Reviewed on: PS4
Also Available on: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX
Reviewed by: Sam Fourie
The sales pitch for Mercenary Kings makes it sound like a game that should have been made a long time ago: take the weapon crafting elements from Monster Hunter and toss across the basic gameplay of a shooter like Metal Slug. It is an inspired idea and Mercenary Kings almost manages to pull it off.
The premise behind the plot in Mercenary Kings is paper thin at best. It tells the tale of a group of guns-for-hire banding together in attempt to thwart the plans of the evil CLAW corporation. It’s a very basic story and it’s only really present to provide some basic context for the missions.
Although the story is nothing special, the dialogue between the characters is surprisingly well written, with charming personalities spouting some really memorable dialogue. In addition to lending a hand throughout the game in both crafting and supplying the player, the cast of characters really add to the relaxed yet serious tone of the title.
This tone carries over quite nicely in both the visual and audio components of the game. The art style is truly unique with every character and environment overflowing with personality. The music is equally as impressive and features enough diverse and memorable tunes to warrant a purchase outside of the game.
Mercenary Kings’s gameplay is very noticeably inspired by classic side scrolling shooters like Metal Slug and Contra. The player can attack – either by shooting or stabbing – in four directions. Enemy fire can be dodged by going prone beneath it, ducking below the bullets’ path or jumping above the stream of live ammunition flying at the character’s retro-styled face This system, while simple, works effectively and feels particularly satisfying – especially once you start facing a large number of enemies. Once you learn the quirks and attack patterns associated with each enemy type, dodging their attacks becomes a matter of routine. This routine quickly falls apart with the introduction of new enemy variants. These though. are few and far between.
The lack of numerous varied enemy types is quite frustrating as, Mercenary Kings has some great ideas that it puts to use in each foe you face. From cyborgs that throw boomerang styled projectiles to giant brass slugs that spit a wide cone of bullets, each enemy presents a fun little puzzle to solve the first time around. As a player, you’ll monitor their movements and attack cycles and experiment with various weapons to see what works best against them. But eventually almost all of them outstay their welcome, with each enemy type being used to nauseum before another one gets introduced.
The overuse of a particular enemy type is particularly prevalent when it comes to boss fights. The first boss you encounter is recycled for most of the game, with minimal difference in each of his appearances. In a stretch of about three hours, I encountered this same boss eight times with no difference in the way he behaves, or the way in which I dispatched him. It’s immensely annoying and the game repeats this cycle with all three boss class enemies.
The mission structure is equally as repetitive with a handful of objectives and mission parameters being used repeatedly throughout. There really isn’t much variety on offer in the missions as most of them consist purely of “Kill/Capture/Find X amounts of Y enemy/object”. This in itself I could easily overlook (better games have gotten away with less) but Mercenary Kings turns the simple kill/gather objective into an annoying scavenger hunt.
The location of your objective is more often than not indicated on the map. With the amount of ground the player has to to cover, each mission generally devolves into a monotonous search for the objective while mowing down the same arrangement of respawning enemies. This is even worse with the boss fights, as they usually flee to another area once you’ve dealt a set amount of damage to them. An upgrade available later in the game indicates the spawning location of bosses but, in the early sections, it’s a needless slog to hunt them down.
This is partly why the cooperative element in Mercenary Kings is such a welcome addition. You can party up with a total of four players (either online via matchmaking or local play on the same console) and it makes the entire ordeal a whole lot easier. The mission structure benefits greatly from this as multiple players searching the level lead to the objective being accomplished in very little time. Even in playing with a bunch of strangers I was able to achieve more in an hour with them than in a whole day of solo play.
There is one area though in which Mercenary Kings excels: weapon crafting. Most enemies drop materials which you can gather. These, in conjunction with the money you earn from completing missions, allow you invest in a robust weapon crafting system that offers up an opportunity to create a diverse array of weaponry. Each gun is composed of a stock, receiver, magazine, sight and ammo type. You’re more or less free to combine parts in any way you wish. The crafting works beautifully and kept me invested for quite some time.
In addition to crafting weapons you also eventually gain access to the forge which allows you access to create a myriad of knives to enhance your melee attacks. Though most of the early upgrades are run of the mill enhancements to damage and attack speed, the ones available later on have some more unorthodox benefits.
Also available is a range of bionic components that you can slot into your character, though most of these upgrades also hamper the player. For instance: the component that causes each enemy to drop materials is great for crafting equipment early on, but the fact that it decreases the likelihood of enemies dropping rare materials can block you from gaining access to higher tier weaponry. It’s a noticeably more shallow than the weapon crafting, but a welcome addition nonetheless.
The great variety on offer in the title’s weaponry almost overshadows the game’s other problems. Mercenary Kings can be a blast to play, especially if you opt to team up with other players. It flaunts some fantastic audio and visual design that is sure to turn some heads.However, the constant repetition in both the level design and enemy types hampers what could otherwise be one of the best entries into this genre in quite a while. The weapon crafting works so well and the combat supplies a lot of thrills. I just wish it was all attached to a game with a better mission structure and increased enemy variety.
Lasting Appeal: 6/10