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A shot at being top.

Byline: By Doug Young

Title: Mercenaries

FORMAT: Xbox

PUBLISHER: Lucasarts

PRICE: pounds 39.99

SOMETIMES a game comes along which, while not an original concept, takes elements from other classics to make a game that stands up in its own right. Mercenaries is one such game.

Borrowing from games like Grand Theft Auto and Splinter Cell, we have a game that hits you right between the eyes.

You play one of a choice of three different Mercenaries, working for an elite private military organization called Executive Operations. Your mission is to enter the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea and take on contracts offered from the various factions.

Your choice of character will very much depend on how you play the game. Whether you choose the ex-American special forces soldier, the British secret agent or a Swedish bounty hunter is up to you. But it's worth reading their strengths before accepting which one.

Once in the game you will see the Grand Theft Auto similarities as you find yourself racing through the war-torn landscape in your Jeep. Just as in Grand Theft Auto, all the vehicles are drivable, from Jeeps, tanks, APCs, helicopters and even a mobile scud missile launcher. Getting your hands on these vehicles will depend on how friendly you are with certain elements in the DMZ. First you have the Allies or UN, then the South Koreans, the Chinese and finally the Russian Mafia. Keeping them all on good terms, however, is a difficult task. A mission for one group might end up with you having to shoot troops from another ( not a problem if they don't know it's you. If they do, however, then it's best to stay well clear of lands under their control until you can make it up to them.

All of these groups can help you find your ultimate goals. These are pretty much the same as in the war in Iraq. There's a list of the most notorious North Korean criminals, each with a card and each with a bounty on his head.

Capturing them is usually difficult, depending on how you plan to do it. Running in to kill everything is one option, though killing your target will net you half the profit. If you knock your target down and restrain him, you can call in an extraction helicopter and earn the full bounty.

To help you with this you have your PDA handheld computer (here we have the Splinter Cell comparison) which, combined with help from your controller back at the office, can provide you with much-needed maps and info.

The coolest thing, however, has to be the support you can call upon. Certain missions will allow you to use a selection of air strikes for free. For example, three tanks guard an entrance you need to pass; call in an artillery barrage and wipe out everything in that area.

However, once you've hooked up with the Russian Mafia you can buy just about anything you need.

Just use your PDA to visit a their website and purchase, say, a precision bomb attack for $45,000.

Though it's not cheap, it will definitely make your life easier and, depending on the card you're about to capture, may be worth the cost.

The final word is Mercenaries is one of the most enjoyable games I've played on my Xbox. Graphics are amazingly realistic and gameplay is just plain brilliant. I'd even go as far as saying that we could have an early contender for game of the year.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 18, 2005
Words:589
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