Review by Gruel
Must buy for open world fans, especially if you're craving something different
Just Cause 2 is the sequel to the open world action game that originally came out in 2006. The first game went a little under the radar since it was released right in the middle of the hubbub that surrounded the PS3 and Wii launches, but it sold well enough to warrant a sequel out of developer Avalanche Studios. This time however, Avalanche made a huge splash by releasing one of the most chaotic and fun open world games to date.
Rico Rodriguez is the protagonist of the series, and Just Cause 2 sees him hooking up again with his old employers. Ricos mission is to cater to all three rebel factions on the island nation of Panau in order to overthrow the corrupt president and restore order and justice. As expected, Ricos adventure is a wild ride as the primary story missions have him performing all kinds of extraordinary feats like in its predecessor. It is essentially the gimmick of the Just Cause series, which is crazy, over-the-top action along with the ability to use Ricos trademark parachute and grappling hook to execute actions not seen in most open world games.
Avalanche addressed some of the problems I had with the first Just Cause. Specifically, they polished up the driving controls and core gunplay mechanics. The driving physics are tighter, and I am no longer heavily relying on targeting assists in combat. Using the grappling hook to attach to vehicles last time around was a hoot and one of the things that made the original game stand out, now Rico can attach to more than vehicles, now he can practically grapple onto nearly any object in the game. By timing when Rico grapples onto objects in coordination with deploying his parachute at the right moment makes traversing the large world of Panau much more faster and efficient than most of the cars in the game. As a matter of fact, by the end of the game I was rarely driving any cars at all. Be warned, there is a little bit of a learning curve getting the hang of movement and the physics of the grappling hook, as it took me a couple of hours to become comfortable with the physics of gliding around anywhere in this awesome new form of movement.
A new addition to Just Cause 2 is a different way of going about collectables. There is still various collectables scattered in the countryside of Panau, and still thankfully indicated on the radar so you know where to grab them. Whats new is that each of the well over a hundred locations (villages, cities, military bases, etc) has a percentage complete meter. That meter goes up by destroying government facilities and collecting power-ups scattered across each location, a hot/cold signal on Ricos HUD assists in discovering these pick-ups, and it makes 100% completing each location a painfully addicting endeavor. Achievement/Trophy hunters will have to make a heavy duty commitment if they want to get all the collectables in Just Cause 2.
Not all the changes in Just Cause 2 are for the better. I have a huge gripe with how the Black Market worked out. In the first game, Rico could call up his employer for a free vehicle drop or extraction for easy travel across the map. Extractions are still free, but now there is a nominal fee for vehicle and weapon drops, and all I have to say is inflation is a ***** in Panau with their exuberant prices. I could see how having free weapon and vehicle drops at will can make the gameplay balance a little off kilter, but getting a 200 assault rifle round ammo drop that runs out in no time should not cost as much as a helicopter. The balance is way off for the amount of cash Rico is rewarded for how much weapons and vehicles cost. This consequently resulted in rapidly depleting ammo and constantly scrambling around for any loose ammo I could get off fallen adversaries. In essence, it forced me to play parts of the game conservatively, which should not be the point of an open world action game, especially one that encourages chaos and destruction like Just Cause 2.
Speaking of chaos and destruction, Chaos is the name of the points system used to unlocked story missions, it is similar to the way missions were unlocked in Saints Row. By completing enough faction missions on the side, 100% completing locations and wreaking havoc Rico is rewarded with Chaos. It is a creative way of getting me to play the side missions and experiment with the weapons. The side missions got old and repetitive in the first game, and while there is still some repetition here, I can assure you that there is far more variety and fun to be had in side missions now than before. I highly encourage you to get creative with causing Chaos because there are so many ways to inflict Chaos that I accidentally stumbled upon a few sweet moments, like grappling on from one airplane to another in midair and dragging the head of a statue from above with a helicopter over enemies to name a couple. It is worth checking out YouTube and discover all the inventive ways people are creating Chaos. It is too bad Avalanche could not find a way to implement live video capture straight to YouTube like they did in the PS3 version.
A missed opportunity in Just Cause 2 is the lack of any coop. I could care less about multiplayer deathmatch since most open world games that have attempted it have not really nailed it so far. But I did have a blast in online coop missions in Saints Row 2 and Crackdown, and multiplayer free roam in Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption that having some form of coop would have seemed like a no brainer. Imagine teaming up with a friend online to do crazy midair launches out of planes in midair, or in boats in the middle of an ocean. The possibilities could have been endless. For now all I can do is keep my fingers crossed for it in the inevitable Just Cause 3.
For being a HD port of a PS2/Xbox game, the original Just Cause looked pretty good on the 360, but the facelift it got for being designed from the ground up on current-gen systems looks vastly superior, especially factoring in how big Panau is. Character models are more detailed, the many vehicles and buildings look leaps better than the first game, and the animation rarely hiccups with all of the intense action going on.
I cannot say the same about most of the audio. The only bright spots in that department is the gunfire and rampant explosions help complement the destructive nature of Just Cause 2, and the random news updates from the government on the radio trying to put a positive spin on the recent mayhem you caused is amusing. The soundtrack is nearly nonexistent and only kicks in sporadically throughout missions and it is barely noticeable in the middle of the entire ruckus. Selectable radio stations could have remedied this, even if it was entirely composed of unlicensed original tunes from the artists of Panau. The voice acting flat out sucks. Avalanche replaced the voice actors for the three returning characters in the game. The two employers Rico works for I eventually got use to over time, but Ricos replacement is no longer the suave James Bond-esque super agent of before, but now a lousy Tony Montana wannabe that is grating on the ears. The faction leaders Rico gets missions from sound awful too, as all three faction leaders really ham up their accents to new levels of annoyance previously deemed impossible. I highly recommend playing Just Cause 2 with custom soundtracks and subtitles throughout.
Just Cause 2 is a huge improvement over the original. There are still a couple of notable rough spots with the Black Market prices and poor audio design, but those are put to the wayside with how damn fun and addictive the core game is. This is an easy recommendation for fans of action games and the open world genre, especially if you are burnt out on Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row and craving something different.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Just Cause 2 (US, 03/23/10)
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