Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PC)
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames was the other free-roaming action game of 2008. Rudely sandwiched between high-profile releases from Rockstar and THQ, it was unfairly dismissed by most critics as a Venezuela-based GTA-knockoff. Even an ill-advised publicity stunt involving free petrol failed to generate the game much notice. Simply put, the sandbox delights offered by Grand Theft Auto IV and Saint’s Row 2 were more than enough for most gamers — a third trip to the playground was just overkill.
More’s the pity, because Mercenaries 2 is one of the best sandbox titles we’ve ever played and an easy contender for the most underrated — and destructive — game of the year. To our knowledge, no other game in this genre allows you to raze the entire cityscape to the ground: not a single skyscraper is impervious to punishment, no matter how huge. (By contrast, even the smallest apartment block in GTA IV refuses to crumble.) To put it bluntly, Mercenaries 2 is a pyromaniac’s wet dream.
We also liked the believable sense of escalating anarchy as the world’s powers converged upon the war-torn country. Despite the cheesy cut-scenes, the game world truly felt authentic, with the panicked populace fleeing in droves as the smoke and chaos rise. In fact, we’re even willing to overlook the game’s terrible packaging, which features some of the worst video game art we’ve ever seen (well, apart from this guy).