Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
Developer(s) Pandemic Studios
Publisher(s) LucasArts
Composer(s) Chris Tilton
Michael Giacchino
Series Mercenaries
Engine Zero
Platform(s) PlayStation 2
Release date(s)
  • NA: January 11, 2005
  • EU: February 18, 2005
  • JP: April 28, 2005
    Genre(s) Action-adventure
    Mode(s) Single-player

    Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is an action-adventure video game developed by Pandemic Studios and published on January 11, 2005 by LucasArts for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The game features an open world environment, with elements of potential stealth gaming and reputation-based social mechanics, and is set during a fictitious multi-national military action in North Korea, circa 2007. The player takes control of one of three mercenary characters and completes contracts in the war-torn country for profit and to prevent a nuclear war. Critics gave favorable reviews to the game, in particular praising its focus on explosive mayhem.

    A sequel, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, was released in 2008 for the Microsoft Windows, PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360 formats. Following Pandemic Studios' closure in November 2009, Electronic Arts announced Danger Close Games would be developing a second sequel, tentatively titled Mercs Inc.[1] The game was eventually canceled following the closure of Danger Close Games in 2013.


    The player is deposited in a vast "sandbox" environment, free to pick up missions, perform side tasks, collect items, hijack vehicles, or employ game mechanics in exhibition. As the world is a sandbox, the player can choose to do any of these activities at any time. In fact, one can level all of the buildings in the game world, including the faction HQs. Buildings are usually restored after an extended time away from the area, the player's death, or re-loading the game. Also, the player can cause wanton destruction in many small outposts and strongholds occupied by and restricted to faction members only. However, excessive rampaging is discouraged by the reduction of the attacked faction's disposition towards the player, and the murders of civilians and Allied Nations personnel result in cash fines as well.

    There are five warring factions: the Allied Nations, South Korea (in cahoots with the CIA), the Russian Mafia "Merchants of Death", China and Song's North Korean army. Disposition from the first four factions is initially friendly, though through the player's actions it can go from friendly to neutral and eventually hostile. Since the North Korean faction is always hostile towards the player and to all the other factions, the player is free to attack NK forces without fear of penalty. In fact, destroying NK vehicles will result in a small compensation, adding credits to the player's account.

    In order to get back in the favor of an offended faction, the mercenary must complete contracts for the faction. If the faction is so hostile that it refuses to give out contracts, the player must bribe the HQ guard first. Other less effective methods include collecting National Treasures and Blueprints of interest to each faction, destroying hidden listening posts, leveling Song's monuments or helping out one faction fight off another one during a skirmish. Upon being witnessed, the player's actions will be favored by the faction receiving the help; however, the other faction will dislike the player more.

    A mercenary may disguise himself by driving a faction's vehicle, allowing for enemy outpost infiltration. However, the disguise is rendered ineffectual should the enemy spot the mercenary entering the vehicle, should the player exit the vehicle or if the player engages in inappropriate behavior (such as attacking enemy troops). The disguise is also lost if the player comes across an enemy officer, who will invariably see through the disguise.

    The player can perform various missions for different factions, but it is not required to complete every mission available. A mission involves one or multiple objectives that include stealing, delivery, retrieval, or destruction of certain items or vehicles, assassinating targets, and destruction of an enemy camp or stronghold. Often, a mission provides a bonus goal which may be completed for extra cash. AN missions are usually lukewarm taxying and escort missions, whereas Mafia-instructed missions are somewhat more stealth-oriented, and SK and Chinese missions border the bellicose, usually having the player take orders from one faction to harm the other one. It is thus notable that a mission may upset another faction, although this can be prevented to some degree if the player engages the mission with stealth, remaining hidden, disguised under a certain faction or restrict himself from killing or destroying enemy units. The completion of a mission rewards the mercenary with cash, increase in the faction's disposition, and tips regarding the Deck of 52, and it occasionally unlocks items, vehicles, or airstrikes.

