Mercenary Ops Hands-on GDC 2012 Preview – A Fluid Gears of Shanghai Solid 4By Steve Haske - Posted Mar 07, 2012
Mercenary Ops is a post-Vanquish game. The developers liken it to a third-person Counter-Strike with cover. I’m not sure that really captures the speed and frenetics captured in the gameplay--at least when you’re playing it right.
MO doesn’t actually have that much to do with Shinji Mikami’s underrated sliding actioner, really. It is futuristic, at least insofar as your enemies are cybernetically-enhanced soldiers and small robot dog-spiders. The game is still quick in its own way. As a tactical run-and-gun, Epic Shanghai has streamlined it from the ground up to be extra nimble, from the gameplay to the simplified control scheme. It’s a bit of a surprise that MO is a PC shooter, because it really feels like a console game.
Rather than going through the usual route of a story-driven campaign, this Unreal 3 title, Epic Shanghai’s first solo game, takes a multiplayer co-op approach. Dynamism is key here, with changing battle conditions (one example I was given was certain doors on a map being closed if you failed to get to a particular point in time) as well as environmental destruction. At the same time, moves like sliding in and out of cover, sprinting, side rolls and active reload feel fast and fluid.
The point of all this is reactionary gameplay. Enemies will use various forms of AI, with some aggressively rushing you and others utilizing cover, so you can’t just use the same tactics. Gameplay mission types also vary, from optionally tactical firefights and sniper missions to straight-up assault types.
Like Vanquish, you can’t stay long in cover, either, meaning you’ll have to you’ll have to keep your wits about you to stay alive in the midst of a changing battlefield. It’s unclear if this will mean drastic real-time map changes, but it’s a promising idea. At this point, how long you linger (as well as your accuracy) are probably the two biggest factors in end-of-mission scoring.
Console players might have a bit of trouble getting used to the keyboard controls (I did at first), though it’s a testament to how simple they are that in less than 10 minutes I went from floundering with reloading and contextual actions to moving throughout the map mercing with no problems.
During my hands-on, I was able to play a few different scenarios highlighting different play styles, although all but one were target practice training levels. Though the balance has been fine-tuned to make whatever kind of gameplay work, diving, rolling, and sliding into cover feels like the most fun; working against the clock to eliminate targets quickly and professionally becomes a game in and of itself.
Out of the few missions I played--designed for suggested tactical gunplay, sniping and assault, among others--the most interesting, as well as the only with actual enemies, was a Horde-style wave combat scenario taking place in a train depot. Taking the dumb AI with a grain of salt (training mission), the changes in enemy tactics were still evident, with the aforementioned spider-dogs nipping at my heels while grunts that would have fit in with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’s PMC soldiers kept their distance. At the end of the round a heavy with a minigun came out, though no one posed much challenge.
What’s weird about MO is that it doesn’t really do anything I haven’t seen before in other games, but the polish and quickened pace still left me entertained. I have to wonder why Epic didn’t want to show off more combat with actual enemies, the multiplayer aspects notwithstanding; it’s hard to say for sure how the final release will play without trying these components out for myself.
There are some little touches that lend MO some promise. Part of the game’s dynamic design uses the power of Unreal 3 to create weather conditions like snow and sandstorms to decrease visibility à la Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. A Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls weight encumbrance was also said to slow down your character’s movement, though details on how much this might affect your minute-to-minute character control in such an accelerated environment weren’t provided.
The biggest hurdle MO will have to overcome is how to differentiate itself from the crowd when it hits this Summer. Whether or not the console feel will gel with the hardcore crowd is debatable. For now at least the Epic polish is there.