous stone arches flanked by machine gun nests and enemy snipers. If you're feeling brave you can charge forward with your assault rifle, but you're better off calling in air support. Using a GPS satellite you view the immediate area from above.
Fly over the checkpoint and designate it as a target. Moments later, the biggest explosion ever seen in a game flashes from the sky, transforming the arch into a pile of rubble and twisted ragdoll corpses. It really is impressive.
We finally reach the mansion. It's absolutely flooded with enemy guards, but we soften them up with another laser-designated air strike. Inside, the game's main villain (who shoots you in the ass in the intro movie, and who you're seeking revenge against) has filled his pad with ego-bloating pieces of classical artwork with his face replacing the originals. In the main lobby there's a replica of the Statue Of David, for example, with his gurning face carved into it. And, yes, of course you can destroy it.
Side by side
As a mercenary your primary interest is to grab as much money as you possibly can. The game world is full of different warring factions, and your allegiance will constantly change depending on who's waving the most green in your direction.
The game's version of Venezuela is a lot more violent than the original's Korean battlefield, and it's not uncommon to find rival armies simply battling on the streets. Often with you in the thick of it. The game seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from Just Cause - liberating certain areas of the map will furnish its buildings with the flags and propaganda of whichever army you helped capture them.
Post-GTA, Mercenaries doesn't feel quite as nice to play as Rockstar's epic. The combat's slightly twitchy and the vehicles have erratic handling, which often leaves you upisde-down or stuck between objects. Of course, that was perhaps just us being rubbish, but the physics are nowhere near as sophisticated as Grand Theft Auto with its powerful Euphoria engine.
Yet it's a different game entirely, really. The world's a lot more breakable, and it's all about over-the-top action and Hollywood-humbling special effects. And in that sense, it succeeds admirably.
The non-linear mission structure is liberating, but will the rest of the game be as freeform? We really hope it is.