Review by Vamphaery
"One of the most fun, beautiful to behold, and outrageous experiences I have ever had in a videogame."
As always, I will remind the reader that any review is merely a single individual's personal opinion. The only definitive review for you should be your own.
Just Cause 2 is a third person shooter and sandbox action game set on a fictional Southeast Asian island called Panau. There have been many, many takes on the open-world action game formula since GTA, but Just Cause 2 distinguishes itself from the pack with its own highly distinctive gameplay mechanics and some of the most amazing action ever seen in a videogame. If you've ever wanted to be an elite G.I. Joe/James Bond/Secret agent/NAVY SEAL/Mercenary/Terminator/Action movie hero hybrid all rolled into one, but didn't want a convoluted or unnecessarily clunky interface to get in the way of the fun of taking part in crazy, over-the-top action sequences, then Just Cause 2 will scratch that itch and then some. Because of the complexity of what you're capable of doing in the game (don't let that fool you though - the interface is paradoxically simple and highly intuitive,) it is necessary for me to separate the "Gameplay" section of this review into two parts: Gameplay Mechanics, and Gameplay Structure, with the latter detailing the mission structure and impetus to keep playing, while the former describes HOW you play the game. Both are equally important in this case.
This is where Just Cause 2 succeeds the most wildly. You are Rico Rodriguez, an elite paramilitary operative from "the agency." In short, if it involves action, stunts, gunplay, explosions, and death-defying risk-taking, you are the best there is at it.
What sets Just Cause 2 apart from every other game in the sandbox, open-world, action game "genre" (if that is a genre,) is its unique gameplay mechanics. You have access to three incredibly simple, yet amazingly versatile and powerful tools:
1) The grappling hook: Attached to your arm, this device allows you to "hook shot" (ala Zelda) your way to any object in the world. This sounds simple until you realize that this includes not only surfaces, but also vehicles, trees, the ground, and even the most sheer rock faces on the highest mountains you've ever seen in a game (save perhaps for Asobo's Fuel.) You can also use the grappling hook to attach any objects (or any object and a surface) together. This too sounds simple, until you realize that this also includes vehicles, explosive or flammable objects, and most crucially, enemies.
2) The parachute: Infinitely redeploy-able at any time, the stunt parachute allows you to gracefully float from any jump location to any surface below. This too sounds simple, until you realize that you also have the grappling hook at your disposal while parachuting.
3) The stunt jump: While in any vehicle, you can press the stunt jump button to leap out of the driver seat and on to the roof or hood of the car. From there, you can press it again to leap from your vehicle to any other vehicle nearby. Jump to a bike and you eliminate its driver and gain control. Jump to other vehicles to land on their hoods of roofs. You can then shoot its passengers, eject and replace its driver, place C4 charges on it before leaping back to another vehicle, etc. You get the idea.
Now, let the implications of all of this sink in for a moment. You now have the ability to float slowly through the air, combined with the ability to pull yourself in any direction, attach any two objects or surfaces together, and leap seamlessly from vehicle to vehicle at the touch of a button, all while still having access to your offensive weaponry. Think of the possibilities. Now think about being able to implement those possibilities with grace and ease that takes minimal getting used to.
That is Just Cause 2.
The driving impetus to keep playing Just Cause 2 is a stat called Chaos. Chaos increases every time you destroy buildings or complete missions, and as chaos increases, meters fill toward unlocking new activities, missions, or black market weapons and vehicles.
The black market allows you to call in helicopter drops of weapons, ammo, and extraction to discovered locations. And there are a LOT of locations to discover (over 300 in total.) These range from mission locales, to optional race challenges, to settlements.
Settlements are optional areas which you can attempt to destroy structures and hunt for item upgrades in. Doing everything you can in a settlement earns you a 100% rating for that location and some money and chaos.
Upgrade items allows you to upgrade the vehicles and weapons found in the black market. These upgrades are permanent, which is a good thing given how expensive these items can be.
You are sent to Panau to track down a suspected rogue agent, and to destabilize the government of the island state's new leader, who is unfriendly to the agency's interests in the region. To do this, you must enlist the aid of three disparate factions by performing missions for them. Completing missions earns you money, and the structures you destroy in the process also give you more chaos.
It's a good system, although with every mission ultimately boiling down to destroying buildings, escorting NPCs, or acquiring items, it does become a bit repetitive. That's something the game doesn't suffer too much from however, because of how endlessly fun and rewarding the basic gameplay inherent in it is, time and time again. You may get bored at times, but you can simply take a break and come back later ready to blow more stuff up.
There isn't a certain order you have to do any of this in. You can wander the absolutely ENORMOUS island of Panau (it is orders of magnitude larger than GTA IV for example) and tackle whatever missions or settlements you choose to, provided they're available. Or you can simply explore and take in the scenery.
Which brings me to...
This is an amazing looking game. After playing for many hours, you will begin to notice imperfections (as with any game,) but the consistency and smoothness of the graphics will still shine through.
The lighting and weather effects combine to create a real sense of unity between all of the graphical elements. Even distant textures, while slightly blurred through a beautiful looking depth of field effect, don't jarringly transition from nearby textures. Everything is smooth, consistent, and drenched in gorgeous lighting.
Even at night, when most games are either too dark to see or just a darker version of the day, looks breathtaking. City and settlement lights light up, the moon comes out, and clouds glow beautifully in the distance.
The game's clouds actually deserve special mention. This game's clouds are procedural and it shows. They drift high above, as well as close to the ground, depending on your current elevation. They float through the world as real, three dimensional entities, growing or waning as the weather dictates.
All in all, this is an absolutely beautiful game to behold visually.
The sound is a bit of a mixed bag.
Vehicles, weapons, and environmental sound design are all amazingly well done. They have depth, spacial scale, and sound incredibly real and full.
The voice acting on the other hand can be a bit cartoonish. Personally, I feel that this fits the over-the-top vibe of the game, but some are sure to find it jarring or disappointing.
This is a game about the action. The story exists to justify it. As such, it isn't the best story seen in a game this gen.
That said, it does serve its purpose, and the characters are interesting enough, at times fairly amusing, and Rico in particular has a Duke Nukem-like aggressive wit that lets his would-be enemies know that killing is his business and business is good. (:P)
This game won't be for everyone. If you become bored with repetition easily (regardless of how cool or fun what you're repeating may be,) then you may tire of this game, as it is huge, time consuming, and as has been said, repetitive to a degree.
When this game is at its best is when you come upon a settlement, and decide to try to take it out. You place some C4 on a water tower and some antennas or SAMs, attach your grappling hook to the statue of the exalted leader and a jeep, pull the statue over using said jeep, detonate the C4, and then engage the guards quickly descending upon you. After fighting off wave after wave of them, you see their attack chopper coming in to provide close air support. You grapple up to it, get rid of its passenger and pilot in the more forcible way possible, and then use its mounted guns to blow holes in anything remaining in the settlement before bailing out and parachuting away into a dense forest as the sounds of pursuing enemies grow fainter and fainter behind you.
That is Just Cause 2. That's what it does, and it does it very, very well in this reviewer's opinion. If this sounds like a good time to you, check it out. You probably won't be disappointed.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/24/10, Updated 03/25/10
Game Release: Just Cause 2 (US, 03/23/10)
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