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Review

Review: Just Cause 2

Living la Vida Rico.

A grizzled, leather-clad anti-hero with a grudge bigger than his revolver? Check.  A massive, sprawling expanse of land with more vehicles than Arnold Clark?  Tick that one too.  How about building razing explosions, or guns so powerful they’d make Van Damme blush?  It’s all here, and whilst it might sound like every cheesy, over the top 80’s action film you ever watched, Rico Rodriguez’s second adventure is a fine example of how to tie everything together into a cohesive, confident (and fun) action game.

Take, for example, the game’s first half hour: having just found out his mentor’s gone rogue and narrowly avoided a heavy dose of anti-aircraft flak, our muscle-bound anti-hero is forced out of a helicopter, tasked with collecting some sensitive information in the dead of night, found hookshotting his way up a vertiginous casino and then faced with escorting a contact with half the island’s government army on his tail.  It might seem like lots of disparate game styles, but it’s really just showing you the possibilities.

And that’s the thing about Just Cause 2: the game’s what you want it to be.  Whilst the initial few missions are structured to show you the ropes (literally, too, but we’ll come back to that) once the reins are off Panau is the ultimate sandbox.  Yes, the principle feature might be (admittedly lush) jungle but the developers have learned from the mistakes of the first Just Cause, and the sequel offers much, much more to see and do:  I’m not normally a fan of special editions, but the map that comes with the one for Just Cause 2 will be a must.

The hunt for the “gone dark” Tom Sheldon is the central focus of much of the game, and the paths to your target are unlocked gradually as you make progress through the game’s story.  As with other games of this ilk (and in particular, Saints Row) progression is via the the three gangs that inhabit the island for whom you must work, interspersed with missions for The Agency, your actual employers.  Overshadowing everything on the island is the governing dictator, Baby Panay, and his omnipresent propaganda machine.

Of course, this might seem like nothing more than a means to an end – a focus, an aim – but a player that sets his sights so squarely on the goal is missing the point of Just Cause 2: the game is designed to be as freeform as it can be, and allow for as much of a non-linear path as possible.  Part of this is the way the game rewards you for causing chaos and destroying as much government property as possible in each area, but it’s mainly to do with the impressively open approach to mission objectives, starting with the grappling hook.

Such tools aren’t new, of course, and whilst it’s true that pulling enemies from high towers is a novel approach (particularly useful when you’re out of ammunition) and using the hook to propel yourself hundreds of feet in any direction (including vertically) is suprisingly generous, the real headache for the game’s level designers must have been with somebody at Avalanche decided that the hook would have the ability to connect to two seperate surfaces if the player desired, not just the one.

Yes, this means you can attach one end of the hook to any gun-toting enemy and the other to a wall (and watch him try to free himself whilst pinned up against the brickwork).  Yes, you can hook anyone you like to a rocket and watch them fly around in the sky like a firework with a little persuasion.  And, yes, you can stick a bad guy to the back bumper of your motorised rickshaw and take them for a lovely drive out in the country.  The possibilities, as you’re hopefully starting to imagine, are limitless.

This all has a point: the way a videogame presents the player with a ‘mission’ has now changed, forever.  See that locked gate?  Hookshot over it.  Can’t reach that platform?  Hookshot to it.  Faced with a hundred story building that you just have to get on top of?  No longer a problem, and you can have some fun on the way up, too.  Sure, Just Cause 2 has it’s fair share of gunning, driving and running about like its stablemates, but third person adventures will never be the same again with this game’s startlingly refreshing new toy.

Likewise, the game’s reusable parachute means you’ll never fall to your death again, and, coupled with the hook, means you can reach pretty much any distant location swiftly enough, assuming you’ve got enough of a vertical gain to start with.  Of course, it won’t be long before you’ve got proper air superiority anyway, and as the game’s Black Market sellers start to populate your in-game GPS with all manner of gadgets, vehicles and arsenal the only limits to the multiple ways to approach a mission are in your head.

It works.  It’s not perfect (later levels bring in a substantial feeling of repetition) but it works.  And in doing so provides Just Cause 2 with a get out clause; without these impressive new tools Avalanche’s sequel rides dangerously close to an island based echo of Grand Theft Auto and the aforementioned Saints Row series – not that that’s necessarily a negative but although there’s glimpses of genius dotted throughout the various missions you’ll take on, much of the game you’ll no doubt have seen before elsewhere.

There’s a great deal of fun to be had with this one, though.  From start to finish the game continues to deliver some nice set pieces in and amongst some beautiful visuals: but you’re buying Just Cause 2 for the thrill, the explorable, rich environment and the inflated, often ridiculous ego of Rico.  Yes, he’s a real badass when he wants to be, with some killer one-liners that rest easily with his cliched and dated mannerisms – but thankfully he’s reliable and worthy of your investment.  Not unlike the game, then.

Pros:

  • Massive expanse of land to explore
  • Totally freeform level objectives
  • A great story with some nice twists

Cons:

  • Inconsistent visuals
  • No multiplayer – a co-op mode would work well

A consistently smart experience, with some neat new ideas and some fantastic twists on familiar genre staples.  Fans of the first game will love the second, and anyone that just fancies something different without being too deep will find plenty to enjoy.  Avalanche have managed to make the game feel alive with improved AI, plenty of rounded characters and a smooth learning curve assuming you take early advantage of the flexibility of the game’s key element: the grappling hook.  Do so, and you’ll have nothing but fun.

Score: 8/10

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