If you needed any proof that the futuristic cyber-dystopia of M.E.R.C. is a miserable place, consider this: it rains all the time. Neotopia, the last city standing, is a damp, cold hellhole. What’s worse: you cannot buy raincoats for your mercenaries. Now that’s just cruel.
Other than that, I feel right at home with the game’s blend of real-time tactics and the logistics of managing your mercenary company. Tasked with eliminating the evil Manta syndicate, you hire a bunch of specialists and send them on various missions. Ordering your team of four heavily armed goons around the decrepit, wet city feels pretty solid. Sure, the camera stays locked on your team and can only be zoomed in and out, but the game controls well for the most part.
The lack of a minimap might be M.E.R.C.’s biggest drawback, especially when you consider that all streets and buildings look samey. One early mission had me searching for the extraction point for almost five minutes. My poor guys, tired and wet, kept getting lost in the green-greyish scenery.
Everything else held up surprisingly well. Sure, occasionally my team would take cover on the wrong side, getting shot in the back, enemies would shoot through walls for whatever reason, or minor pathfinding issues cropped up, but then, M.E.R.C. is an Early Access title and these flaws can probably be fixed.
However, when everything works as it should, it’s a lot of fun. Flanking a group of enemies with your two squads, cloaking and attacking from behind, or just lobbing a grenade through a doorway are the high point of each encounter. I expected the lack of a pause function to be the game’s undoing, but the ability to slow down time instead actually feels better, as it doesn’t kill the flow of firefights by allowing you to stop and agonize over your next decision.
Completing your current assignment sends you back to your base, where you can spend money on much-needed equipment, heal your soldiers, or hire some new people because your goons managed to get shot up again. Healing takes a while, which can be a problem since you’re only allowed to take a full group of four into battle. If one or more of your soldiers is hospitalized, you need to hire expensive replacements.
The overall difficulty can be quite high, exacerbated by random side missions, but the challenge keeps the metagame interesting. If developer TinyMob Games manage to iron out some of the game’s issues during its time as an Early Access title, M.E.R.C. should appeal to fans of tactical military games, players who miss the glory days of Syndicate and XCOM, and people who just love the feeling of wet boots and soggy clothes. Seriously now, doesn’t the rain ever stop?
You can purchase M.E.R.C. from Steam for $19.99. For more information, visit the game’s website or follow developer TinyMob Games on Twitter.