GEEK OUT 

Army of Fun

Weapons of mass destruction. Civilian contractors. The deck of "52 Most Wanted" playing cards. Sure, all of these may be familiar news items, but unlike other generations, we aren't limited to merely watching overseas wars as they happen--we get to play along with the home game.

Pandemic Studios' Mercenaries (out now for PlayStation 2 and Xbox) isn't the first game to turn headlines into pixels--even the US Army has lent its training technology and "consultation" services to a number of blockbuster games set in the present-day Middle East, like Full Spectrum Warrior, America's Army, and Close Combat: First to Fight. If these trainers-turned-games sound like high-tech recruiting tools, they are: America's Army is available for free at army recruiting centers.

But Mercenaries treads different territory. First, it pushes past current events to ones that haven't even happened yet: Iraq? Please. Try North Korea. And instead of controlling an American serviceman, the player takes the role of a civilian contract--er, mercenary. As the player is loyal only to the highest bidder, Mercenaries has the opportunity to portray the war from a more subversive perspective, unbound by national ties. Without the flag-waving jingoism of games like America's Army, Mercenaries has the potential to provide a gritty, outsider's view of the wars of today and tomorrow. But instead, the game basically offers Grand Theft Auto: North Korea, with missions based on buzzwords; players score bonus cash for single-handedly securing stashes of WMDs, toppling statues of dictatorial leaders, escorting embedded reporters across the battlefield, and securing--dead or alive--all 52 of North Korea's Most Wanted. Simply put, Mercenaries trivializes world events in the interest of light entertainment, without any satirical angle to back it up. Is it fun? Sure. But get back to me in a few years and we'll see if a war with North Korea still sounds like fun and games.

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