Most gamers playing now can look back and remember their first time stepping in to the ultra-violent sandbox of Grand Theft Auto III. Given run of a city where ever car could be stolen and every pedestrian was a target to run over and every cop could be shot at. It quickly brought out the dark side of many people who were just looking to live life on the other side where they finally got to be the bad guy. Even though the game’s narrative didn’t require the player to become a violent terrorist who got hookers and then killed them after to get their money back, that’s pretty much what all of us became.
Just Cause 2 takes that to a whole new level. Taking that original Grand Theft Auto III formula and adding helicopters, planes, boats, a grappling hook and unlimited parachutes, the mayhem that can be caused is elevated even further. Add in a story and game mechanic that not only encourages but actually requires destruction and chaos, you have a recipe for disaster (the good kind that is).
The fictional patch of islands known as Panau stretches across 400 square miles of in game world. Every inch of it, be it desert, mountain, city, swamp, beaches and all of the airspace above it are areas for mayhem. Using the game’s 200 vehicles and a variety of upgradable weapons from handguns to rocket launches, players are given the opportunity to cause chaos (measured by an on screen Chaos meter which unlocks more missions and black market shopping opportunities) by destroying statues, oil tanks, gas stations and weaponry of the Panau government. In the process, government forces are summoned depending on the level of chaos being caused. A few frag grenades can quickly lead to helicopters raining down machine gun fire on our protagonist.
It’s interesting to note that in a game based off firearm combat, the shooting mechanic can be untrue at times. The game often encourages a player to miss as the aim assist can correct even drastic distances between where a reticule lies and where the enemy taking fire is standing. While in some cases this makes the combat much easier, it can also be a huge hindrance when cover comes in to play. Since the adjust will automatically aim at the center of an enemies torso, it becomes nearly impossible to land a head shot if someone is standing behind a crate with their head poking out without changing to a zoomed in free targeting mode. In the heat of a fast paced battle, this can quickly result in death.
Luckily, Just Cause 2 doesn’t penalize players for dying much at all. Most times, the only penalty is that a player must traverse a distance from where they got the mission to where the action began again. Not surprisingly, this was probably implemented into the game as you are going to die or fail missions a fair amount of time, at least on the first try. Just Cause 2 is a lot of trial and error gameplay as you learn the escape routes being taken by your prey or learn just a little too late where to stand to protect your target. These missions do allow for deviation as well whether someone wants to infiltrate a base under the guise of stealth or they want to knock on the front door with a turret gun that has unlimited ammo in hand.
The most defining feature of Just Cause 2 comes from the combination of the grappling hook and parachute systems. With an arm mounted grappling hook, players can pull themselves up to targets (including midflight vehicles which they can then hijack), pull both people and objects closer to them assuming those objects weigh less than the player, or hook together two objects, people or vehicles or any combination of them three. If they are within distance, grappling on to elevated enemies can lead to one “shot” kills as they are pulled from the safety of their platform to either the ground below or a hail of gunfire.
Also, given an unlimited supply of parachutes, the player can jump from any moving vehicle or jump from the top of any object and let their moment them carry them. They can then use their grappling hook to latch on to objects to pull themselves forward while still gliding or just drop their chute to zip line to safety, even after a mile high fall. Still the most enjoyment players will receive from the grappling hook will be playing with the unrealistic physics associated with it like attaching a soldier at one end to a motorcycle speeding down the highway or a little old lady to the helicopter they are about to liftoff in.
When sent to the island nation of Panau as Rico, a member of the Agency, players are required to track down what they believe to be a rogue agent by gaining intelligence through the game’s three anti-establishment factions through rebellious actions against a corrupt government. Along with basic mayhem and earning “Chaos” from these factions, the player takes on seven Agency missions to lead them towards the upheaval of this paradise.
The story of Just Cause 2 is not something people are going to be clamoring for. It is not a literary masterpiece brought to video game form. It is more like a B-level action movie to allow for the crazed fun that the player is looking to experience from the game. It is a means to an end instead of a layer of the journey. If the Roaches (one of the factions) tells you to go to a base and burn it to the ground or to hijack a helicopter and take down an escaping jeep, you aren’t really going to question what their motivation is. Instead you gleefully smile as you blow stuff up.
The game does a good job of not taking itself too seriously as well. With a collection of blatantly stereotypical characters, it’s easy to sit back and laugh at what’s going on in front you as opposed to worrying about being immersed in the story.
Graphics and Sound:
One of the biggest strengths of Just Cause 2 is the lush assortment of environments it contains. With an amazing draw distance, players can look up from the beach they stand on and see the mountains miles away towering in to the clouds. Each area also has its own signature look. There is nothing about the snow-capped mountains that resembles the city streets. While some areas may be sparse, it’s hard not to be a little in awe of the vast amount of game open to the players right from the very start.
Sadly, because of the size of the game, it often doesn’t feel like a truly living world. City streets aren’t bustling, snow never seems to fall in the mountains and for being in the middle of an ocean, it never rains. This game is also one that could have benefited from fully destructible environments as well as only certain objects can be destroyed. It is strange to see gigantic oil tanks blown up with a few gun shots but small bamboo shacks can seemingly survive rocket launchers being aimed at them.
Character models are well detailed and mostly well animated. There are a few times though that animations just don’t exist. The most noticeable example of this comes from hijacking a vehicle. While passengers can be shot from riding the roof of a car or holding on to the front of a helicopter, the driver or pilot are seemingly indestructible no matter how many bullets have gone through them. Only through a quicktime event do they even react to your presence as you attempt to throw them from the vehicle.
Sound may be the one biggest weakness of Just Cause 2. While the environment is so eye pleasing, your ears feel terribly forgotten. Apart from some subtle sound effect work, most of the time spent traveling is vacant of any auditory effort. This is going to be one of those games where hooking up a custom setlist or your iPod are going to come in handy. The voice acting doesn’t help matters as characters all fall into various stereotypes that lose their charm quickly with combinations of various accents that are unlike anything heard before.
Just Cause 2 is a fun experience. Though it may be shrouded by some technical issues like its aiming mechanic and a weak story, it doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a surreal adrenaline rush. There’s no political statement here, if anything the actions of the main character more closely resemble that of a terrorist than a freedom fighter.
The inventive grappling hook system allows for gameplay unlike that of any other sandbox game in the past while encouraging players to cause chaos actually rewards them for actions that once punished them in previous titles. The best way to experience Just Cause 2 comes from an imaginative and twisted mind that can properly take advantage of the instruments of destruction available in it.