Possibly the best game released this year. I could end my review right there. But of course I won't. I have to admit I'm a little at a loss of words. I don't know what to say about the game. It's an open world action game, where you and your three man crew has the task of dismantling a Bolivian drug cartel.
It is a huge undertaking, and the game matches that as it is a huge game. Over a hundred missions, tons of bosses to capture or defeat. The game area is freaking huge, probably the largest of any open world game I've seen to date. And it looks great. Especially from up high. I haven't been awed like this by looking down at the scenery in a videogame since I first played Flight Unlimited.
The difference is that here you can actually get down on the ground and explore everything. The rest of the graphics is not that special let's say it's acceptable.
But this game is mostly about the gameplay, and it delivers in that regard. It's very similar to Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, both in setting and execution, with one important distinction. You're not a freelancer, you can only work for one side in this game. That's a bit of a disappointment to me. It would've been great to take on side missions during your fight with the cartel, from various other smaller factions or civilians. Sadly that never happens. There are only two types of missions. Story missions, and rebel ops. The former advances the main story, I'll talk about those later, the latter are a set of missions aimed to help the rebel resistance against the drug cartel. If you do rebel ops you can increase the rebel presence on the streets and the efficiency of the "rebel skills" each type of mission improves a different skill. And here's a list of missions / the corresponding skills.
- Supply drops: An air dropped packet of supplies meant for the rebels located at some hard to reach area of the terrain, usually only reachable from the air. (either by landing a helicopter near it, or jumping out of a plane and parachuting there). This improves the "rebel spotting" skill. It can be used to tag enemies in a small area. I didn't have much use of this skill, most of the time I performed my own spotting, it's more fun that way, only useful if you don't have the patience to stake out enemy bases.
- Supply convoys: Self explanatory, you need to seize important cargo carried by the cartel convoys. The reward is the supply you capture from them. If the truck is destroyed during the attack you can still claim a fraction of the cargo and complete the mission successfully.
- Steal the supply plane / helicopter: Same as above only this time you have to steal a helicopter / small plane filled with cargo. These aircraft seem to be more fragile than regular ones. And every time there is an enemy lieutenant near them who tries to fly away with the plane / chopper at the first sign of trouble. After you get the plane you have to take it to a rebel landing zone. Which is easier said than done, often these landing zones are poorly located and very far away and / or very short with multiple obstructions in the way. There is nothing more infuriating than hitting a mobile lamp post during landing and the game declaring the mission failed. After taking out tons of enemies flying the plane for minutes, avoiding radars and AA missiles only to be taken out by a poorly placed work light.
- Turn on the radio: These are small propaganda broadcasting stations. That if you turn on it starts broadcasting anti cartel propaganda, and immediately a ton of cartel soldiers attack it, and try to destroy it. Better leave these missions for later, as they're extremely hard to do until you get the grenade launcher attachment for the assault rifle, which allows you to kill incoming enemies before they get out of their car, or while they're still closely grouped together after getting out. These missions improve the mortar skill. That you can ask the rebels to bombard an area. This is another skill I haven't really used. Didn't see the point. It can be useful against heavily armoured vehicles, or large groups of armoured soldiers. Most of the time I simply forgot there was even a skill like this.
- Intimidate cartel leader: You have to grab a specific cartel leader and make them tell their cartel pals about how you humiliated them. This is not easy until you unlock the flashbang, because how do you capture a hostile enemy alive? You can't shoot him and if you try to advance on him he'll shoot you. Of course the other way is stealth. This improves the guns for hire skill. Whihc allows you to call rebel reinforcements to your location. Quite helpful when the pressure gets too high.
- Network towers: You have to disable two network antennas in quick succession after each other. These are probably the easiest side missions. You can usually reach the next antenna in half the allotted time, and often they're only guarded by 2 or 3 enemies. This improves the rebel diversion skill. I admit I haven't even tried this skill during playing the game. In theory you can call rebel reinforcements to a specific position and not just on your own with this.
- Network stations: You have to enter a fortified radio station by blowing one of it's entrances, and hack the computer there within a freaking time limit. These are the hardest and most annoying rebel ops for sure. Not only you have to run into a building with small cramped places where a ton of thugs are waiting to ambush you you have to do it within a very short time limit to be able to complete the hack in the time limit. I avoided these like the devil. They improve the vehicle drop-off skill. Which as the name says you can ask the rebels to send a vehicle to your location. It's a very useful skill, or would by if it wasn't implemented very poorly. For starters the vehicle is often dropped at the most inconvenient positions. And it can only appear on main roads, nowhere else. So if you're in the middle of nowhere the vehicle often gets dropped off beyond your reach or line of sight even. And often close so close to an enemy base to render it useless. Very annoying. But the biggest issue with the skill is how immersion breaking it is. In Mercenaries 2 the vehicle drop off skill was done by airdrop ie.: a helicopter appeared and dropped the vehicle in the location where you put up the smoke signal. Here, it materializes out of thin air in front of your eyes. Why?
