The games industry is an ever-changing place, with a litany of franchises skyrocketing to massive popularity only to disappear in a few years’ time. The fact that the medium is relatively young compared to other mediums, and the industry is at the cutting-edge of technology are two big reasons why fan interest shifts rapidly, and developers have to continuously adapt accordingly in order to survive this ever-changing landscape.
The PS2 and Xbox era saw an abundance of games in the ‘AA’ space, as big-name publishers were willing to give middling budgets for developing games that were experimental. Many franchises that fans love today were born out of this market, while some enjoyed decent successes and others failed to remain relevant for a long time. Pandemic Studios’ Mercenaries largely fits into the latter category, and remains a title that’s rarely brought up in discussions today – which ultimately begs the question, what the hell actually happened to Mercenaries?
Over a relatively short time span of six years, Pandemic Studios had crafted a reputation for itself with its Star Wars games – the original Battlefront and The Clone Wars. Coming right off the heels of the massively successful Star Wars Battlefront, the studio sought to create a game that combined open-world elements popularized by Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series along with the action-packed combat that fans of franchises like Star Wars would resonate with.
Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction was a third-person action game set in the near future. Set against a nation on the brink of war, Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction featured an open-world environment that players were free to explore at their own will. You can hop into the game’s variety of vehicles, and wreak havoc to the game’s environments thanks to its destruction mechanics. There were also, of course, loads of side missions that players could partake in. There’s also a morality system that judges a player’s action and shifts the relationship of the player with different factions accordingly. The game also featured light-stealth elements, which while primitive adds some variety to the game’s combat.
Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction released in 2005 to great critical reception. The game’s PS2 version stands at an 84 rating on Metacritic, which is certainly not shallow by any means. Critics lauded the game’s sandbox, which allowed for unique scenarios and opportunities for gameplay. Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction is by no means a perfect game, there are obvious flaws to it. While the game tries to cram so many different genres together, it lacks polish on almost every front. The shooting isn’t as satisfying as a well, military shooter and the driving wasn’t very refined. No sales figures for the game have been known, but it seems safe to assume that it would have performed well enough to warrant a sequel either way.
Mercenaries 2: World of Flames was conceived shortly after the release of the first, but took almost 3 years to develop. The game’s protracted development cycle became the hot topic back in the day, with developer Pandemic Studios constantly shifting release dates. The game would finally release in August of 2008 for PS2, PS3, PC, and Xbox 360 and was dubbed as mostly mediocre by critics on release.
Mercenaries 2: World of Flames takes place in Venezuela, and largely follows the same themes of war and violence that worked so well in the original. Of course, there were some general improvements across the board – visuals are better, destruction mechanics were more refined, and the like. However, the game lacked polish – and largely fell prey to the same issues that were the subject of criticism with the first game. Mercenaries 2: World of Flames currently stands at a rating of 72 on Metacritic, which while respectable in its own right isn’t anything extraordinary.
Again, sales figures for the game aren’t made public, but given the fact that Mercenaries was a credible IP at the time, it seems safe to assume that the game might have performed well enough on a commercial front. The sentiment is further backed by the fact that Pandemic already had plans for another entry in the franchise, titled at the time Mercenaries 3: No Limits.
Of course, none of this actually meant much since Pandemic Studios was purchased by EA alongside Bioware in 2008. Pandemic shipped The Lord of the Rings: Conquest in 2009, which was another mediocre title from the developer. EA already had an increasing number of studios under its belt, and it isn’t uncommon for big-name publishers to either strip underperforming studios down to support roles or outright shut them down due to financial concerns. Pandemic Studios was already working on two new projects, Project X and Project Y – the latter of which was the aforementioned third entry in the Mercenaries franchise when it was revealed that the studio would be closing its doors.
Most employees were laid off, and 35 reportedly joined forces with Danger Close Games. Pandemic’s members in Danger Close Games would be given an opportunity to complete the game, which ultimately morphed into Mercs Inc. Unlike previous entries in the franchise, Mercs Inc. was a multiplayer shooter set in the Mercenaries universe. Not a lot is known about the game since it was promptly cancelled after Danger Close Games closed its doors following the disastrous release of Medal of Honor: Warfighter in 2012.
While Mercenaries did have some unique ideas up its sleeve, most would agree that it failed to find a strong footing in the industry. There were open-world games and there were games with destruction mechanics – and while Mercenaries tried to incorporate many things under one umbrella, it failed to reach a satisfactory level of polish in either of these fronts.
Of course, there’s also the fact that the industry was experiencing a larger shift towards games with more mature themes and multiplayer elements. Back in 2008, fast-paced action shooters were all the rage. EA’s own competitor, Medal of Honor was struggling to find its niche in a rapidly changing landscape – and repeated failures from Danger Close Games would ultimately result in the closure of the studio.
The future of the Mercenaries franchise is looking extremely bleak at this time. There’s been little to no rumours suggesting a revival of the franchise or even a remastered release for that matter. The only ray of hope that fans can cling to is the fact that EA renewed the ownership of the Mercenaries website earlier this year, which again doesn’t mean much. The legacy of Mercenaries was a short-lived one, and it was fun while it lasted.