The game, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, simulates a military invasion of the oil-rich South American nation and will be released by Pandemic Studios of Los Angeles.

"A power-hungry tyrant messes with Venezuela's oil supply, sparking an invasion that turns the country into a war zone," Pandemic says of the game on its website.

Venezuelan politicians who back Chavez called it the latest example of a US government-inspired propaganda campaign against Chavez that could even help lay the psychological groundwork for an actual invasion.

Luis Tascon said: "This could be a point of departure. The United States has an impressive media machine. In that machinery the gringos are always the heroes and their adversaries are always the villains."

War of words

An executive at Pandemic said the video game would be released next year but declined to comment on its content. A public-relations firm representing the company did not return calls for comment.

Chavez has been locked in a war of words with Washington as he pushes his leftist agenda in Latin America, with the United US charging that the self-proclaimed revolutionary is trying to destabilise the region.

George Bush, the US president, said this week he was concerned about the erosion of democracy in Venezuela. Chavez accused the White House of planning to topple him to gain access to his nation's vast oil reserves.

Last week Venezuela, the world's No 5 oil exporter, staged a mock invasion complete with naval landing craft and camouflaged tanks to train military troops and communities to defend against an attack.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames - official site