Silicon soldiers to fortune!

Mercs logo

Publisher: US Gold Price: £24.99

Hands up who remembers Commando? In its heyday it was both a hit in the Arcades of England and on the home computer formats across which it was released. Some heroic soldier, drafted at great expense from the streets and given a gun and grenades all of his very own, had to single-handedly take on several enemy outposts and, put delicately, blow the living daylights out of them.

That was moons ago, before the times of 16-bit games playing, before the Amiga even had such gems as Space Invaders developed for it. However, the old ideas are sometimes the best. At least, US Gold reckons so, because MERCS feels pretty damn familiar to me.

Times being what they are and governments spending so much more on defence these days, MERCS allows the prospective Sylvester Stallone to take his buddy along with him to help out. Thus the game may be played with two players simultaneously using two joysticks (much like the Commando sequel, Ikari Warriors). So grab a joystick and get stuck in.

Whether you go it alone or with a chum the idea is the same. Shoot absolutely everything that moves. Should it not move, lob a couple of grenades at it first until it does, then shoot it some more. You're beginning to get the subtle message now, aren't you? But before you mentally dog-tag MERCS as a predictable run-of-the-mill shoot-'em-up, it's best that you know what else it has to offer apart from the two player mode.

The first has been done before but it's nice to see it here - along the tortuous route to the end of each encampment you'll come across various military vehicles, jeeps, small armoured cars, maybe even the odd tank. Leap into one and not only is your firepower increased but you may also progress faster.

Don't think that these gifts are the end of your trouble though. No way. Like most of the scenery the landscape, the vehicles may be destroyed. In fact, if you're careless, you may even destroy them before using them. Chances are that before too long the vehicle will be blown up with you inside it, and it's back to boot leather transportation again.

I mentioned that much of the scenery can be destroyed. In fact, much of it HAS to be destroyed or you won't be able to progress through the levels.

Groves of palm trees, army barracks, crawling with soldiers, burnt-out snipers' haunts - all come between you and the guardians. Oh, didn't I mention them? They guard the gateway between levels. No huge robotic monsters or silly dinosaurs, these babies are for real. Planes that strafe you with deadly accuracy, tanks to blow your butt off. All hits deplete your limited energy.

There are plenty of action-packed levels to test your stamina as well as the omnipotent Guardians. Win through and you deserve to be a General.

Mercs logo

US Gold * £24.99 Joystick

Many moons ago, a coin-op appeared, called Commando. This fun little game featured a super-hard warrior fighting through enemy territory armed with nothing more than a machine-gun and a handful of grenades and contained a great deal of manic blasting.

Soon enough similar games began to appear with certain variations on the main theme. Additional weapons were added, the ability to have to players marching along at the same time and last, but certainly not least, the appearance of those huge end-of-level tanks, helicopters, planes, boats (delete as applicable).
Mercs continues along this theme, placing you as a crack mercenary (hence the name) on a tip-top secret mission (hush-hush, nudge-nudge).

Storming overland
The former President of the United States has recently been touring central Africa, improving international relations in an effort to bring about world peace. Unfortunately a gang of revolutionary soldiers managed to kidnap the leader and are now holding him hostage pending their ransom demands.

You are part of a newly formed task-Force known as the Mercs. The force has been put together by ex-military heroes as a secret troubleshooting organisation and this is just the kind of job that they were set up for.

You must breach the rebel frontiers and break through their defences in an attempt to locate and rescue the President, and in so doing stopping their plans for taking over the country of Zutula and smashing those rowdy rebel rousers right in the proverbials.

The mission is split into seven sections. In the first you must storm the enemy beach defence line. From there you must break through their tank line, take out their special attack unit, breach the mountain pass, wipe out their supply line and finally storm the HQ to rescue the President.

A variety of special weapons are available to help you fight the rebel troops, along with additional food supplies to revitalise your flagging energy.

Have MERCy!
Well one thing in its favour is that Mercs certainly contains a lot of action! The graphics are large and colourful and the screen is filled with bullets and all manner of whizzing death. To begin with, the action is fairly dull and monotonous, but as the game progresses the pace hots up as more dangers are introduced along with more fearsome weaponry.

The theme however is pretty contrived and the gameplay isn't really anything new. Most of the game's aspects were contained in the old classic Ikari Warriors.
True, Mercs has flasher graphics and more porky hardware, but the basic premise is the same. The game doesn't really offer much lasting interest either. After playing the game off-and-on for only two days we managed to finish the entire mission. And what congratulations does it give you? It says 'Game Over'. Wow, thanks.

Even if you're totally starved of shoot-em-up action, try shopping around the other options before parting with your money for a copy of Mercs, otherwise you may be disappointed.

Along the way, you'll find various items to pick up which help.
Mercs: Rocket launcher Rocket launcher. Mercs: Flak jacket Flak jacket restricts damage.
Mercs: Machine gun Machine-gun. Mercs: First-aid First-aid kit.
Mercs: Grenade launcher Grenade launcher. Mercs: Energy Energy refresh.
Mercs: Flame-thrower Flame-thrower. Mercs: Extra life Extra life.
Mercs: Weapon power-up Weapon power-up. Mercs: Extra Bomb Extra bomb.
Mercs: Food Food boosts energy.

Mercs logo War Zone logo

Amiga Söldner, die sich am liebsten per Vertikalscrolling durch die Screens metzeln, werden zur Zeit gleich von zwei Seiten mit neuen Opfern versorgt! Wer läßt es besser krachen: U.S. Gold oder Core Design?

