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Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
Mercenaries - Playground of Destruction Coverart.png
Developer(s) Pandemic Studios
Publisher(s) LucasArts
Engine Havok Physics
Platform(s) PlayStation 2, Xbox
Release date(s) JP April 28, 2005
NA January 11, 2005
EU February 18, 2005
AUS 2006
Genre(s) Third-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player
Rating(s) CERO: 15
ESRB: Teen
PEGI: 16+
Media DVD-DL

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is a third-person shooter video game developed by Pandemic Studios and published on January 11, 2005 by LucasArts for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The game features a open world environment set in North Korea in the near future. The player takes control of a mercenary and complete 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.

The Xbox version is currently compatible with the Xbox 360 as of the update dated April 18, 2007; however, many have experienced issues such as frequent freezing with its emulation.

The sequel, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, was released on August 31, 2008 in North America and on September 5, 2008 in Europe for the Microsoft Windows, PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360 formats. Following Pandemic's closure in November 2009, Electronic Arts announced EA Los Angeles would be developing the next title in the series, a game called Mercs Inc.[1]



The player is deposited in a vast "sandbox" environment, free to pick up missions, perform side tasks, collect items, 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. Since the North Korean faction is always hostile towards the player and all the other factions, the player is free to attack NK forces without fear of penalty.

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. There are other methods of increasing favor with a particular faction, even though they are less effective than the above two methods. For example, one can collect or destroy hidden items, such as National Treasures or Song's monuments, that are of interest to the faction. Also, when two factions are engaged in a skirmish, one can help a group of soldiers fight off the other group. 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 in a faction's vehicle, as long as he is not seen getting in the vehicle by anyone in the vicinity. Inappropriate behavior, such as running over troops, results in the disguise being lost. With a hostile faction's vehicle, the player can infiltrate enemy outposts. However, faction officers can see through disguises, as well as sway their faction's disposition more strongly.

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. It is notable that a mission may upset another faction, such as when a Mafia mission requires the murder of a Chinese officer. 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.

At any point in the game, the player is tasked with hunting down and "verifying" 13 targets of a "suit." "Verification" involves killing the target and taking a picture of the corpse, or subduing the target and summoning an AN helicopter to transport the prisoner. 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. 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 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 and 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 now. If you choose to ignore this warning, another message is transmitted telling you that enemy planes are inbound. This is followed by three fighters appearing to shoot you 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 himself shot his father dead without hesitation.

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 army fiercely fought back 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. Thumbing through the "Deck of 52", the mercenary begins his manhunt. The mercenary becomes acquainted with the leaders of the Chinese, South Korean, Russian Mafia, and Allied Nations factions. However, he 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 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 completely leveling Song's fortress, the mercenary manages to verify General Song. Depending on whether the player is able to upload the abort codes in time or if the computer is left intact long enough, the game ends with a GSRN reporter stating that the missiles exploded in flight or that Seoul, among other major cities, were destroyed. If Song is killed rather than captured, the 100 million dollar bounty is halved, leaving the player with only 50 million dollars.


There are three playable characters in Mercenaries: Christopher Jacobs, Jennifer Mui, and Mattias Nilsson. All of them 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.

  • Christopher Jacobs: (voiced by Phil LaMarr) is a former Delta Force operative 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 speaks 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 a Chinese-British in Hong Kong, she can understand conversations in Chinese.
  • Mattias Nilsson: (voiced by Peter Stormare) has been 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 speaks Russian and is 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.


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings Xbox: 86%[2]

PS2: 84%[3]

Review scores
Publication Score A[4]
Electronic Gaming Monthly 8.67/10
GameSpot 8.8/10[5]
GameSpy Xbox 5/5 stars[6]

PS2 4.5/5 stars[7]

IGN 9.1/10[8]
Official Xbox Magazine 9/10
PSM 8/10

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,[2] and the PlayStation 2 version has an average of 84%, based on 41 reviews.[3]

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 and "an irrepressible enthusiasm for explosive chaos", but that Mercenaries is more 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 a little unsettling at times. 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.[5]


The game was included on Game Informer's list of "Top 50 Games of 2005".

South Korean Ban

Mercenaries was banned from shelves in South Korea for depicting war in its still-hostile theater, as was Ghost Recon 2. The delicate situation between North and South Korea means that the government is under severe pressure to ban media that depicts war between the two nations, for fear that it could further strain an already tense diplomatic situation. However, almost 2 years later, the Game Rating Board of Korea announced that the ban on these games would be lifted by 2007.[9]


External links

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