Have you ever wondered what it would be like if life was lived as a computer game? If you could have three lives (with an extra one at the end of each level)? If you could go around blowing things up without feeling guilty or worried, and you never felt pain? And what if you could stick in another 20p every time you made a mistake and got wiped out? I'd be pretty good, wouldn't it? (Not really. Readers voice)
And talking of blowing things up (albeit on a dodgy old colour TV screen) that's exactly what we've got here. MERCS is very Op Wolf-ish in terms of plot, but designed in a sort of 'looking down everything from above and behind' 3D thingie. You're the head of some crack-force team in Africa, bashing it out with a load of thoroughly unpleasant cannibals who (more through luck than judgement probably) have kidnapped the President of the USA. It's hardly worth rescuing him, I reckon, but your little bloke is determined to wade through all sorts of swamps, forests and jungles to get to him. There must be a lot of money in it for him, I s'pose (hence the 'mercs' of the title - it stands for, er, 'mercenary', fact fans).
Your bloke starts off with a single-shot rifle and a bazooka which he rushes up-screen with, destroying everything in sight. This includes a lot of jungle foliage and countless baddies. They charge at you with their rather pitiful weapns and you simply swing your rifle around (it's an 8-directional jobbie) and waste them. If they manage to get you, it doesn't really hurt. All that happens is you lose a bit energy (shown on a bar to the right). A bit pathetic, I'd say.
Dotted around are other weapons, such as 3-way firing guns and, er, faster 3-way firing guns (oh, and a very handy flame-thrower). All this extra firepower is seriously useful because close friends of the annoying guys (who you've been slaughtering) are still milling around, determined to diminish your chances of survival.
There are 8 levels, ranging from landing on the beach and running up and down on a ship to wiping out an entire HO and spraying graffiti over the government buildings. But all the levels are a bit short so you tend to zip through them rather than get really involved. Each has an end-of-level machine like a tank, helicopter or armoured boat to destroy. You'll need to don your extra-nippy shoes for these because they move around a bit, spraying you with all sorts of unpleasant gunfire. So it's probably a good idea to make a grab for the bazooka and blast the tank/plane/hovercraft thingie to kingdom come (along with any bad buys still hanging about). Three cheers and a might hurrah!
Actually, sometimes you won't have the foggiest idea which way to go. Your rock-hard Merc stays pretty much in the centre of the screen, and each level covers a large area, so it's quite possible to dash through a stinky swamp, blow up a couple of lean-to sheds and waste 200 enemy soldiers before finding out you've set off in completely the wrong direction. Drat and double drat! (That's what I tend to say, anyway.)
MERCS doesn't have the most incredible graphics you'll ever see, but it's strength is said (by US Gold, naturellement) to lie in the gameplay. Hmm. I'm not sure. It's good fun, certainly (and even better with 2 players). Oh sure, it's fast, and it's also action-packed, so no quibbles there. But I reckon it's pretty easy and it's not often I find arcade games particularly easy. Basically I'm just concerned about how long it'll take you to complete it. Caring, aren't I?
Smart and speedy, certainly. It's just a bit too easy for the seasoned campaigner.