Just Cause 2 video game review

Just Cause 2 offers a highly satisfying, if hardly unique, open-world adventure in which players are encouraged to indulge in as much mayhem as possible.

  • Formats: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3 and PC
  • Developer: Avalanche Studios/Eidos Interactive
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Released: Out now
  • Score: 6/10

What a difference a decade makes. In 2001 an open-world video game was vilified by a lot of the mainstream press and numerous political figures for presenting players with limitless opportunities to create mayhem. This year, Square Enix releases Just Cause 2 in which players are presented with an entire island to reduce to a smoking pile of rubble and no one bats an eyelid. Not only that, the BBFC has assigned this game a lower certificate than its forebears, despite the fact that creating wanton chaos isn’t just an option that’s open to the players – it’s something they have to do to advance the plot. If anything, Just Cause 2 is a welcome signpost of just how much more acceptable the ‘mature’ content of video games has become to the mainstream.

Cuz I'm free! Free fallin': Rico's never-ending supply of parachutes provide players with fantastic way to travel

Cuz I'm free! Free fallin': Rico's never-ending supply of parachutes provide players with fantastic way to travel

We say ‘mature’, but in actual fact all that word means in this situation is that Just Cause 2 has violence in it. To call the game mature in any other context would be disingenuous. While Just Cause 2 certainly includes its fair share of mature themes, it presents them in such a cartoonlike way that it’s impossible to take them too seriously. This is a good thing too, because if one was to stare too closely at certain aspects of the game – such as the ropy accents in the voice-work or the plot which involves a US military black-ops team undermining a Third World nation for purely amoral reasons – they may begin to seem more than a little tasteless.

Players take on the role of Rico, the grappling hook-wielding Hispanic Agency soldier from the first game, who has just landed in the fictional Southeast Asian island of Panau. Equal parts Nepal, Panama and New Zealand, Panau has recently undergone a change in government; the Agency has been ordered into the country because the newly installed dictator, Baby Panay, has cut all diplomatic ties to the United States. Rico’s mission is to hunt down an Agency operative named Sheldon, who is suspected of going rogue. In order to track him down, Rico needs to gain the trust of the local insurgent factions, and doing this involves performing guerrilla attacks on targets dotted around Panau. As Rico’s trail of destruction increases, the insurgent groups grow in power and are thus able to feed him information on where Sheldon might be hiding.

While the plot sounds engaging, it’s actually rather shallow and is simply an excuse to plonk the player down in the game’s vast environment, where they are encouraged to unleash gleeful mayhem. In order to advance the game’s story, players need to activate Agency missions, the massive action set pieces which are the meat of Just Cause 2. In order to do this, they also need to complete Faction missions; these are low-key jobs they need to accomplish for the local guerrilla groups and they involve activities such as hijacking convoys, assassinating government officials. However, in order to activate either of these mission types, players need to fill up chaos meters on Rico’s PDA. This is done by uncovering locations such as military bases, airports and civilian settlements and (for the most part) reducing them to ashes.

Players have a multitude of options when it comes to getting around Panau’s different islands, ranging from vehicles which have become standard in most sandbox games – jets, bikes, cars, helicopters – to Rico’s unique mode of personal transport which involves a wrist-mounter grappling hook and an inexhaustible supply of parachutes. Using Rico’s hook, players can pull themselves through woodland stretches, latch onto passing vehicles (and then hijack them), rappel up or down sheer cliff-faces or slingshot themselves skyward and then open their parachute to traverse great distances. If they can’t be bothered with any of those methods, they can always call in a helicopter piloted by a black marketeer called Sloth Demon for an extraction to any location on the map they’ve previously visited.

Sloth Demon’s usefulness doesn’t stop at offering Rico a quick way to get around Panau, however. He also has new weapons, weapon upgrades, vehicles and explosives on offer. By picking up cash, vehicle parts and weapons caches dotted around the game’s map, players are able to open up new items, as well as upgrade what’s already on sale. It’s here, however, that Just Cause 2 throws up its first gameplay niggle; Rico is only able to buy one item at a time. Purchasing an item triggers a cut-scene in which Sloth Demon arrives, drops off an item and then leaves. Buying another item starts the whole process again, and this makes the whole Black Market mechanic feel like more trouble than it’s worth.