I think that's all the side missions covered. The main story is divided by the regions of the map. Each region is responsible for a different cartel goal for example smuggling or manufacturing, and each region is controlled by a different "bouchon" on underboss. When you enter a region most of the time your first task is to gather intel. (but there are a few exceptions to this rule) You have to infiltrate enemy outposts and find some computer or hack a phone or simply gather evidence the old fashioned way. Each piece of intelligence will unlock a mission, or two. And these missions will usually lead to others. Until you've done enough damage for the underboss to show up, so you can deal with them. And every arm of the cartel hase a big boss, who you can only get access to after taking out several of his/her underbosses.
The main story missions are quite varied. Sometimes you have to sneak in somewhere undetected, tail or observe someone. Other times you have to interrogate bosses, or capture them and take them to a rebel hideout. Other times you simply have to cause mayhem, like destroy equipment or drugs, or kill leaders. How you approach missions is entirely up to you. Go in guns blazing the front door, attack with a helicopter, or meticulously stake out the enemy and pick them off one by one silently. Everything is possible. The level design is very good, every shield has a crack, you'll always find a back way into every stronghold.
Often your missions will take you to unidad bases. I haven't talked about them until now, they're the third faction in the game and the most annoying one at that. They're bolivian security forces, paramilitary. Heavily armed and well equipped. They often patrol with cars and helicopters as well. And they always tend to show up at the most inconvenient times. And if you fight them, there will only be more of them. So if unidad decides to show up during one of your missions you might as well give up because more often than not they'll cause you to fail. Either by preventing you from focusing on your mission, destroying your vehicle, or simply killing you wit their overwhelming numbers alone. And they seem to have eagle eyes. They can spot you from a mile away driving the most inconspicuous car. There was a mission in the game which was supposed to end the cooperation between unidad and the cartel, but I swear they only got worse after that.
The combat is very fluid. And the feedback of the game is great. There are tons of weapons to unlock, which is necessary as the base weapons are not that great. You can find the weapon matching your playstyle. And you can customize your character, albeit mostly only the clothes as you can't change the body at all, and there only a few preset faces to choose from. It feels to me that they wanted more in-depth customization but they ran out of time before fully testing and implementing it. I can only hope they'll release it later as a DLC if it was ever their intention.
The story of the game is more concentrated to learning about your enemies and the cartel, their associations. I loved the stylized movies about each cartel member, and the "word of sueno" They're not cutscenes more like story telling trough symbolic imagery, and narration. They do a pretty good job at humanizing the cartel leaders, at least some of them. Sometimes you actually feel like a dick for pulling the trigger, but other times there is absolutely no doubt you're doing a service to society by killing them.
However besides the good things there are a few issues with the game. It eats up the GPU, I had to set drawing distance and shadows to the lowest settings to get playable frame rates out of it. I'm not sure even an 1080Ti could get the game to run fluently with everything maxed out even at 1440, definitely not at 4K. But let's say the visuals warrant the extra hardware.
There are some obvious balance issues. For example gun emplacements (gatling guns) seem to loose all efficiency when you use them. It's compltely impossible to take out an enemy from more than 30-40m with them. Even though the enemy can insta killl you with a gatling from 100 meters.I observed that phenomenon with a car mounted gattling gun that no matter how many hits went in the enemy wouldn't drop until I went in very close. On the other hand the APC is extremely overpowered. If you use it you become virtually unstoppable. And your ai partners shoot with 100% accuracy as gunners with the APC. They instakill every enemy. The only risk to you is going to close to an enemy so your own shell could hurt you. Apart from that you can easily take the most fortified bases with dozens of heavy enemies helicopters and gun turrets without breaking a sweat in an APC. Thankfully they're only available at a few specific locations so I only used it a few times during the game. Albeit the last final mission would probably be impossible without it on the hardest difficulty which I played at. I choose that because that's the closest to reality as possible. At times the game still seemed very lenient to the player, as you can take many hits before dying, especially after upgrading the bullet resistance skill. So I'd say overall the game is a bit on the easy side even on the most difficult setting. But it can still be annoying at times.
