Reviewed: May 4, 2010
Released: March 23, 2010
In a world where Rockstar has set the standard for open-world sandbox videogames Just Cause was a breath of fresh air back in 2006 when it helped to send off last gen systems like the PS2 and original Xbox with a bit of flair. Even by last-gen standards, Just Cause was impressively massive in scale and rich in gameplay material that could easily keep gamers active for 40+ hours. Now, with next-gen hardware, Avalanche Studios has created what is arguably the largest video game in existence; a game so massive it takes several real-time minutes to cross the map in a high-speed jet, a game so tightly packed with objectives and points of interest that you may never spend the 100+ hours I estimate it will take to 100% this title.|
Just Cause 2 has arrived on the Xbox 360 and has secured my spot as the video game I would most like to have if trapped on a desert island. The sheer scale of the map defies conventional game design with various terrain types, weather, secret military bunkers, a giant Goldeneye-style communication array tucked into a mountain, dozens of islands, offshore oil rigs, ancient temples, and various cities that come in all sorts of sizes from the luxurious resorts to the impoverished slums. Hell, the even have a private casino dangling from a blimp.
If you’re like me you can spend hours and hours just wandering the various Southeast Asian islands of Panau taking in all the sights. Just Cause 2, unlike any game before it, is a master of distraction, where hours will slip by and you find you have accomplished nothing. I was 20 hours into the game before I realized I had only completed 17%, and that is where I buckled down and started doing the actual missions.
Just Cause 2 puts you in the role of Rico Rodriguez, a rugged secret agent with a wide variety of skills that include an expertise with all sorts of firearms from pistols to rocket launchers, the ability to pilot any vehicle on land, air, or sea, and the man who is in possession of the coolest gadget ever put into an open-world game – the grappling hook.
Normally I wouldn’t spend much time talking about a single element of a game but the grappling hook is a key component to Just Cause 2. Imagine a Spider-Man game without a web. That’s how crucial this device is to not only navigation, but also in some of the most creative combat you’ll experience this year. Admittedly, the entire concept of this device is preposterous. Even if you were using a micro-fiber wire, Rico dispense several hundred pounds of line over the course of a few hours. Sometimes he retracts the cable but many times you are attaching a line from point A to B. Nobody even tries to explain the device. Are there nanites inside his wrist device multiplying and creating new cable as fast as he’s using it? Do we really care? No.
Rico swings into action with all the style and flair of Spider-Man as he can zip to objects like buildings and trees, or even from car to helicopter to speedboat. This all leads into his other most-used device, the parachute. Equally as unbelievable as the grapple, Rico can deploy this chute and retract (and repack) it at a moments notice, even multiple times within the same freefall event. Combined with the grabble you get some pretty intense and crazy moments where you can stand on the roof of a speeding car and deploy the shoot sending you rocketing into the air where you can grapple a chopper overhead and reel yourself in, dangling for a moment before you drop and redeploy your chute to float down and take over a patrol boat with a furious quick-time button sequence event. Moments like that or even better occur frequently, or as often as you want. The way you play Just Cause 2 is as open and freeform as the world design.
There is a core system of missions and game structure lurking beneath all the distractions should you ever find the willpower to explore it. You have core Agency missions that progress the main story. These unlock as you achieve various tier levels of Chaos, which is earned by destroying property and killing bad guys. You can create chaos on your own or you can participate in various secondary missions as assigned to you by any of three competing factions spread across the islands. As you complete faction missions their area of influence grows as indicated by the color areas on the map. You can work all three factions at the same time with periodic breaks to complete an Agency mission when one unlocks.
The graphics in Just Cause 2 left me quite speechless at times, especially when you find yourself in the air, either in a plane or skydiving toward the surface. At the higher altitudes the ground has a distinct satellite photography look that slowly populates with detail as you near the surface. The level of detail is spectacular and the world is persistent in that something you destroy early in the game remains a smoking pile 20 hours later.
Everything from vehicles to character models to structures all exhibit above-average levels of detail, especially given the massive scope of the game. Admittedly, some designs like military camps share similar layouts with a pattern of buildings and a water tower in the corner, but the dynamic AI of the inhabitants ensure that each encounter plays out differently. Lighting, day and night and weather effects all immerse you in the reality of the environments despite the exaggerated unreality of the gameplay.
The audio is also quite good despite a few glitches that have some lines of audio stutter during the otherwise seamless loads. There is a nice selection of score and background music and excellent voice acting. I got a chuckle from the propaganda radio broadcasts that would spin your actions into something totally false and in favor of the government. Rico has his fair share of taunts and one-liners.
Just Cause 2 is going to take a long time to complete. Sure, you can finish the story in about 25 hours but that is only a third of what this game has to offer. I hopped in a mini-jet and just started flying over unidentified landmarks simply to identify them. After hours I am only a fraction through the thousands of locations. There is something new, fresh, and exciting around each turn and over each hill and mountaintop, making Just Cause 2 one of the best open-world action games ever made – perhaps the best.