    Throughout the game, the player is tasked with hunting down and "verifying" 13 targets of a "suit." "Verification" involves either killing the target and taking a picture of the corpse, or subduing the target and radioing an AN helicopter to transport the prisoner away. After every verification the player is awarded with "Intelligence" and cash, which is usually doubled if the target is captured alive. In a suit, the number cards (from 2 to 10) are located throughout the in-game region, and they can be found by exploration or by receiving tips from friendly factions (usually after the completion of a mission). Each of the three face cards (Jack, Queen, King) is only made available by one of Chinese, South Korean, and Russian factions. A "face card mission" often involves specific objectives for the faction in addition to verifying the target. However, it is not necessary to verify all members of a suit to progress through the game. The player must gain only enough Intelligence by verifying targets before the AN gives the player the Ace contract. The Ace, the most important figure in a suit, is located in an isolated, often heavily fortified area, where the player is dropped off. The Ace contract usually consists of a variety of required and optional objectives that can be accessed in multiple routes, before the Ace is available for verification. After the Ace is verified, the player is transported back to the main region to hunt down another suit of targets.

    If the player attempts to leave the game world (leaving N. Korea), they will effectively enter a restricted area where either the AN Task Force or the North Koreans have supreme air power in those areas. Entering these areas immediately prompts you with a warning message (either by an unnamed Allied radio operator or by your support operative, respectively) telling you to get out quick. Choosing to ignore this warning prompts another message, informing that enemy planes are inbound. This is followed by three fighters appearing to shoot the player down with a large salvo of explosives that are impossible to completely dodge and tough to survive. These are areas that usually surround the province (with the exception of the Black Gate until after the Ace of Clubs is verified) and are marked in red.


    After over 50 years of military tension, the aging President Choi Kim of North Korea began to embrace the "Sunshine Policy" of South Korea, reviving hopes of peaceful reunification. However, the North Korean military became disgruntled with the turn of events, fearing a dramatic loss of their power. Their leader, the brilliant and ruthless Choi Song, believed that his father, President Kim, was losing sight of "North Korea's true destiny." Song led an army of insurgents into a ceremony celebrating a road map to the reunification of Korea. Both North and South Korean political leaders were shot and killed, and Song is reported to have deliberately killed his own father in the process.

    After the successful coup, General Song then severed all contact with the outside world. The whole country went "dark" for many weeks, until a North Korean freighter, by accident, was discovered to contain a small but potent nuclear weapon bound for an Indonesian terrorist front. Various intelligence agencies in the world subsequently found North Korea's missile capability to be far more advanced than previously expected. Song's possession of nuclear weapons and ICBMs as well as his deal with terrorist groups prompted the formation of an Allied Nation Task Force. The multinational troops toppled Song's government and captured the launch sites, only to discover that North Korea was building more nuclear warheads at another unknown launch site. The missiles were to be completed in three weeks, and only the elusive General Song had the launch codes. With millions of lives at risk, the AN had no choice but occupy the region and search for Song.

    The remnants of the North Korean military fiercely resisted the foreign invaders, and the AN began to be pushed back. The Russian Mafia infiltrated the country, hoping to exploit the chaos and establish a black market. In addition, Chinese and South Korean troops moved into North Korea, each intent on establishing a government under Beijing's or Seoul's agenda. Unable to maintain control or find Song, the AN distributed a "most wanted" list in the form of a "Deck of 52," consisting of key figures of the North Korean criminal underground, businessmen, weapon scientists, and military leaders under Song's leadership. At the top of the list was General Song himself, the Ace of Spades, with an open bounty of $100,000,000. "Executive Operations", a private military company, responded immediately by sending an ExOps mercenary aboard a C-17 cargo plane, en route to a drop zone in the DMZ.

    As soon as the merc hits the ground in the middle of the chaos, the player assumes control, beginning his or her manhunt for the "Deck of 52". The mercenary becomes acquainted with the leaders of the Chinese, South Korean, Russian Mafia, and Allied Nations factions. The mercenary can accept contracts of any factions to gain intelligence, cash, air support options, and the faction's favor. With the gathered intelligence, or by exploration of the region, the mercenary comes across numerous "number cards" and "face cards" to "verify" (kill or capture), claiming the bounties. When enough intelligence is gathered, he or she accepts an Ace contract from the AN, and breaks through to an enemy stronghold to verify the "Ace." After two Ace contracts, the theater of war shifts to the Northern Province, and the mercenary moves to the new region.

    Through various contracts, the mercenary proceeds up the "Deck of 52," and finally is given the Ace of Spades contract. After a long battle against defending North Korean forces at the missile launch site, the mercenary manages to acquire the launch codes and disable the missiles. After rescuing the imprisoned President Kim (who was in fact alive) and seizing control of Song's fortress, the mercenary manages to verify General Song. Depending on whether or not the player is able to upload the abort codes in time, the game ends with a GSRN reporter stating that the missiles exploded in flight or that Seoul, among other major cities, has been destroyed. If Song is killed rather than captured, the 100 million dollar bounty is halved, leaving the player with 50 million dollars. Regardless, the capture or killing of Song does not end the violence and unrest raging throughout North Korea, and the former nation faces a troubled and uncertain future.

