Good Game, Gorgeous Graphics
Once again, I jumped on this game during a Steam sale... and it sat on my hard drive for 4 months before I got around to playing it. As I work through a backlog of games I've bought, but haven't yet played, I can definitely say Just Cause 2 stands out as something pretty spectacular. This is one of the most - if not THE most - over the top games I have ever played. But before I get into my reasoning, I'd better start with the basics.
When I said spectacular in the above paragraph, I wasn't kidding
Just Cause 2 is an open world action game that shares some similarities with Grand Theft Auto, or the Mercenaries series. The basic premise is that you are an agent, named Rico, sent to the island dictatorship of Panau to perform a mission for the US government. This means you need to destabilize the Panauan dictatorship (complete with a Kim Jong-Il stand in) by destroying as much of their property as possible and allowing local factions to gain strength. I'll say this now, the storyline is probably the weakest part of this game. The characters aren't very interesting, believable, or even very well acted. The plot is slightly better, if only because it's so utterly bad and crazy that you can't help but laugh at it. That said, I didn't find it particularly funny for that reason either...
Panau is huge, very huge; there's a lot of area to explore
Just Cause 2 is a game that tries to evoke classic action movies from the eighties. This might begin with having a ridiculous plot but it continues with the setting and abilities you're granted. Rico is your standard action hero, complete with regenerating health and the ability to take a ton of bullets before dying. Rico can even survive dropping multiple stories as though nothing happened. Where this becomes unique, however, is how he gets around Panau. At any time you can use a grappling line to grab onto pretty much anything and pull yourself towards it. You can also, at any time, deploy a parachute to slow you down if you're falling. These two tools seem simple but they work in fantastical ways that, more often than not, completely defy the laws of physics and allow for some hilariously awesome action to ensue. You can even use the grappling hook to attach two different objects to each other; for example, during a car chase you could attach an enemy vehicle to the road and watch it flip out.
Getting around is as easy as hijacking the nearest, in-flight helicopter
The grappling hook also allows you to latch onto other vehicles and ride them by doing something called a stunt jump. Although completely unrealistic, these crazy stunt poses are fun to use and cement the game's feel as an utterly over-the-top 80's action extravaganza. The game world itself, Panau, is a gigantic group of islands that is approximately fifty kilometers from end to end. Although it's mostly tropical (Ah, Commando) it also has some snow areas, deserts (Rambo III), cities, and a lot of water. Within these areas are military installations; ports, airfields, bases, and even offshore oil rigs are all controlled by the military and are there for you to destroy. And destroy you shall; in order to drive the story forward, you'll need to earn 'chaos' simply by blowing up as many things as you possibly can around Panau.
The action moves from base to base, with the occasional village or town in between
Because the game's focus is set on destruction, the weak story becomes less of an issue. You can carry 1 large weapon and 2 small ones around at a time, and dual-wielding submachine guns is a fun option to have when mowing down enemy troops. Driving full-force into a military base, getting into a gunfight while totally outnumbered, planting explosives everywhere, and blowing up fuel tanks is the core experience of Just Cause 2; it works great. The number of options at your disposal, from a straight up shootout to hijacking a fighter aircraft, allows for some very creative ways to wreak havoc on your enemies. The controls to do all this are fairly good, although flying aircraft and taking cover aren't very precise and stand out as weak points when using a mouse and keyboard. Missions themselves tend to be a bit bland in actual design, and often repeat in terms of objectives, but most of the time you're just blowing things up anyway and this flaw - although present - becomes largely inconsequential.
If your computer can handle it, Just Cause 2 is one of the best looking games out today
Visually, Just Cause 2 is nothing short of amazing. Although it's pretty taxing when maxed, getting up into the sky will reward you with a pretty incredible panoramic view of Panau. Jungles are really well detailed and mountainsides look appropriately rugged. Water, both from above and below, looks great as well. The vehicles aren't intricately textured but they do have a simple, clean look that really works with the rest of the game. They also exhibit a lot of external damage and are capable of deforming after crashes or explosions, which as you expect happens a lot in this game. NPC models are a little bit simpler still, with civilians looking especially basic, but they work well enough to suit the game and not stand out. Effects, and I'm mostly talking about explosions here, are satisfyingly big and sound great. The rest of the sound effects are serviceable, if a little basic, and most of the music is pretty dull with a couple decent ambient tracks when exploring or traveling.
The game's three factions all offer missions and allow the opportunity for you to take over new strongholds for them. Agency missions, which are how to complete the game, require a set amount of chaos to be accumulated before they're available. Just doing the faction missions won't be enough to unlock the next Agency mission, so causing chaos on your own time becomes a pretty big part of the game. Going from base to base and destroying stuff will not only earn you chaos, but money as well. There's a black market (accessible anywhere out of combat) that allows for the purchase of weapons, vehicles, or site-to-site transport for a fee. Upgrades, found in crates around the game world, can be redeemed in the black market for vehicles and weapons to make you a bit more powerful as the game moves along.
Like the chicken and the egg, how this fighter jet got here will ever remain a mystery
In the end, this game is basically a kind of action sandbox for the player. There is no multiplayer whatsoever, which could be a turnoff for some players. There is a story to follow, and there are "objectives" to fulfill, but these are clearly secondary to the sheer act of destruction and mayhem you know you want to cause. To this end, you're empowered to perform ridiculous, mind-bendingly unrealistic stunts with ease and inhabit a world where physics are pretty much on vacation. You'll see a truck roll down a five-hundred foot hill and still drive when it reaches the bottom. You'll see helicopters knock over trees and keep on flying. And best of all, the enemy AI is so hellbent on your destruction that you'll see them perform suicidal deeds such as driving off cliffs or crashing head-on into civilian traffic.
This sense of freedom, combined with the incredibly liberal and action-oriented nature of the world, is the biggest strength the game offers. It's something that makes it a very strong competitor in it's genre, despite being derivative of other games in a lot of other areas. The size of the world, the abilities of the player, and the sheer amount of havoc you can create makes up for Just Cause 2's shortcomings and creates a very memorable experience that justifies it's price. Even though it's strictly a single-player game, it has a lot of content; I got just over twenty hours of gameplay from my first play though, and apparently only got 24% on overall completion rate. Just don't expect this game to be a realistic experience, and if you do...
... take a look at the first screenshot again.