This morning Electronic Arts sent over a copy of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, the company's latest Grand Theft Auto-inspired shooter.
The game places you as the leader of a private military contractor who has been screwed out of some blood money by a corrupt government official. As is your wont, the rest of the game is spent blowing up large pieces of the country in a quest to earn your cash.
As you'd expect, the storyline is equal parts Rambo and sociopolitical commentary on the dangers of a world owned by multinational corporations and the well-armed thugs they hire.
Unfortunately, no one seems to have tipped off EA's marketing department.
The third mission in Mercenaries 2 sees your character attempting to infiltrate a series of bases to drop remote listening posts that would, in theory, allow you to listen in on your foes' plans. As I drove a shiny Jeep lookalike toward the first of these bases I was struck with one of the most unintentionally hilarious sights in gaming: A billboard for 20th Century Fox's upcoming sci-fi thriller series Fringe.
I've gone on record before decrying the idea of in-game advertising, but I will admit that it occasionally has its place. NFL stadiums, for instance, are often blanketed in advertisements and removing them from Madden would leave that series a bit less authentic. The same goes for professional basketball and NASCAR.
In a game with such heavy anarchist undertones whose entire narrative urges you to virtually "fight the power" though, billboards paid for by the same sort of multinational corporations that you happen to be aiming rocket launchers at is either stupendously clever or mind-numbingly stupid.
I'm honestly hoping it's the former. If one of the producers decided that giving players the chance to destroy ads crafted by EA's business partners -- and yes, you can destroy all of the billboards in the game -- was a conscious nod toward Mercenaries' anti-authoritarian stance then I'd like to applaud them for this brilliant in-joke.
Sadly, I have no faith that anyone there would either be willing to upset their advertisers in such a way or would be sharp enough to craft such a complex, meta gag.
(And that's to say nothing of how bizarre it is that the Venezuelan countryside would be covered in English ads for an American TV series.)
By the way, for those who are wondering, the game is otherwise pretty rad. Hijacking vehicles and crafting your own bloody military coup is always a good time, even though the graphics and audio are slightly below what you'd expect.