I used to say the only game I ever needed (had I to choose only one) would be Mercenaries. It's not Tom Clancy. It's not about imagining you're really there. It's about tearing through North Korea in a tank, blowing up statues of Kim Jong Il. It's stress relief in digital form. My biggest problem with the game was that it was originally released for the original Xbox, and it took Microsoft's compatibility engineers forever and a day to work out the kinks getting it onto the Xbox 360, and even afterward it still didn't play right. Now the sequel has arrived, and my new "the only game I ever need" is Mercenaries 2.
If Mercenaries is like GTA, but with air strikes, then Mercenaries 2 is like Mercenaries, but perfected. The graphics - as should be expected with the jump from last gen to this gen - are phenomenal, the load times are reduced, the missions are more varied, the vehicles are more interesting, there are more of them and you can buy them sooner, and the weapons are more intuitive and more satisfyingly explosive.
The sequel takes place in Veneuzuela, where, apparently, some kind of coup has taken place and the newly unfriendly locals are trying to run out the Texan oil men, who are fighting back, while simultaneously fending off guerilla attacks by the local rebels, who also hate the local nationals. Rounding out the sextet are the Rastafarian pirates, the Chinese army and the United Nations analog. But, as with the original, it doesn't really matter who hates who, or what they all really want. All that matters is that they have money to pay you for blowing stuff up. As Swedish mercenary Mattias says, "It's better to get paid for what you would do anyway." Absolutely goddamn right.
To buy weapons to blow stuff up, you need money, and you make money by doing missions. You can also find it lying around on the ground, so there's no real trick there. You also need fuel to operate your aircraft when you call in airstrikes or order new equipment. But that, too, you can find lying around. All you have to do is steal it. It's as if the Mercenaries crew liked the idea of a resource-based strategy game, but got bored with the details. Which suits me just fine, because I have that exact same reaction.
To advance in the game, you do missions for the various factions, but since each faction is at war with at least one of the others, it's impossible to advance in the game without pissing somebody off, which, if the game were an RTS, would introduce a speed bump, but even this trap has been avoided. If a faction gets too angry with you, you can just pay them off.
But none of this is new; it's all been carried over form the original, just polished to a next-gen sheen. Pretty much everything I disliked about the original (and there wasn't much) has been updated for the better. It's as if Pandemic knew it had a hit formula, it just wanted to update it. Mission accomplished. In fact, the only thing I don't like about the game is something new.