March 28, 2010
When I was in my prime, many moons ago, strutting my stuff in the school yard and all that, I had a lady friend who I was pretty close with if you catch my drift. This is a true story, so bear with me. She was an attractive young lady who most of the time was great. Admittedly, she wasn’t the brightest of the bunch and she had a tendency to be a tad annoying at times, but you kind of looked past that because of her positive qualities. If she was a video game, I think it’s safe to say, she’d be Just Cause 2. A good looking title that does so many things right. A title that you’ll enjoy spending time with, but that time won’t be free from annoyance nor from frustration. However, like my lady friend of yesteryear, after all’s said and done, you’ll look back on your time with them and think, “That was worth the admission fee.” By the way, no, she wasn’t a hooker, but she was high maintenance!
Just Cause 2 takes super-agent Rico Rodriguez to the tropical, multi-climate island of Panau. With its blue oceans, built up metropolises, white tipped mountains and orange deserts; it’s the perfect setting for the high-flying agile agent and his latest adventure. Pit against the evil dictator, Baby Panay, Rico must work his way into the island’s top factions to release the people from the iron grip of the Bond-esque bad guy – fresh with a pet chameleon. That’s as complex as the story gets, and really serves as an excuse to don Rico’s improved grappling hook to perform some mad stunts in some outrageous mission scenarios. After taking complaints from the original to heart, Avalanche Studios have looked to alleviate the repetitive mess that was the original; however, things didn’t go quite as planned as we’d have hoped. Unfortunately the story structure and missions still boast a mild amount of repetition, with the majority of missions adopting the, “go here and kill or blow this up” mantra, but there is definitely a little variety of some sort this time, something that wasn’t present in the original.
The mission structure is an obscure one in actual fact, with only 8 main story missions to tackle, the rest of the game is spent causing havoc on the island or performing faction missions for one of the three factions – who each have a vendetta against the current regime. Should you get bored of that, you could also take to performing some pretty mundane challenges or collecting a ton of collectibles – both of which are hardly enthralling tasks in themselves. However, the loose shoe-string plot and forced structure of the story doesn’t hold the game back from being what Avalanche originally set out to create, and that’s one of the most diverse and wonderful playgrounds that exists on consoles.
Part of this joy comes from Just Cause 2’s simply stunning new-and-improved grapple hook mechanic. Taking what they did in the first and pretty much redefining it, the grapple hook is not only an alternative transport method, but it also makes for a handy combat tool. Whether you want to tether a wrecking ball to your chopper, pull an enemy down from a great height or tether an enemy to a wall, pretty much anything goes. It’s that impressive, I’d go so far as to say that it’s the greatest crafted gadget that we’ve seen in some time, possibly since Half Life 2’s Gravity Gun.
The grapple hook combined with the parachute make for the best way to get around Panau’s vast landscape. Sure there are any number of trucks, bikes, cars, planes, APCs and helicopters – oh and even a Tuk-Tuk – but the grapple hook-parachute combo is so delightfully effective that those transport methods usually pale in comparison. Plus, it means you can avoid the game’s dodgy vehicle handling as well which is always a bonus. However, that being said, if you can get your head around the plane’s one stick controls, that’s your quickest way around the island and possibly the most thrilling too. Fear not though, there is also a quick travel system as well, but you have to play an hour of the game to unlock that, so prepare for a long and arduous start.
As far as your arsenal goes, Just Cause 2 offers the standard stock of rifles and rocket launchers, with nothing too outrageous – which is a shame considering the game relies on that outrageousness in so many other aspects. Ammo is unfortunately scant and limited, and if you want to top-up your supplies, it’ll cost you the price of a weapon (for instance an assault rifle is $55,000) just to get a few clips that are easily gone in a few minutes of intense combat. It’s a good thing the only two things you can spend your money on via the Agency supply drop are vehicles and weapons!
Admittedly there is plenty to do on the island of Panau – after about 27 hours, I managed to only complete around 32% of everything that the island has to offer – but that doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing. The game’s problem is that it seems like you are faced with petty annoyances at every turn. Some of them fall into the minor, inconsequential category, like only being able to order one item per Agency supply drop or not being able to reverse a plane (they can reverse in real life you know), but there are also those that fall into the tainting the experience category. These can range from a serious lack of ammo and ridiculously long loading times – if you fail a mission for instance, depending on how far from the start you are, it can take 2 or 3 minutes to get back into the game – to the stupidly glitchy random one-metre fall deaths and a serious lack of mid-mission checkpoints at times. Even the enemy AI borders on sketchy as they’ll constantly stand in the open as you pick them off one at a time... even on the hardest difficulty.
As far as achievement lists go, Just Cause 2’s is a blend of originality and grinding, with more emphasis on the grinding. Slapping a few achievements on the game’s impressive grappling hook is the list’s shining light; finding 1000 of this and doing 100 of that means that there is plenty in there for the completionist, but way too much grind for any normal sane person. The challenges are mundane enough, but to tempt people and artificially lengthen the experience by asking the player to complete 50 of them is nothing short of absurd. You’re looking at around 20 hours to pick up all the story related achievements, and probably two or three times as long to mop up everything else. Such a shame really, because no-one likes this much grinding.
Despite its annoyances, you’ll look back on your time with Just Cause 2 with fond memories. At the end of the day, you’ll reflect on your experience and realise that the sheer buckets of fun it offers far outweighs the rough edges that either demonstrated a lack of testing or a tight deadline. Looking back you won’t be thinking about that time where your chopper landed in the middle of the ocean and you had to swim miles back to shore, you’ll remember that time you chased a rocket in a jet plane. You’ll remember that time you tethered one of Panau’s soldiers to a gas canister and sent him into the depths of space. It’s a game that’s all about the overall experience and creating those “wow” moments, and despite its paper thin story, it’s a fine one that you can’t help but recommend.
What audio? Music is rarely used – although solid when it is – and the lip syncing and voice acting borders on the terrible at times. Throw in the fact that the audio has stuttering and repetition issues at times and the cutscenes can end mid sentence, and you may be reaching for an axe to put your speakers out of their misery before the night is over.
The game world boasts diverse environments and an impressive draw-distance. Character models are frankly quite poor, but the game’s biggest character – the island of Panau – is a sight to behold.
The possibilities of the grappling hook are endless and the best thing is, it’s amazingly easy to control. The vehicle handling is a little all over the place, but on foot, it’s a simplistic shooter to control.
What’s the deal with having only 8 story missions and forcing the player to do side missions to unlock these missions? That being said, some – emphasis on some – of the faction missions are a ton of fun. A little too much repetition, but not as much as the original.
Grind, grind, grind and yet more grind. Poor list on the whole, only saved from complete obscurity by the original grappling hook achievements.
Just Cause 2 isn’t going to win any prizes for its trite story and constricting mission structure, but it’s a game that provide moments that no other game can create. The grappling hook revamp has created a gadget that is nothing short of stunning, but the game’s many annoyances hold it back from dominating the sandbox/open-world genre.