Ob nun, wie bei Mercs, der amerikanische Präsident ins finsterste Afrika entführt wurde, oder ob sich gemäß War Zone eine unbekannte Macht anschickt, die freie Welt zu erobern - bei Stories nehmen es an Spannung und Dramatik problemlos mit jedem Telefonbuch auf!

Nun sind in diesem Genre die Geschichten aber auch wirklich schl... nurzegal, wichtig ist, daß ein beinharter Bursche mit der Knarre im Anschlag darauf wartet, von einen nicht minder harten Joystickartisten durch jeweils acht Level voller Gegner und Extrawaffen dirigiert zu werden. Hat der Mann am Stick zufälligerweise einen Freund, der ebenfalls gerade jene Spiele bevorzugt, die die BPS so gar nicht leiden mag, geht es Seit an Seite durchs Feindesland.

Der Kampf
Die Gemeinsamkeiten erschöpfen sich aber keineswegs in der Vorgeschichte: Beide Games sind typische Arcade-Knaller (Mercs stammt sogar aus der Spielhalle, dort konnten übrigens gleich drei Freizeit-Söldner mitmischen), beide bieten die obligaten King Size Endgegner (Panzer, Hubschrauber...), und beide machen erst so richtig Spaß, wenn man sie zu zweit spielt.

Auch bei den Feinden gibt's hier wie dort das übliche Personal an herumlaufenden Soldaten, hinterlistigen Heckenschützen und sonstigen Miniatur-Rambos, die es auf den Energie-vorrat der Hauptsprites abgesehen haben. Erste Unterschiede ergeben sich dagegen bei der Auswahl an Waffen und sonstigen Extras.

Dabei scheint zunächst Mercs die Nase vorn zu haben, weil man hier auch Jeeps, Panzer oder Boote zum Vorwärtskommen benutzen kann, wobei im Zwei-Spieler-Modus der eine lenkt, während der Kollege die Kanone bedient.

Insgesamt geht der Sieg in dieser Disziplin aber trotzdem an War Zone: Das wortwörtlich kistenweise im Gelände verstreute Sammelgut mag zwar nicht gerade Übermäßig originell sein, dafür ist das Angebot an Schutzschilden, Erste-Hilfe-Koffern, Extraleben, Punkteboni, (per Shift-Taste aktivierbaren) Smartbombs und tausenderlei noch dreifach hochrüstbaren Feuerwerkskörpern mehr als komplett. Dagegen nimmt sich das Mercs-Waffenarsenal mit seinen MGs, Streuschußkanonen, Raketen- und Flammenwerfern vergleichsweise harmlos aus - auch wenn es hier zusätzlich Proviant und sogar (energieraubende) Zigaretten zu finden gibt!

Die Entscheidung
Eins vorweg: Was hier jeweils an Grafik über den Screen flimmert, ist bestimmt nichts für Leute mit schwachen Nerven oder gutem Geschmack! Bei War Zone sacken die getroffenen Gegner blutüberströmt zusammen, ebenso die an Pfähle gefesslten Geiseln, sollte man sie versehentlich erschießen anstatt befreien.

Auch bietet es den größeren Bildschirmausschnitt, Mercs hingegen das bessere, weil multidirektionale und dennoch etwas weniger ruckelnde Scrollung, und die gelungeneren Animationen. Soundtechnisch stehen in der Kriegszone markerschütternde Todesschreie und dröhnende Explosionsgeräusche oder ein mittelprächtige Musi am Spielplan, bei Mercs hingegen gibt's gute Musik plus knackige Schuß-FX.

Letztendlich aber ist die Spielbarkeit das allesentscheidende Kriterium, und da ist War Zone leider nur zweiter Sieger: Mercs spielt sich einfach eine Spur flotter, es kann mit allerlei Feinheiten wie Liften oder daß man im Sumpf langsamer vorw¨rts kommt, aufwarten.

Zudem muß man hier auch nicht ewig in undendlich zähe Gegner hineinballern - das ganze Gamedesign macht einen etwas professionelleren und vor allem abwechslungsreicheren Eindruck. Das soll nun aber nicht bedeuten, daß War Zone schnell langweilig würde! Dazu ist es schonmal viel zu schwer... (C. Borgmeier/mm)

Mercs logo

The latest in USG's long line of CapCom coin-op conversions, Mercs is a scrolling shoot-'em-up in the Commando tradition, but with all the usual trappings of a modern slaughterfest (i.e. power-ups and big end-of-level baddies).

It scrolls in five directions (that is, all the usual compass-point ones except down and the downward diagonals), and pits the players (or players in two-player mode) against all the standard cannon-fodder grunts and hardware that you find in games of this ilk.

So what makes Mercs different from all the rest? Well, for one thing that's the rather tacky animation, In 1991, full-price games really ought to be beyond the stage of having characters glide across the landscape with the leg movements bearing no relation to the distance they actually travel.

For another thing there are the really sloppy bugs in the continue system. The game offers you a ten second countdown continue option after you use up your last credit, even though you can't continue any more! This clearly isn't particularly important, but it is infuriating, I can't see any reason for it at all.

Apart from the aforementioned niggles, Mercs is a perfectly respectable conversion, but it suffers from the common problem of being a totally uninspiring game in the first place.

It goes without saying that if you loved the original it'll be exactly what you want, so I won't bother saying that, and will instead note that it's another competent Commando clone, tough enough to provide a fair amount of zapping before you beat it, and one of the nicest-looking games of its kind. Only you know if that's what you want to spend £25 on.