When a game unapologetically pushes the envelope on gameplay mechanics and crafts a story around current events, there are usually some lingering questions gamers have before plugging in. Can a game juggle the elements as well as promised? Can it deliver something new and unique? Does it have staying power? Most games can’t answer “yes” to all three questions. But then…this isn’t most games.
In 2005, Lucasarts and Pandemic Studios released their open-world sandbox shooter. With an emphasis on exploration and wanton destruction, the game was popular and met with positive reviews. In the years since, however, that formula has been implemented countless times. Graphics have improved, machines have become more powerful, and open world games have expanded to include more creative elements. It’s completely feasible that the game just would not hold up. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
After mentioning this game in our last episode of Nerd Talk, I was compelled to pick the game up and give it a replay after all these years, and nothing has felt more natural. As mentioned in that episode of Nerd Talk, the game can best be described as “Grand Theft Auto in North Korea.” Players control one of three potential mercenaries who enter North Korea in an attempt to slow the recent coup detate…and collect a hearty paycheck in the process.
Players can take jobs from four of the five factions in the game. The Allied Powers, the Russian Mob, South Korea, and China are all willing to pay for your services. North Korea, on the other hand, is always hostile. The four open factions, however, may not always be ready and willing to pay for your services. While all factions may oppose the NK coup, not every faction has the same outlook or ideals on the situation. Taking jobs from the Chinese will not be taken lightly by the South Koreans. Favoring one faction too heavily will result in bad relations with others. Killing civilians will anger everyone.
All is not lost, of course. The game will never shut you out of any opportunity…you just need to speak the universal language…money. Bribe the officer with enough cash and you’ll be able to take a job. Money is your best friend in the game, as it can help you curry favor with factions and allow you to purchase stolen goods from the Russian Mob. Vehicles, supplies, and air strikes are invaluable tools, as they can prepare you for battle or serve as an emergency exit if things get tight.
In addition to the primary jobs offered by each faction, there are dozens of other side quests and missions to keep you busy. The most notable of these, of course, is taking down the “Deck of 52,” the 52 most dangerous North Korean insurgents behind General Song’s uprising. Capturing these weapons manufacturers or engineers allows players to earn some extra money on the side. Of course, killing them is also an option, should players feel compelled to do so.
And that is a very distinct possibility, as North Korea is your playground of destruction. With a large map, divided into two provinces, you have an entire country at your disposal. Much like any other open-world game, it’s entirely possible, if not encouraged, to sideline the story and go on a cathardic rampage. Everything in the game, from vehicles to entire cities, can be completely destroyed. The game also has built-in cheat codes for unlimited health and ammo, which allows for endless sprees of destruction. Add in the ability to play as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, courtesy of Lucasarts, and it’s possible to lose hours in the game simply by goofing off.
Combat, be it part of the story or not, is delightfully creative, ensuring the battles never become boring. Sure, you can go in guns blazing and just shoot everyone. But there are more creative options for more adventurous gamers. Strap C4 to the hood of your car to create a rolling bomb. Pick up a car with your helicopter and use it as a wrecking ball. Drive up in an enemy vehicle, disguised as a faction, for a covert infiltration. Call in an airstrike. Or do…all of those things for a cinematic, blood-pumping mission that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The combinations are endless.
While the graphics have begun to show their age, the gameplay is still as tight as ever. The controls are easy to use and are on par with many modern-day releases. Yes, you might run into a quirk in physics now and then, but those are few and far between. So long as you can handle the aged graphics and 2005 technology, like your PDA, the game still holds up. As does the enemy, by the way. With North Korea still operating under its policy of “We are crazy and hate everyone,” the game’s premise is not outdated, even if some of its visuals are.
All in all, the game is as enjoyable now as it was ten years ago. The open world is still fun to explore, the story (and its multiple endings) are engaging and addictive, and the invitation for mass destruction is an added bonus. Players of any variety will find something worthwhile in the game. It’s an older title, but it’s not just retro…it’s a classic.
Alex Russo likes to talk. A lot. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.