So, Just Cause 2... let me just say first of all that this is a game I had resolved not to play initially. Pre-release I saw trailers and gameplay review podcasts about Just Cause 2 showing some of the gameplay features and, while clearly looking awesome on many levels I found some of the gameplay mechanics to be a little off. Namely the infinite parachute and grapple hook combo. Maybe I was too hard on the game and pre-judging it without giving it a chance? I often thought this but was content to let the game slide by anyway. Then Steam comes along with their awesome summer sale deals and put up the usual publisher packs, set fire to my credit card and dumped a load of games into my library before running off into the night. This is a process I like to call the Game Glomp, and no one does it better than Steam.
So I bought the Square Enix Eidos package purely because of my desires to still play Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I did not notice initially that Just Cause 2 had grapple-hooked its way into my library list too, determined to have me give it a fair trial. Well, it has had its day in court and I will quickly render my verdict before moving on. Just Cause 2 is a very good game. There, I said it, pies made of great quantities of humble have been eaten and I recommend Just Cause 2.
|Rico riding in the 'stunt' position while blowing stuff up. |
Explosions in this game are very nice, too.
So we start with the setting first before looking at the core of the gameplay, then I will come back to the story overall at the end. Just Cause 2 is an open world sandbox shooter with a semi-non-linear mission system and ultimate free roaming potential. Developed by the Swedish company, Avalanche Studios, and published by Square Enix Eidos, Just Cause 2 places you in the shoes of CIA (?) agent Rico Rodriguez. I put a question mark there because I am not entirely sure if he is CIA or not. He is clearly working with them, though, as he is dropped into a fictional island nation called Panau in South East Asia. His job: to blow up as many government-owned water towers as possible as he seeks to find his old mentor who as, reportedly, turned traitor in the middle of a coup. Or something like that, to be honest I was kind of able to keep track of the story but it has a few quirks in how it progresses that made me lose a little it somewhat. But more on the story later. The essence of it is you have to turn the nation of Panau back to a favourable position with Uncle Sam by bringing down the new hard-line government and helping install a new regime more amenable to the USA. It all sounds pretty serious and political but it is done with a great deal of tongue lodged firmly in cheek.
|Another water tower down! USA. USA.|
Did I mention how awesome explosions look in this game?
You will need to blow up statues of the new leader of the country, destroy government propaganda stalls blaring out patriotic drivel, shoot down army helicopters, destroy fuel tanks, sabotage oil pipelines (one of my favourite explosions), hack and blow up bio-gas reactors and many other things. Basically, if it has the government logo on it you should break it. Doing so increases the accumulated chaos score that enables the next missions in the tree to be unlocked. Simple enough to remember, right? Still, it does feel a little too simple for my tastes and despite the supposes 'chaos' I am creating while playing I see little evidence of change in the overall lives of the people. Gun battles do not rage through the streets as the government hold on the country diminishes, soldiers do not roll out in larger numbers with bigger guns and everyone still turns a blind eye to the crazy CIA agent attaching random passing cars to lamp posts with his grapple hook before swooping off into the distance after farting out yet another parachute. In short I felt very unrewarded beyond being permitted to advance tot he next story chapter.
|Parachute 3,647,229 deployed!|
So where is the feeling of achievement beyond simply working your way through and completing the game? Well, good news for those of us who like completion ratios. There is a great emphasis in the game itself on getting 100% completion by having done everything. Not just the missions, but having also blown up all the government infrastructure, watch towers, SAM sites, radar dishes, fuel tanks and so on. And yes, even those pesky water towers.
Other forms of completion are fulfilled by overthrowing every area of the map. Every small village, large town district, military base and remote tourist trap have markers on the map and require you to have removed all traces of the government infrastructure, as well as any senior officers needing killing, to be 'completed'. Of course this brings me back to my original complaint that there is no real feeling of progress. Having captured my twelfth settlement/military base I began to realise that not much was changing other than the marker on the map. So don't expect to have any dynamic impact on the face of Panau still. In face, the only thing I could see was taking over air bases and air ports meant no planes would take off from them any more, and this was kind of a bad thing since my favourite form of fun is tethering them to the runway as they speed down it to take of. But more on that later...
Also, bonus! You have to find hidden packages of sorts. Not just one kind but three kinds. One for each gang. There are drugs, black boxes and sacred skulls dotted around large chunks of the map. What more could you ask for? Well, how does having driven one of everything to have 100% completion sound to you? Yes, I thought you might say that. In short, this is a rather specific niche of the gaming community being target here.
|You don't need to wait to unlock this tank or anything. Just find|
one at a base, get in and start making holes in the landscape.
How does the tank drive? Or any vehicle for that matter. They are all very well done, actually. This is a rare game where the physics of driving, flying, boating (that's a word, right?) and so on are fun and well done. Of course, to get your hands on occupied vehicles you have the usual quick time events where you punch, kick, bite and throw out the pilots before stealing his jet fighter. Yes.. jet fighter. In the air. Well, actually what you need to do is grapple onto it as it is on the runway ready to take off, but you can just leave it there if you like. Ride that jet up into the sky standing on the back before making your move if you wish. Of course, you could be thrown off eventually if the pilot turns. Still, it is a lot of fun to do this. Even more fun is once you have any vehicle you can exit it into 'stunt mode' where you get out of the driver/pilot seat and stand on the roof while it is still moving and shoot people. Maybe one of my favourite assassination mission methods, if I am honest, is taking a jet plane and flying it on a collision course at the Colonel who needs to be made dead, shooting my guns all the way down while riding on the roof and opening the chute at the last second to glide down safely with a good view of the mayhem ahead.