    There are multiple endings for this game, however it is revealed in the sequel that the canonical ending is with China emerging the victor in the conflict, thus annexing North Korea.


    There are three playable characters in Mercenaries: Christopher Jacobs, Jennifer Mui, and Mattias Nilsson. Each are mercenaries employed by ExOps during the North Korean conflict, but only one character of player's choice is dispatched to the war-zone in the beginning of the game. They follow the same plot and handle similarly in terms of gameplay, but each of them has a different personality, as well as specific strengths that may alter the player’s strategy. Also, each mercenary can speak a unique language in addition to English, so the player can understand conversations of a particular faction by reading the subtitles shown.

    Mercenaries contains unlockable skins as rewards for completing certain in-game tasks. For instance, picking up a certain number of National Treasures will allow playing as an NK Elite. Some cheat codes unlock the numerous hidden characters such as the leaders of each faction. This being a LucasArts game, it is also possible to unlock both Indiana Jones and Han Solo as playable characters. However, the differences between skins are only cosmetic and will have no effect on gameplay or the main character's attributes.


    The game's orchestral soundtrack was composed by Michael Giacchino with Chris Tilton. It was performed by the Northwest Sinfonia and released on a 21-track CD. The sound design was done by Ellen Meijers, who visited Travis Air Force Base to record the sounds of actual C-5 Galaxy cargo airplane hydraulics, landing gears, and generators to add realism to the gameplay.[2]


    Aggregate score
    GameRankingsXbox: 86%[3] PS2: 84%[4]
    Review scores
    GameSpyXbox [7] PS2 [8]
    OXM (US)9/10

    The game received generally favorable reviews from critics. On the video game review aggregator GameRankings, the Xbox version of the game has an average score of 86%, based on 70 reviews,[3] and the PlayStation 2 version has an average of 84%, based on 41 reviews.[4]

    Ryan Davis, former editor of GameSpot, gave the game a rating of 8.8 out of 10, saying the action is greatly varied and "fundamentally satisfying", the world is immersive, and the game has "gorgeous graphics." Davis also said the exaggerated physics in the game is sometimes too much and the quality of the sound effects is uneven. Davis said the game is "a much better game overall" than Full Spectrum Warrior, a game that Pandemic Studios previously developed. Davis said that at first the game looks like a Grand Theft Auto knockoff due to similar elements such as a third-person perspective, the ability to get in any vehicle you see ", but that Mercenaries is more non-linear and mission-based. Davis said "most of the ground-based vehicles feel a little too floaty." Davis wrote "It's amazing how close the game scrapes to reality without actually breaking through, and its use of a slightly fictionalized North Korea as a setting can be very immersive. But despite the game's commitment to a quasirealistic scenario, the action is fast and loose." Davis noted the voiceover performances of Peter Stormare and Carl Weathers as particularly well done.[6]

    South Korean ban

    Mercenaries was banned from shelves in South Korea for depicting war in its still-hostile theater, as was Ghost Recon 2. However, almost 2 years later, the Game Rating Board of South Korea announced that the ban on these games would be lifted by 2007.[10]


    2. "The last diary in our Mercenaries series looks at the creation of in-game sounds.". Gamespy. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
    3. 1 2 "Mercenaries Reviews (Xbox)". GameRankings. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
    4. 1 2 "Mercenaries Reviews (PS2)". GameRankings. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
    5. Kevin Gifford (January 12, 2005). "Mercenaries Review from". Retrieved 2008-11-19.
    6. 1 2 Ryan Davis (January 12, 2005). "Mercenaries for PlayStation 2 Review — PlayStation 2 Mercenaries Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
    7. Will Tuttle (January 8, 2005). "GameSpy: Mercenaries Review (Xbox)". GameSpy. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
    8. Will Tuttle (January 8, 2005). "GameSpy: Mercenaries Review (PS2)". GameSpy. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
    9. Douglass C. Perry (January 10, 2005). "IGN: Mercenaries Review". IGN. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
    10. Emma Boyes (2006-12-29). "Korea lifts game censorship — Xbox News at GameSpot". GameSpot UK. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
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