Oil and Gas

New video game depicts Venezuela mercenary attack

CARACAS (Reuters) - A video game depicting mercenaries storming Venezuela, which has been criticized in the oil-rich South American country as a blueprint for an invasion, will be released by a U.S. company this weekend.

The release is likely to anger allies of President Hugo Chavez, a Washington foe, who has in the past threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States.

The game, “Mercenaries 2: World in Flames,” will be released on Sunday by a division of Electronic Arts Inc and is set in a “fully destructible Venezuela,” the company said in a news release.

“A power hungry tyrant uses Venezuela’s oil supply to overthrow the government and turns the country into a war zone,” the company says of the game on its Web site.

In 2006, when the game was first announced, lawmakers from Chavez’s coalition called it an example of a U.S. government-inspired propaganda campaign against Chavez that could even help lay the psychological groundwork for an actual invasion.

“All the controversy around this is kind of comical,” Electronic Arts spokesman Jeff Brown said. “At the end of the day you have to remind yourself it’s a damned video game.”

The government on Friday said it could not immediately comment on the game’s release.

Chavez, who first tried to take power by force in 1992, was elected to office in 1998. Relations with the United States deteriorated dramatically after Washington initially welcomed a short-lived coup against him.

The former soldier, who is popular among the poor for spending the proceeds of an oil boom on social programs, frequently accuses the United States, Venezuela’s main oil client, of plotting to overthrow him.

He has replaced aging military equipment with billions of dollars of Russian weapons including fighter jets and plans to strengthen the country’s reservist army to repel, he says, a potential U.S. invasion.

A trailer for the game, set in 2010, features mercenaries with American accents storming oil installations during a bloody coup by a tyrant called Ramon Solano.

“It is time the Venezuelan people stop paying for the greed of foreign interests, we will make them pay dearly for our oil. From this day forward everybody pays,” the character says before shots of helicopter gunships and tanks attacking familiar Venezuelan landscapes.

Chavez has nationalized oil projects owned by U.S. companies like Exxon and ConocoPhillips.

Editing by Eric Beech