Just Cause 2

Review

posted 4/6/2010 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
Let me be completely honest: The original Just Cause was not a good game.  This early generation Xbox 360 game (also released on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC) had a lot of great ideas.  It was set in a beautiful location, had over-the-top Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox action and introduced us to a cool (albeit cheesy) new character.  But all this was marred by clumsy controls, a terrible presentation and an unrewarding story.  Beneath all of the problems, Just Cause had a lot of untapped potential.  Four years later Eidos has gone back to the drawing board and has managed to give us a sequel that goes a long way to make up for the imperfections of the original.  Could it be that we finally have a Just Cause game worth playing?

Just Cause 2 doesn't stray far from the original game's formula.  You CIA black ops agent Rico Rodriguez, the daredevil alpha male who sounds like a cross between Al Pacino in Scarface and the Taco Bell Chihuahua.  This time around you've traded the fake tropical island of San Esperito for the fictional tropical islands of Panau.  This is a game built around using your Bionic Commando-style grappling hook and your ever ready parachute.  Throw in a ridiculous story full of narrow escapes and top notch action sequences and you have one of the year's most exciting games.  It's a flawed game, but it's definitely exciting.


Despite being the umpteenth Xbox 360 game to feature a wide-open sandbox world to explore, Just Cause 2 proves that there's still room in this crowded genre for some fresh ideas.  Not enough can be said about the country of Panau, a group of islands that are equal parts violent and beautiful.  Don't be fooled by the short name, Panau is absolutely gigantic.  In fact, the area is so large that gigantic doesn't even begin to do it justice.  I haven't gone in and measured it, but this feels like the largest area I've had the pleasure of exploring in an open-world sandbox game.  The massive size is punctuated with diversity.  It's not just a tropical setting, there are huge cities to explore, a full-on desert, snowy mountains and even a mysterious island with a hatch that will crash your airplane if you get too close to it.

While I'm a huge fan of city-based sandbox games (as can be proven by my reviews of games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Crackdown), dealing with traffic, obnoxious pedestrians and gangs can really send my blood pressure through the roof.  Sometimes you need a vacation from the city.  And in a funny way, Just Cause 2 reminded me why I liked Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas so much.  It's easy to get caught up in the day to day struggle of a metropolis, it's always fun to get out of town and explore the world that surrounds it.  This is a game that wants you to get out of town and find every inch of the fictional islands.  It wants you to have a scenic experience.  But most importantly, Just Cause 2 wants you to blow stuff up.


If you're a fan of huge Michael Bay-style explosions, then there is no better game than Just Cause 2.  This is a game that pushes you to blow as much stuff up as possible, all while giving you money and points that go towards unlocking new missions and weapons.  The is a game that teaches you right from the start that if you see a large tower, you will shoot it until it falls to the ground impaling enemy soldiers.  If you see a large gas tank, you should throw plastic explosives at it and send it to the moon.  And what do you do when you see a gas pipeline?  Well, in that case you hack it with your super computer skills and then run away as fast as you can while it explodes behind you.  Every town has things to blow up, and if you plan on earning all of the missions you better get to throwing grenades.

Just Cause 2 is split into a couple different types of missions.  For the most part you'll be going around running missions for the various factions in Panau.  Many of the missions will have you doing the same sort of things you find in other open world games, such as swooping into a training camp and killing a specified target or delivering a bunch of boxes to a set destination.  The missions do a good job of introducing you to a lot of different types of vehicles and weapons, most of which you will have more fun with when you're not in a mission.  Before long you'll realize that all of these missions are adding up to something greater, they all have a central theme that suggests that you're about to pull off something truly epic.

After you've beaten enough of these faction missions (and blown up enough stuff) you'll be given the option to go into an Agency mission.  These missions are considerably longer and more involved than the standard faction missions.  What's more, it's here where the story is laid out.  Usually these missions involve larger set pieces and even boss characters.  It takes a lot of effort to unlock the next agency mission, so once you've completed one (and gotten your achievement points) it really feels like an accomplishment.

Another type of mission has you leading a squad of killers (along with a technician) into an enemy stronghold to take it over.  These missions always seem to play out the same way.  Your squad stays back as you take out all of the immediate bad guys, then when you finally make it to your destination you have to fend off an assault of rushing soldiers, tanks and helicopters.  You're always given a turret to use, but that doesn't make up for the fact that you're essentially doing the same mission multiple times.


It's while playing these stronghold missions where I started to notice Just Cause 2's mission problems.  None of the missions feel especially fresh or original; they come off as events taken out of the Grand Theft Auto playbook.  To compound this problem, you'll end up having to do the same sort of missions multiple times for different factions.  That's not to say there isn't any diversity in the missions, there definitely is, but it didn't take long before I realized I was simply doing the same mission over and over again.

Another problem is the game's crummy gunplay.  A lot of the time you'll be running around aiming your gun like any standard third-person shooter.  When doing this the game will lock onto the chest of your enemy, allowing you to shoot without having pinpoint accuracy.  Unfortunately, since most characters are packing bullet-proof vests, the game requires you to shoot a couple dozen bullets into an enemy before they die.  There is another mode, which involves you focusing a little closer at an enemy giving you a more accurate shot.  But even this has problems.  The game has a weird problem with accuracy, so a shot that is a straight on head shot will not register as one.  The game actually punishes you for trying to be accurate, all while making it a little too easy when you're not aiming.  It's a huge mess.