This is also true of the side-missions. While tearing through a military base or radar station is hugely satisfying to begin with, it can start to feel like a massive chore after about six hours in. Unlike the side-missions in games such as Assassin’s Creed II or even The Saboteur (a game this one closely resembles), there’s a distinct lack of variety on offer. Due to the fact that most bases can eventually be destroyed through attrition, doing so quickly becomes repetitive and tedious. The problem here is that the player doesn’t have a choice about whether or not they want to spend ages dismantling bases as the game closes off both the Faction and Agency missions (along with Stronghold attacks and weapons and vehicles on the Black Market) unless Rico’s chaos meters are filled. Furthermore dismantling an enemy stronghold completely also involves collecting asset cases (containing weapon and vehicle parts) dotted around them and running around a massive base or airfield in search of these is nowhere near as much fun as blowing up fuel-tanks or toppling radar towers. To make matters worse, all of the soldiers the player encounters seem to be able to soak up nearly a full clip of bullets before they fall down. The more soldiers they kill or equipment they blow up, the more the player’s ‘Heat’ gauge (read: Wanted level) fills, and the more reinforcements will be dispatched to deal with them. On easier levels this isn’t too much of a problem, but on the harder difficulty settings, Just Cause 2 can be eye-wateringly frustrating.

The save-system also leaves a lot to be desired. While some of the missions thankfully have mid-mission checkpoint saves, the non-mission auto-save function is flawed. If Rico dies outside of a mission, he re-spawns at the closest faction stronghold – which can sometimes be miles and miles away from the location he expired at. This also happens if the player loads their game, regardless of where they were when they saved it. Just Cause 2 is also plagued with a number of other glitches and gameplay head-scratchers that impede enjoyment from time to time. Why, for example, is a chain-link fence able to stop bullets as effectively as a concrete slab? Why is Rico able to crouch behind cover, but is unable to fire a weapon while doing do? While Rico’s parachute and grappling hook combo lend the game the potential for a free-running aspect, this is largely unfulfilled due to the fact that without his hook, Rico can barely manage a jump between rooftops. A misplaced grappling hook fire can also send Rico hurtling into a piece of the environment and then he becomes stuck there, necessitating a restart.

The other problem Just Cause 2 has is that all of the characters in it are thoroughly unlikeable. Admittedly, the leaders of the different factions are probably meant to come across as a bunch of hypocritical, power-hungry psychopaths, but the heroes of the game aren’t much better. Rico, for his part, is presented as a humourless thug and his Agency colleagues are portrayed as smug and smarmy. The only character in the game that we warmed to was the announcer on the Panau state-run radio station, who is prone to making laugh-out-loud announcements such as “unconfirmed reports have confirmed that a recent explosion at a military base was not an explosion at all.”

The main draw in playing Just Cause 2 has more to do with separate in-game moments than it does with its overall structure. While it would be inaccurate to say that the player’s options are limitless, what is true that Just Cause 2 gives back what the player is prepared to invest in it in terms of imagination. For example, if wandering around a base blowing up structures has become tedious, it might be an idea to nip over to the nearest airfield, commandeer a Boeing 747 and then crash it into the target base after ejecting at the last second. Tired of dispatching pesky soldiers with your machine guns? Fire your hook at one of them, attach it your motorbike and then speed off into the distance dragging the poor unfortunate behind you. When it comes to causing massive amounts of destruction, this is really a game which rewards creativity more than anything else. The game’s biggest trump card is the island of Panau; not only is the sheer size of it incredible, but it looks absolutely gorgeous too. The varied environments – which include snow-capped mountains, tropical forests, riverside shanty towns and vast stretches of sunburnt desert – are a marvel to behold and the game’s draw distance is extremely impressive. It may be a bit of a slog at times to explore on the ground, but seen from the air – whether in a plane or during one of Rico’s many, many parachute drops – it’s a sight to behold.

Just Cause 2 is not without its flaws, but it offers a highly satisfying, if hardly unique, open-world adventure in which players are encouraged to indulge in as much mayhem as possible. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste, but players who consider plot for action an even trade will find plent to to occupy them here.

source: telegraph.co.uk

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