Weapon penetration seems to be non-existent. Even though it's a metric the game shows for each weapon, bullets don't seem to hit enemies trough even the thinnest of covers. Sometimes you can't even shoot between handrails. And you definitely can't shoot trough any vegetation not even grass.
There are combat helicopters in the game, but with the wonky controls it's near impossible to aim them at enemies properly. So they're quite ineffective. Even the heavy transport helicopter because of the already mentioned ineffectiveness of gatling guns at range.
Enemies seem to grow out from nowhere in a few seconds. You search the entire outpost with drones, mark all enemies and when you attack there are still dozens of unmarked enemies coming out of the woodwork. Or when you're on a critical mission and unidad decides to interfere. Or when you fail a missoin, and each time the game makes it it's purpose to put you into the most inconvenient position. At least 500m from your goal, in low ground, with no vantage point on the base, and with no roads and no vehicles nearby. So you can run for minutes trough empty land before you can retry the mission. It's the most annoying thing in the game, besides the fact that if you fail the third part of a three part mission you'll have to restart from part1.
Another thing that got on my nerves that a couple of dozen times when I wanted to enter a vehicle I accidentally sat on the back seat. And it takes a hell of a lot time to get back out and get in the front. Small but very annoying design oversight. They should have made the driver's seat have priority over any other position in the vehicle.
And while we're talking vehicles, helicopter controls were not really straightforward it took me quite a while to figure it out how am I supposed to to drive them. but after figuring it out with no help from the game mind you they're quite fun. Planes are pretty straightforward except for a big bug, or design issue IDK. That if you use the elevator the brakes won't work. I always crashed during landings until I figured out that if I pull up or down during braking the brakes won't work which is completely stupid. So I always overshoot landing strips or crashed into obstacles at the end of the runways.Because I was instinctively pulling the stick backwards to try to loose momentum.
Bikes are completely useless. They're bouncing and bumping around wildly never going where you want them, and you always fall off when you least expect it, and not when you bump into big obstacles or when you fly 200meters. And if you fall off you die every time.
Cars first seemed awful but after getting used to it, it's not that bad for the game. Obviously I didn't expect a simulation, but it could be better. And Mafia has shown us that just because the game is an action game the cars can still handle realistically.
And the night is your enemy in the game. You can't see jack shit during the night. But the enemy can see you just as well as if it's high noon. I often wouldn't even start missions during the night, as it's only a disadvantage to you. Or at one time I kept and kept re trying a mission all night, until finally I was able to complete it when it was daylight again.
The provinces in the game are ranked 1-5 by difficulty by the game, but honestly I didn't find much difference between their difficulty. The ones marked with 5 definitely didn't stand out. And I haven't noticed that the ones with 2 skulls or would be particularly easier either.
As for overall game quality. The issues are not that many. I encountered bugs, like falling trough the terrain or getting stuck under debris or in certain areas but overall the build quality of the game is pretty good.
Except I just found out recently that the game actually showed me the "bad ending" when it was supposed to be the "good ending" based on the completion level of story missions. It turns out even if you do everything proper the game will present you the bad ending for the first completion of the final mission. So you have to finish the mission twice to get the supposed better ending. And to top it off the last mission is one of the least enjoyable in the game. Actually not one of, it's THE WORST mission. And I've seen numerous reports of this around the net, it was even reported on the ubisoft communities as far back as march, and a supposed community manager supposedly forwarded the report to the supposed developers. So it should've been fixed by now ten times over. But it's still the same.
So fuck ubisoft, and fuck denuvo because -I suspect that's the reason the game pauses every now and then for a few seconds on my computer, and also the reason the game takes an eternity to load from the desktop.
So to sum up things. The game is Mercanaries 2 2.0, while still lagging behind that game in a few areas, it improves in many others. Like storytelling, graphics, combat, scenery, level design, the size of the map.
- Graphics from up above
- Size of the game area
- Level design
- Choice of weapons
- Storytelling methods
- Lots of missions
- 40+ hours for the story missions alone without DLCs
- Relocating you to the middle of nowhere after failing a mission / checkpoint based save system
- Some balance issues with a few weapons / vehicles
- Unidad too agressive, can detect you anywhere in anything
- AA missiles can hit you even after you land. And your altitude seems to be relative to the AA gun itself, not the ground below you. You can fly under the tree canopies and still get targeted if the gun is in lower area.
- Hardware requirement
- I think there is still much untapped potential in the huge game area.
- I sorely missed a train heist mission.
- Wrong ending bug.
overall impression: 8/10
The only reason I'm not giving it a 9 is because in some areas it manages to lag behind Mercenaries 2, and because the save system is checkpoint based.