Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

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Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
Mercenaries - Playground of Destruction Coverart.png
Developer(s)Pandemic Studios
Director(s)Cameron Brown
Producer(s)Matthew Paul
Designer(s)Robert Djordjevich
Programmer(s)Ronald Pieket-Weeserik
Artist(s)Mattias Kylén
Writer(s)Matthew Colville
Composer(s)Chris Tilton
Michael Giacchino
Platform(s)PlayStation 2, Xbox
  • NA: January 11, 2005
  • EU: February 18, 2005

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is an action-adventure video game developed by Pandemic Studios and published 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, in an alternate history version of the year 2007. The player gains control of one of three mercenary main 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 Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. 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 (associated with the CIA), the Russian Mafia, 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 taxi and escort missions, whereas Mafia-instructed missions are somewhat more stealth-oriented, and SK and Chinese missions usually have the player take orders from one faction to harm the other one. A mission may upset another faction, although this can be prevented to some degree if the player engages the mission with stealth. The completion of a mission rewards the mercenary with cash, increase in the faction's disposition, and tips regarding the Deck of 52; 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.

The PS2 version of the game suffers from an glitch, where saving the same campaign playthrough in multiple slots can result in corrupted data on the memory card though saving in one slot each for different playthroughs with different characters is apparently fine.

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, bearing great lethality that serves as an invisible wall to bar the player from going out of bounds. Entering these areas immediately prompts the players with a warning message (either by an unnamed Allied radio operator or by your support operative, respectively) telling them 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.


Game Synopsis[edit]

The game world takes place in North Korea, where General Choi Song leads a violent coup against his father President Choi Kim's government. Supposedly killing his own father, as well as several North and South Korean delegates during a peace ceremony, General Song seizes power and closes off North Korea to the world. Some time later, the Royal Australian Navy locates a North Korean freighter in distress but also discovers it's cargo of nuclear warheads bound for known terrorist elements, triggering an Allied Nations invasion to topple Song's regime. The Allies are able to secure Song's nuclear missile silos, but they soon learn of another launch site, it's whereabouts unknown. Furthermore, the North Koreans launch a counterattack, pushing the Allies back whilst the Chinese, South Korea as well as the Russian Mafia enter into the conflict to assert their own agendas with North Korea whilst also undermining the Allied Nation's position. Desperate to locate the silos, the Allied Nations post bounties related to the "Deck of 52"; including North Korean businessmen, ranking officers, weapon scientists, General Song's personal bodyguard as well as Song himself. The mercenary is given the choice of either apprehending or killing members of the deck, though killing them only rewards the player with half their bounty. The bounty increases according to the importance of that member all the way up to General Song, who is posted at $100,000,000.

Prior to entering the game world, the player is given the choice of playing as one of three available mercenaries. The choice does not affect the plot, and each character has slightly different statistics to each other and can understand a different language used by one of the four factions in game (except for the Allied Nations). The four factions are the Allied Nations, South Korea, China and the Russian Mafia. Each faction concerns itself with one goal influenced by the mercenaries actions. The Allies for instance, only intend to remove Song from power though they possess the missions for the "Ace" contracts that advance the game. China and South Korea respectively both want to conquer North Korea, bringing the two factions closer to conflict as the game progresses. The Russian Mafia concerns itself only with exploiting the conflict and setting up illegal activities, and dealing arms which the mercenary may buy.


The player is airdropped somewhere over the DMZ, finding the Allied Nations headquarters under artillery attack orchestrated by the "Two of Clubs". The mercenary assists AN forces in repelling the attack, destroying the guns and verifies the Two before venturing on to meet the other three factions in play. In completing assigned missions for each faction, the player is given intel relating to members of the Deck of 52 in the game world. By embarking on these optional missions, the player gathers enough intelligence to unlock the Ace contracts, the theatre of war moving from the Southern Province to the Northern Provinces midway through the game. The player finally arrives on the Ace of Spades contract; General Song himself. After heavy fighting against Song's remaining forces, the mercenary discovers through the still alive President Choi that Song has acquired the launch codes for his country's nuclear armament, and launches them before the mercenary enters battle with him.

Depending on the player's actions, there are numerous endings. If the player does not abort the nuclear missiles in time, a post-ending news report details that Seoul, as well as several other cities worldwide have been destroyed by the nuclear weapons. Furthermore, depending on who the player decided to assist the most, another report indicates that faction assuming control over the North Korean state.


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.

  • Narrator: (voiced by Amy Lee) Is a narrator that presents plans and Ideas. (also known for being in the online game Rec Room)
  • Chris Jacobs: (voiced by Phil LaMarr) is a former Delta Force operator from the United States. He appears to be a confident and reliable personality with often humorous remarks. He can endure more damage in health than others, and knows Korean.
  • Jennifer Mui: (voiced by Jennifer Hale) was an MI6 agent before joining ExOps. She is highly efficient in stealthy maneuvers as she does not alert enemies as easily as other mercenaries. Born to a Chinese-British family in Hong Kong, she can understand conversations in Chinese.
  • Mattias Nilsson: (voiced by Peter Stormare) was once a Swedish Navy artillery officer until he became a mercenary. Extremely reckless, violent, and obsessed with explosives, Nilsson uses his faster movement on foot to overwhelm his enemies quickly. He is fluent in Russian, and is thus able to understand private Mafia conversations.

