Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

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, 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.

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

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 (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 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. 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 years of military tension, the aging President Choi Kim of North Korea begins to embrace the "Sunshine Policy" of South Korea, reviving hopes of peaceful reunification of the two Korean countries. However, high-ranking members of the Korean People's Army become disgruntled with the turn of events, fearing a dramatic loss of their power. Their leader, the brilliant and ruthless Choi Song, believes that his father, President Kim, was losing sight of "North Korea's true destiny." Song leads an army of insurgents into a ceremony celebrating a road map to the reunification of Korea. Both North and South Korean political leaders are shot and killed, and Song is reported to have deliberately killed his own father in the process.

After the successful coup, General Song then severs all contact with the outside world. The whole country goes "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 resist the foreign invaders, and the AN began to be pushed back. The Russian Mafia infiltrates the country, hoping to exploit the chaos and establish a black market. In addition, Chinese and South Korean troops move 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 distributes 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, responds 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.

  • 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]


Review scores
Game Informer7.5/10[7]7.5/10[7]
Game RevolutionB+[9]B+[9]
GamePro     [8]     [8]
GameSpy     [11]     [12]
OPM (US)     [16]N/A
OXM (US)N/A9/10[17]
Detroit Free PressN/A    [18]
The Times     [19]     [19]
Aggregate score

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 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,[citation needed] 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 banEdit

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.[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. ^
  26. ^ Boyes, Emma (December 29, 2006). "Korea lifts game censorship". GameSpot. Retrieved December 14, 2017.

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