numbthumb's Just Cause 2 (Xbox 360) review

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Grapple Love



PS3 & 360

Just Cause was an open world game that didn’t offer a lot in the way of variety but showed a glimpse, at times, of a truly exciting game that got lost among technical issues and a lack of depth. If you were a fan of the game you probably found yourself making excuses at one time or another, reasoning that it was better than the average sandbox game and had a real style of its own. In retrospect, we can see now that Avalanche Studio’s was just getting started, laying the ground work for what would become one of the most enjoyable games of 2010.

Reprising his duties as death defying American government agent is Rico Rodriguez, a man oozing charm and an endless supply of parachutes. This time, as Rico, you find yourself in the stunning island of Panau in Southeast Asia, searching for another agent that’s lost all contact while simultaneously trying to overthrow the islands tyrannical dictator. The reasons aren’t entirely clear, and the means to do so are equally cloudy in reasoning. You have to cause Chaos. I’d try to make sense of that for you but it’s not really the point and, luckily, Avalanche doesn’t really make that a secret.

I’ll harp on games for poor storytelling, or poorly scripted clichéd characters (voiced even worse), but not here. Just Cause 2 is as ludicrous as they come, but pulls it off by making sure that the action is equally over the top and consistently absurd. Suspend your disbelief and accept that everything presented is done so to set the stage for you to come up with as many creative ways to blow things up and you’ll come away more than a little satisfied.

To cause said chaos Rico is sent to infiltrate three local factions, each with their own ideals of how the island should be run and who should be in charge. They’ll send you on various Stronghold takeovers, or missions to blow up gas lines or manufacturing plants to cripple government fortifications. Broken down the game is a fairly straightforward open world game; head to objective, blow objective up, escape certain death. By itself that’s really not enough to save the game and the ends are not nearly as interesting as the means.

Panau is a rather huge island, and it’d take you forever to drive across. Heck, it takes a long time to fly a jet from one side to the other. But your most common means of transportation will likely be neither of those things. Instead, you’ll use your infinite supply of the aforementioned parachutes. These little darlings are an essential crux to the whole game, allowing for quick escapes, speedy travel and a birds eye views of things you’re going to go blow up real good.

It’s hard for me to put this into words, but if you can imagine a world that feels as big as the one in FUEL but as fun to move around in as Crackdown with objectives similar to The Saboteur then you’ll understand how Just Cause 2 plays. You’ll spend a lot of your time shooting things too, or placing explosives, which go toward a type of liberation percentage of each area. There’s hundreds of military bases, towns, communications towers, valley and seaside villages to find. Each one of them offers you an opportunity to cause more chaos.

What’s important about doing this is both the progression of the story but also Rico himself. Throughout the world, in towns and bases, are crates that offer upgrades. Five armor crates grow your health permanently, while weapons and vehicle crates go toward upgrading weapons or vehicles of your choice which you can order in at virtually any moment you wish by helicopter. Similarly you can call in for extraction to any previously visited location, which becomes a vital means of travel.

The crate hunting, helped along by little bars that grow as you get closer at the top of your HUD, creates a perfect situation for OCD fulfillment, much like the orb hunting in Crackdown. To state the obvious, you can ignore this completely, but it’s telling just how far Avalanche has come in filling out the details of the world. You’ll rarely be in an area where there isn’t something to do or structure to take down, something the first game didn’t nail just right. Few games are able to be this much fun in the side distractions, and I was blown away by how even the repetitive tasks never felt boring to keep doing.

You can thank the grapple hook for that, becoming one of the single best components in a game since automatic weapons.  Floating over the island with your chute, you can grapple onto the land and pull yourself, gaining momentum to stay in the air as long as you wish. On the ground, the grapple becomes an amazingly creative weapon with seemingly endless possibilities. Snag an enemies leg and he’ll stop firing to remove it, but by holding down the button, then releasing it on a separate object you’ll fling that enemy, and leave him hanging. Alternatively, try hopping on the roof of a vehicle, hit an enemy and then hook him onto the bumper to drag him to his death.

It doesn’t end there. Vehicle combat offers some of the most variety in what is otherwise fairly basic semi-rail shooter type action. You can grapple a vehicle and jump over to it or, instead, grapple the enemy car or truck and latch it to the ground or a building. Sit back and watch that car flip over and burst into twisted metal flaming love.

All of this is well and good but a large island with an array of ways to tackle it is only so much fun by itself, atmosphere needs to be up to speed and here it certainly is. Panau is beautiful, a believable tropical paradise that offers stunning snow frosted vistas, rugged dessert terrain, and lush jungle forest than reaches out onto the beaches and crystal clear waters. Sandbox games are praised for their lifelike representation of a real world city, Avalanche doesn’t just meet the demand but kicks the bar sky high.

What’s funny is that the game isn’t a complete overhaul of the original, and the mission structure is largely similar to all open world games, but this time it’s the unwitting compulsion to go back again and again that it gets so right. Missions offer a freedom and pacing that never feels so pressing as to drain your excitement, and little strategic options open things up to ridiculous amounts of enjoyment. Let a crew you’re guiding into a stronghold wait at the gates, hop over it and find yourself a turret gunner, take him out, rip that sucker off its frame and proceed to unload a world of hurt onto everything within sight, which is pretty much everything.

Or you can just hijack a helicopter, first taking out the SAM’s in proximity of course, and fire off an endless supply of rockets and machine gun bullets. It’s the lack of restraint and realism that’s truly freeing for the experience. The mechanics of the grapple are quite loose, not hard to control but the opposite, forgiving in terms of accuracy and quick in execution. This means fleeing the scene of your crimes instead of being riddled by shotguns or finding an escape vehicle in a passerby.

It’s hard to sum up Just Cause 2 because there’s just so much to do. If I can lob one real criticism at the game it’s that those countless tasks do run familiar ground after awhile, but it’s hard to pinpoint a single sandbox game that doesn’t. But at 32% completed, I had put in well over twenty hours, completed the story and still had over a hundred locations to discover, generals to assassinate, upgrades to find, gas pipes to blow up, you get the idea. Just Cause 2 emphasizes freedom over micromanagement, exploration over linear progression and fun above all else. For those reasons alone Just Cause 2 is a can’t miss title.


HOW DOES IT SOUND? The voice work is the worst aspect of the game, and a week later I can’t for the life of me remember any of the score, but effects we’re great. 7.5/10

HOW DOES IT LOOK? It’s beautiful everywhere you go. The island of Panau is a stunner, one of the best looking open world games you’ll come across. It looks as good from a distance as it does up close. 9.5/10

HOW DOES IT PLAY? A boon for sandbox games potential, showing that traveling shouldn’t be tedious or a massive time drain, but fun and exhilarating. It’s as easy on the ground as it is in the air. 9/10

HOW IS IT PRESENTED? The story is silly, and as best they try you won’t care at all about where it goes. But the map of the world gives you all the info you’ll need, and a fast travel system makes sure you can get anywhere quickly. 8/10

HOW LONG WILL IT LAST? The story can be done pretty early on, at about 15% the total game I believe, you do need to do some faction missions to unlock it though. Still, there’s so much to collect, blowup, and see (fans of Lost will love some Easter eggs) that you can plunk dozens of hours without getting bored. 9/10



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