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]


Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction received "generally positive" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[20][21]

Ryan Davis, former editor of GameSpot, said 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 also 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.[10] In Japan, where the PlayStation 2 version was ported and published by Electronic Arts on April 28, 2005, Famitsu gave it a score of two nines, one eight, and one seven for a total of 33 out of 40.[6]

Detroit Free Press gave the Xbox version all four stars and called it "a great diversion from everyday life".[18] The Sydney Morning Herald gave the game four-and-a-half stars out of five and said "while it's not quite as epic as [Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas], the combat within Mercenaries is more focused and polished, thanks to tight controls, amazing graphics and clever physics".[22] The Times gave it four stars out of five, saying "the visuals are first rate. News footage sets the scene of the chaos, while short in-game cut-scenes intertwine seamlessly with the action".[19] The New York Times gave it a similarly favorable review, saying "while most such games overlay this free-form world with rigidly structured missions, Mercenaries allows the player almost as much freedom in action as it does in travel".[23] Maxim similarly gave it eight out of ten and said: "Missions full of vehicles to wrangle and people to off feel like a cross between 'Grand Theft Auto' and 'Metal Gear Solid' with a dash of 'Contra' thrown in for spice. Destroy everything and get paid; this is foreign policy at its finest".[24]

Mercenaries shipped 105,000 units for its launch in France alone.[25]

South Korean ban[edit]

Mercenaries was banned from shelves in South Korea for depicting war in its still-hostile region, as was Ghost Recon 2. Almost two years later, the Game Rating Board of South Korea lifted the ban on these games by 2007.[26]


  1. ^ "Pandemic Studios Announces 'Mercs Inc'". Electronic Arts. November 24, 2009.
  2. ^ Meijers, Ellen (October 14, 2004). "Mercenaries - Designer Diary #4". GameSpy. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  3. ^ Edge staff (March 2005). "Mercenaries (Xbox)". Edge. No. 147. p. 80.
  4. ^ a b MacDonald, Mark; Cain, Joshua; Davison, John (February 2005). "Mercenaries". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 188. p. 101. Archived from the original on March 20, 2005. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  5. ^ Reed, Kristan (February 24, 2005). "Mercenaries (Xbox)". Eurogamer. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Famitsu review scores (April 22 issue)". NeoGAF. April 20, 2005. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Juba, Joe (February 2005). "Mercenaries". Game Informer. No. 142. p. 110. Archived from the original on January 12, 2008. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Four-Eyed Dragon (January 11, 2005). "Mercenaries". GamePro. Archived from the original on February 6, 2005. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  9. ^ a b Gee, Brian (January 28, 2005). "Mercenaries Review". Game Revolution. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Davis, Ryan (January 12, 2005). "Mercenaries Review". GameSpot. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  11. ^ Tuttle, Will (January 8, 2005). "GameSpy: Mercenaries (PS2)". GameSpy. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  12. ^ Tuttle, Will (January 8, 2005). "GameSpy: Mercenaries (Xbox)". GameSpy. Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  13. ^ Hopper, Steven (January 24, 2005). "Mercenaries - PS2 - Review". GameZone. Archived from the original on October 4, 2008. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  14. ^ Zacarias, Eduardo (January 26, 2005). "Mercenaries - XB - Review". GameZone. Archived from the original on May 27, 2008. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  15. ^ a b Perry, Douglass C. (January 10, 2005). "Mercenaries". IGN. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  16. ^ Davison, John (February 2005). "Mercenaries". Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine. p. 78. Archived from the original on March 12, 2005. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  17. ^ "Mercenaries". Official Xbox Magazine. February 2005. p. 78.
  18. ^ a b "'Mercenaries' (Xbox)". Detroit Free Press. February 13, 2005.
  19. ^ a b c Wapshott, Tim (February 19, 2005). "Mercenaries — Playground of Destruction". The Times. Retrieved December 15, 2017.(subscription required)
  20. ^ a b "Mercenaries for PlayStation 2 Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  21. ^ a b "Mercenaries for Xbox Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  22. ^ Ring, Bennett (February 19, 2005). "Guns for hire". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  23. ^ Herold, Charles (February 3, 2005). "Before Enemies Are Pummeled, Creativity Wins". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  24. ^ Steinberg, Scott (January 11, 2005). "Mercenaries". Maxim. Archived from the original on January 23, 2005. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 October 2005. Retrieved 12 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  26. ^ Boyes, Emma (December 29, 2006). "Korea lifts game censorship". GameSpot. Retrieved December 14, 2017.

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