M.E.R.C. is an aptly named wonderful adventure through a post-apocalyptic dystopian wasteland. You take on the role of the mercenary bands commander, much the same as you do in the critically acclaimed X-COM series, and prepare your band of mercenaries for war. Upon starting the game, you are given a brief and in-depth background of how the world came to the unfortunate boiling point it is now at and find yourself with a bit of a conundrum; who are you going to help through the existential crisis and why.
All in all, the story is very well put together. While it may not be very different from a lot of dystopian futuristic tales of how humanity destroyed itself it in the very least is interesting. The graphical quality of the game is actually rather good as well, standing up to other games of its type without any issue. The playstyle of real-time strategy combined with the traditionally turn based squad control is a refreshing change that will please and surprise you at how much of a difference it makes in gameplay. No longer is the issue of putting the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time a death sentence, with real-time reactions you are fully capable of taking back a risky soldier position.
As the story begins you are informed of a conclave of sorts that took place between the mega corporations that have risen to power through the dust that used to be human civilization. These corporations made a pact that they would all work together towards the common good of the people and ended a constant civil war between the corporations themselves and the poor and destitute people of the surrounding slums. In exchange for this brokered peace the mega businesses would help the people lead a better life for themselves. This agreement goes slightly amiss however when one of the corporations decides to go rogue and try to take down the rest. This results in the demolition of this rogue business and the total disappearance of its former C.E.O.
It’s at this point that you are introduced to the mysterious antagonist of the story. A strange band of terrorist has begun to thwart the actions of the conclave. Nobody knows where this group had arisen from or who is supporting them with their advanced and high-tech weaponry and in order to solve this mystery your mercenary band is hired to investigate and systematically destroy them. However, there is a catch. The missions you are given come from the different corporations that make up the coalition that resolved the initial conflicts and they don’t really get along too well. Helping each of them individually hurts your relationship with their competitors and causes the imminent demise of whatever businesses take the fall from you helping their competitors. This leaves the player with an impasse to resolve; who will you help and why and are you willing to live with the consequences of not having the help of those who fall due to your actions.
When it comes to actual critical issues, the game only has two. The first issue is the camera control. While you are able to zoom in and out on your squad with the mouse wheel the camera position itself is in just the right spot to make it impossible to see very far down screen at enemies. This problem makes it to where enemies see you at about the same time you the player are able to see them even though some units such as the sniper would have already been able to make a telling and potentially fatal blow if only you’d been able to see the target beforehand.
The second issue is the inability to independently move your units. The closest the game comes to this is its co-op option in which you are able to split your squad of normally four (4) into dual squads of two (2). Because of this, getting you entire squad into good cover can be difficult and leave some of your squad members open to enemy fire. This however is necessary to some extent because being able to move each member independently would create a difficult movement system for a single player in real-time.
With all things considered, M.E.R.C. is actually very good and of course is still in early access, giving the creator the ability to continually improve upon it with suggestions from the players who take advantage of buying the game now while it’s still being developed. I’d consider this game a must have for any lover of war novels or any aspiring battle tactician looking for a challenge.
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