Updated: Mercenary Ops Review

The creators of Mercenary Ops have released a major update, improving the game and addressing some of the issues we found in our original review. The biggest change is that the game is now entirely free to play. In the previous version of the game, most of the levels required a $1.99 purchase, not mentioned in the game’s App Store summary. Now, all levels are free to play, but additional power-ups and weapons still require extra purchases.

The developers have also improved the game graphics and overall performance. These weren’t issues we recognized previously, but we appreciate the effort into making the game better for future players. There is still an issue with the game’s cutscenes, which do not fit the iPhone 5’s full screen. Also, the game is now compatible with the 5th gen iPod Touch and iPad mini.

While the update does address a major issue we had with Mercenary Ops on its initial release, the game still is an unabashed copy of Resident Evil 4 with unusable tilt controls. Nevertheless, Mercenary Ops remains an excellent free-to-play shooter.

It was once said that good artists copy, but great artists steal. If that’s the case, then the developers of Mercenary Ops are certainly good, not great, artists. If a game plays or looks great, that’s only one part of the equation. There is definite value in originality, story, and design. Mercenary Ops may be that litmus test for gamers. Those who want a game with excitement and action will enjoy it, while those looking for something new will find Mercenary Ops to be something else entirely.

If you’ve played Resident Evil 4, Mercenary Ops will seem like complete deja vu. The story of Mercenary Ops is that of Leo, a tough yet heroic mercenary, sent into a European village to battle a varied horde of vicious zombies. A quick Google search for ‘Resident Evil 4′ will bring up virtually the same synopsis. The story doesn’t get much deeper than this, but that isn’t necessarily a hindrance to the game.

The real action of the game is an on-rails first-person shooter, which may be a lot of gamer mumbo-jumbo to some. Leo moves automatically, leaving you to aim and shoot the zombies attacking you. You don’t need to worry about ducking or moving out of the way. Just shoot.

We call this one Tiny.

Interestingly, Mercenary Ops offers three different control modes, which actually vary the game in terms of mode of play and difficulty. The easy control mode uses your screen as a touch pad only. To shoot, simply tap where you want to aim. This makes headshots extremely easy and your accuracy pretty high. The medium difficulty control scheme divides your screen in two. One side moves your aim, while in the other you can tap to fire.

Unfortunately, the third mode, which you unlock once you’ve gotten a few levels in the game’s story mode, is nearly unusable. It uses tilt controls to move your gun and a tap-to-fire trigger. However, the tilt controls are twitchy and not at all smooth.

The game runs off of an in-game currency, earned by performing headshots or shooting coins you find scattered throughout the levels. These coins can be spent on new weapons or ammo. You’ll play the game with a standard pistol with infinite ammo, but any other weapons require purchased ammo. Of course, you can also pay for in-game currency to earn the big boom sticks.

Have you seen my baseball?

You’ll also need to pay to actually play the game. While the game is a free download, and a universal app, that only gets you the first level of the story mode. For an additional $1.99, you will get the rest of the story mode, the survival mode, and the ability to unlock the other control scheme. This additional purchase isn’t highly advertised, and the free download barely gives you a taste of the actual game.

The gameplay is, despite all its flaws, pretty amazing. The zombies are wild and out for blood. There is a pretty big cast of bad guys, each with their own traits and looks. Rarely do we see an on-rails shooter on the App Store that plays this well. The only thing missing is a cover mechanic. Since Leo moves on his own, you never know when you’ll move into a safe spot to reload or take a breather. With no cover mechanic, you may be out in a vulnerable spot with an empty clip.

Ultimately, Mercenary Ops is a very good shooter that rips off the ideas of a great shooter. We wish the developers had bothered to create a story, characters, and concept more their own, but we do thank them for proving that on-rails shooters can use the Unreal Engine 3 to great effect.

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