My only criticism is how quickly helicopters change direction and altitude. They are very slow and cumbersome and often I find I don't bother with them anymore unless I have to. But this is a small critique on an otherwise solid gameplay element.
So how else can you create carnage? I keep mentioning the grapple hook and this will become a favourite way of dealing with a lot of situations. Of course it is a primary movement tool, getting up into the guard towers or on the roofs of buildings and such. Even using it to hijack a car or aircraft. You can also hook it to an enemy, or anyone actually, and yank them forwards, pulling them out of high places to a crunchy landing on the unforgiving floor. If that is not your thing, if you keep hold of the grapple button you attach one end to your target, then you can aim at something else and attach the other end of the line to something else. So... do I need to spell it out for you? Man - passing car... a good giggle. Man - the car you're driving... much more giggle. Man - air plane taking off behind him... hysterical laughter. There is a down side to this too, since they unhook themselves after a few seconds which is kind of realistic I guess. And you can only have one attached line at a time. If you fire another, even just to grapple and winch yourself to a ledge or something, the line you placed earlier vanishes and your victim is free. Which does not help them if you hooked them tot he side of an oil rig high above the ocean... Also what if you hook a rope between two trees along a road as someone drives past on a bike? Well... nothing. The rope does not clip, meaning you can walk right through it unhindered. A shame, really because this could have amped up the fun factor greatly.
|Having fun with the grapple attach tool and the BOLO patch.|
Wait... this is the new Spider Man game. My bad...
|Cities look great by day. they look awesome at night, too.|
Overall, this game looks magnificent.
Control wise, the keyboard and mouse works pretty well though I will admit it falls down a little in the driving sections of the game. Some cars a not very drivable given the minimum input in steering from a single, quick key press so getting your car to behave and recover from a skid can be tricky. But you can always leap out, onto the roof of another car, steal it and try that instead. Gun play is satisfying feeling, especially when using Rico's Signature Gun bought from the black market dealer.
Everything said, you have a solid game in Just Cause 2 that plays well, looks amazing, has no noticeable bugs and will entertain you for a long while. So how does the story hold up? After all you will be subjected to it while playing so you may wish to know how it goes.
As I said, you play a trouble shooter sent in tom look for your old mentor and CIA agent, Tom Sheldon, who has apparently gone native and stolen some agency money during the middle of a coup. The new ruler of Panau, Padak Panay, is taking the 'foreigners are bad' route and seeking to arrest and deport all foreign people as well as distancing himself from the USA. Something that only gets worse when Rico shows up and begins pulling down water towers and statues of Panay. Yes, you can actually pull them down with the grapple hook, if you hook it to a powerful car and slowly take up the slack. Another reason to love this one feature in the game above all others. Especially when you get the BOLO patch... Anyway I digress. There are, as mentioned above, three gangs looking to control the islands instead of Panay. There is a marxist rebel group called The Reapers, a criminal gang called The Roaches who deal drugs, and the good honest tribal-like people of Panau called the Ular Boys. Oh and they seem to deal guns or something like that. Each has their own leader who's characters are pretty well written. Maybe a little too well.
|This guy is the creepiest character I have ever|
been exposed to in gaming history. Bar none.
Another character who I will, for the purpose of avoiding spoilers, call 'Tex' is another who suffers from a little too much stereotype in his character. Several time you arrive to speak with him and here he is, like a good ol' boy, grilling hot dogs and burgers outside his camper van while enjoying a cold beer. The American way! I should state that I am obviously not from the United States but even I cringe at the flagrant type-casting of this magnitude. Even more so in the explosive finale of the game where you land back on the ground, using your infi-chute, with half the islands blowing up behind you signalling mission complete. And there he is, fresh from his support role barking instructions over the radio still grilling and sipping beer. Corny does not begin to describe the scene. As long as you don't take the story too seriously you can forgive it. After all, who said every game needs to be serious?
Not me. That is for sure...
*Reads back over his old blog posts to ensure he did not ever say that*
OK. I think I'm good. So the writing is cheesy and the characters larger than life, the missions flow from one to the next in some sense though despite the story telling you a difference is being made and the country is being stirred up you see very little evidence of it on the surface, which is a major shame. However the most unforgivable manifestation of this is in the final mission where you are given a choice of which of the three factions you have been helping you should pick to aid you in storming the castle, so to speak. And being given the impression before that your choice will have consequence on who will be running the country afterwards. So choose wisely...
|Another soon-to-be hood ornament looking for a fight.|
Am I disappointed enough to not recommend the game? No, but I would not recommend full retail price for it either. If you see it on sale, grab it. If not then wait for it to come down some.