Giant Bomb News45 Comments
Justified Excitement: Just Cause 2 Extended Hands-On
by Ryan Davis on
We spend several hours with Avalanche Studios' open-world action-movie fever dream.
Released in the strange twilight between console generations, the original Just Cause was an overlooked gem, a game that had the markings of yet another open-world GTA clone, but offered something intoxicatingly ridiculous. That “something” being the ability to use a stunt parachute and a high-powered grappling gun to uniquely traverse the landscape and hijack any vehicle you saw fit--land, sea, or air--the laws of physics be damned. It was an intermittently sublime experience that was admittedly hindered by fundamental mechanical issues with the driving and the shooting--key components in a game of this nature.
As a bit of a Just Cause apologist, it thrilled me to no end when some friendly folk from Eidos dropped by the Giant Bomb offices to provide us our first hands-on experience with Just Cause 2, which is now just a few weeks away from release. The various trailers and gameplay demos that developer Avalanche Studios has been trickling out since around E3 last year have suggested a game that learned from its predecessor's mistakes in some key ways while also discovering some new, even more ridiculous ways to extend the concepts introduced in the first. After a few hours with Just Cause 2, it would seem that this is not only looking like the game that the original should've been, but also the game that Mercenaries 2: World in Flames and last year's Bionic Commando should've been as well.
The goodly folks at Eidos have requested that I not mention any of the specific story elements in Just Cause 2--an almost absurd request that I'm happy to abide by, largely because plot machinations weren't the first game's strongest suit. Suffice it to say that you're back in the saddle once again as the black-clad international man of mystery and scorpion enthusiast Rico Rodriguez, and the game brings plenty of bombastic pulp to his exploits on a new tropical island apparently suffering from a deficit of explosions and generalized chaos. Chaos, in fact, is the literal currency of Just Cause 2, and the game judges your performance based on your ability to blow stuff up, unlocking new mission types as you do so. In a nice bit of visual shorthand, just about any structures on the island that can earn you chaos for blowing up features some telltale red markings, making them that much easier to identify as you scan the landscape.
Also facilitating all the anarchical merry-making in Just Cause 2 are some significant improvements to how Rico's grappling gun and stunt parachute work. For starters, the grappling gun isn't much of a gun at all anymore, instead taking the form of a permanently equipped gauntlet. Not having to equip it as a weapon means that there's a lot more interplay between using the grapple ability and the plentiful firearms that Rico picks up. Even more so than in the original, the grapple is the key to unlocking freedom from the laws of physics in Just Cause 2. No longer limited to attaching itself to vehicles for the purpose of hijacking, you can grapple structures for rapid traversal of short distances and grapple enemies to pull them towards you, making it much easier to gun them down as they flail through the air.
You can also use the grapple to tether stuff to other stuff, which can have a variety of delightful effects. For example, you can tether an enemy to, say, an exploding barrel, then shoot that barrel, bringing quick, fiery death to the hapless grunt. If you're feeling a little more sadistic, you can grapple an enemy to a vehicle, then hop in that vehicle and drag them to death. Or, if you're more of a slapstick appreciator, you can grapple two enemies together, causing them to fly towards each other and, if you're lucky, die from the impact. Though the game noticeably limits where you can go while you're on an active mission, this is sandbox play in the truest sense. Of course, you can still use the grapple to zip onto any vehicles you see, assume the famed stunt position, and then proceed to hijack it. If it happens to be an antagonistic vehicle, you'll have to do a little quick-timing before you get behind the wheel, and you may also have to deal with gun-wielding passengers as well, requiring you to use the vehicle itself as cover from the enemies inside it. I learned one of my favorite grappling tricks during a chase sequence where I was defending a vehicle while standing on top of it. I could've grappled my way over to the other vehicles and dealt with the passengers up close, but it was far more hilariously efficient to tether the pursuing cars and trucks to the side of the bridge we were crossing, and then watch them go flying through the air and over the edge.
One of the subtler, more clever uses of the grapple that I saw came while gliding around with the stunt parachute. With the right angle, you can grapple onto the ground in front of you, using that forward motion to provide you with additional lift, extending the length of your glide.The dynamics of the action in the first game were what made it so special, but all the base-jumping and mid-air skyjacking and leaping out of vehicles as they careen off cliffs would leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere more often than they ought. Using the grapple to make the parachute more useful helps in this. Having a direct line to a black market dealer that can airdrop you equipment and vehicles, or just give you a lift to a specific location, doesn't hurt either.
A key advantage that Just Cause 2 has over its predecessor is that it's no longer technologically limited by the requirement that it be able to scale down to run on the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox hardware. Running on Avalanche's new, proprietary engine, Just Cause 2 renders an island paradise that's not bigger, but remarkably denser and more detailed. There's still some open-world jank, but there's such a enthusiastic B-movie energy to Just Cause 2, and it plays so fast and loose with physical law anyway that it doesn't seem like it'll break the experience.
If you played the first game, the learning curve on Just Cause 2 is pretty mild, but for newcomers, there's admittedly a lot going on, with many of the primary buttons on the controller performing drastically different functions depending on the context. Turning with the parachute can still be a little tricky, particularly when you're trying to multitask. The gunplay feels much, much better, but weapon management can be pretty confusing--sometimes you want to tap a button to swap weapons, sometimes you want to hold it, and the interface didn't always make it clear which action performed which function.
I'll admit, my fondness for the first Just Cause is probably disproportionate to its actual quality, though even I knew that its recommendation came saddled with some significant qualifications. Even in its unfinished state, Just Cause 2 is looking like a more well-realized game, and I'm eagerly looking forward to more island chaos when it hits later this month.