To make matters worse, the game has a funny way of killing you in only a few seconds.  You'll be alive and perfectly healthy, but all of a sudden somebody will shoot a missile at you and then a grenade will go off as you're laying on the ground.  This wouldn't be so bad if the game has more checkpoints, but I found myself constantly dying five minutes into a mission and forced to go back and do it all over again.  Sometimes the checkpoint is all the way back at the start, which means that you'll have to spend the time driving a vehicle each and every time.  It's this kind of thing that sucks all of the fun out of the game's missions.

It turns out that the missions are the least fun part of Just Cause 2.  I constantly found myself cursing the game while taking the tour of Panau.  It's too easy to die, it's too hard to shoot and I didn't find any of the weapons to be especially interesting.  But then I would go around and blow stuff up, get into the dozens of different races (which include everything from cars to boats to airplanes) and investigate the mysteries of Lost Island.  This is the stuff that kept me going long after I had my fill of cheap deaths and annoying gunplay.

Another thing that kept me going was the game's big gimmick, the grappling hook and parachute combination.  This game doesn't even pretend to be realistic, instead opting for fun over reality.  This is the type of game that will allow you to skydive out of an airplane, grapple onto a moving car, hijack the car while it's moving, drive the car off a cliff, parachute out of the car and then hijack an airplane while it's flying overhead.  That's the kind of game Just Cause 2 is.  And that is why this game is so easy to recommend.  This game combines the best elements of the little played PSP game Pursuit Force with Capcom's recent 3D Bionic Commando reboot.  All of a sudden you can grapple onto anything, use your parachute anywhere and  hijack any vehicle ... no matter where it is.

But the gameplay takes some getting used to.  For the first few hours I was clueless, opening my parachute at the wrong time and misunderstanding the proper way of using my grapple arm to make my travel quicker.  I also found myself confusing the various vehicle buttons, always parachuting out of a car when I intended to jump to another vehicle.  All these things led to me dying a lot more than I would care to admit.  But before long I started getting the hang of it and learned that I could use the parachute and the grappling hook together to speed me around the map.  Once you've mastered the controls, Just Cause 2 is a thing of beauty.


Unfortunately not everything controls as well as the grappling hook/parachute combination.  There's no question about it, the vehicle handling is absolute rubbish.  It doesn't matter what kind of car you're driving, the handling is floaty and it's far too easy to completely lose control for no reason whatsoever.  These problems also end up plaguing the boats, helicopters and planes.  Couple all this with my inability to get the buttons straight and I found myself avoiding most of the game's impressive number of vehicles.  If there's any good news, it's that the vehicles in this game are a vast improvement over the first Just Cause.  I guess it goes to show how terrible that first game really was.

I can get around the poor vehicle controls when I'm on a mission; after all, you're rarely required to drive anywhere when you're playing the game.  However, there's no way to avoid the floaty controls when you attempt the dozens of racing events.  There are races where it feels like the game is trying to punish you.  A good example of that is when you're racing the boats and have to jump over land.  One wrong jump and you'll flip over and have to start the race over again.  This happens far too often, I would say at least once every time you play a race.  It's enough to kill much of the fun from what should be a great experience piloting the game's large assortment of vehicles.

Even though I have some serious issues with the vehicles and mission structure, I found myself looking forward to jumping back into Panau.  Even after I had completed the game, I wasn't done with these islands.  It doesn't hurt that completing the main quest isn't even a third of the content found in Just Cause 2.  To give you an idea of just how long this game is, I beat the game (at around 30% completion) in just over 20 hours.  You're certainly going to get your money's worth with this game.


The game's presentation can be a bit of hit or miss.  On one hand, the scope of the graphics is impressive.  There is nothing more beautiful than flying over the snowcapped mountains as the sun is starting to rise.  Even if it's not the greatest looking game of all time, it's this sort of scene that will wow even the most cynical gamer.  But at the same time, when you get up close and look at the backgrounds, buildings and characters, you'll notice that they don't hold up.  The graphics in the cinemas are especially poor.

Speaking of the cinemas, you can't review Just Cause 2 without mentioning the horrific voice acting.  Now granted, I'm almost 100% sure the campy line readings and over-the-top characters are done on purpose.  But the game does a lot of distracting things with the voice actors.  For one thing, it's hard to tell where any of the accents are from.  Each character feels kind of random and about half way through the game I really wanted them to take the voice acting a lot more serious.  I can respect that the game has a certain B-grade quality, but the joke overstayed its welcome.

Just Cause 2 is a substantial improvement over the original game, proving that you can make a compelling game with the world's cheesiest action hero.  Yet, I wish this game would have gone a little farther to improve the controls, gunplay, mission structure and voice acting.  Thankfully the game is still a lot of fun and incredibly big, making it an easy game to recommend.  It's not without a few problems, but I can definitely see Just Cause 2 earning a large cult following.    




B+
After botching the first game, Eidos is back to prove that they can make a worthwhile open-world sandbox game. The good news is that Just Cause 2 is an incredibly massive action game that I have no problem recommending. Unfortunately, it's marred by some strange control decisions, bad mission design and some of the most inconsistent voice acting I've heard in years. And even with those problems, I found myself falling in love with this over-the-top action game!