Review: Just Cause 2

JustCause2.jpg The original Just Cause showed immense potential as a contender in the open world genre, but it was ultimately a victim of poor timing. Its launch fell in late 2006 during a period of generation transition which saw the game release across the PC, PS2, Xbox and Xbox 360, and while playing it you could tell that it was a last generation game trying to pose as a “next-gen” game.

Just Cause 2, however, doesn’t have that problem, and subsequently it is a much more polished production and a superior game overall. But is that enough to catapult it into the same class as the open world elite? I’m not so sure…

Just Cause 2 closely follows the sandbox action/adventure template made famous by GTA III years ago. It is a game that lets you loose to pretty much do as you please in a huge open world playground, occasionally stopping to advance the paper-thin plot. Seriously, if you’re expecting a strong story from Just Cause 2, your expectations will be crushed. I’m being extremely kind in saying that the storyline is B-movie garbage, with clichéd action moments, poorly executed attempts at political satire, bland, generic characters, and voice acting that is absolutely putrid. I know the game isn’t meant to be taken seriously and I get that the acting is purposely cheesy, but it’s still not bad in a funny way like it’s supposed to be – it’s just plain bad. The hero, Rico Rodriguez, sounds like a cheap imitation of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog of Conan O’Brien fame for crying out loud!

The storyline clearly wasn’t a major focus for Avalanche Studios, though, as the plot progression consists of a measly seven missions and really only accounts for a fraction of the game’s completion percentage. I “finished” the game at 29% completion in around 15 hours, but I’d say only four or five of those were related to the actual campaign, while the rest was spent completing faction missions and causing as much “Chaos” as possible in a freelance capacity to unlock the next story mission.

Looking past the inept story structure, Just Cause 2 is a whale of a game – I don’t see how anyone could play this game and not thoroughly enjoy them self. The fun of the game comes from roaming around the exotic island of Panau at your own pace, hunting down collectibles like drug drops, skulls, black boxes and weapon/vehicle upgrades, piloting all sorts of swank rides like planes, boats, cars and motorcycles in checkpoint races, and, most fun of all, blowing military outputs to kingdom come.

Agency missions and Faction missions provide at least some semblance of structure, but really, the main point of the game is to jump in and run amok. Every action you take, from destroying a fuel depot or satellite dish to completing a side mission to discovering a collectible, also builds your Chaos meter, which essentially serves as a currency to unlock new missions, weapons and vehicles. So even if you play outside of the mission structure, you are still rewarded with a satisfying sense of progression.

Simple enemy AI and a forgiving auto-targeting system do leave the game feeling light on challenge, but nevertheless, running and gunning across Panau is a pleasure, and the freedom you are given to experiment is truly empowering. While there are a ton of different vehicles to tool around in, the main mode of transportation is a grappling hook and parachute, a gadget duo that enables you to scale any building or piece of terrain in sight and perform many other fun stunts. Indeed, learning how to use the grappling hook in different ways is a hoot. You can latch onto helicopters and cars for a free ride, you can use it in tandem with the parachute to manually slingshot yourself around, you can flip enemies into the air for juggle kills or fling them off of rooftops to their demise, and you can even use a double-hook mechanism to attach two objects together, hilarity often ensuing. I mean come on, how can you not have fun hooking a dude to a car and dragging them around?

But as fun as the game can be, after a while the lack of mission variety causes a feeling of sameness to set in and the blow-shit-up, do-as-you-please thrills aren’t so thrilling any more. In my case, I was hooked for the first six to seven hours – so for about half of the time it took me to complete the story – but after that it felt like the game settled into a rut of the same thing over and over again. I steadily lost interest from there, and even though I still have 70% worth of optional content left to complete, I don’t see myself revisiting Panau any time soon to see any of it. At this point the element of surprise is gone and I feel like I’ve experienced everything the game has to offer.

Panau may not be bustling with mission variety, but its landscape sure is diverse. Without question, Just Cause 2’s greatest triumph is the design and beauty of its grand open world. From its lush jungles to its crystal-clear oceans to its pristine beaches to its expansive deserts to its rugged mountaintops, Panau is an absolute marvel, with a draw distance that stretches on as far as the eye can see and a sense of scale that is nothing short of majestic. Many a time I caught myself just starring at the screen in awe as I parachuted to the ground – the game world really is that breathtaking to behold. The immense sense of scale is even audible, with gunfire and explosions echoing to great effect as you wreak havoc from coast to coast.

Just Cause 2 is so very close to being a truly exceptional game, but, similarly to a game like Crackdown, it just misses the mark. If you want an exotic playground to run, jump, shoot, drive, fly and parachute slingshot around in, Just Cause 2 is the game for you. But for the most part it’s like going on vacation: it’s fun for a week, but after that you’re ready to move on and get back to life as usual.

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Pros:
+ Huge open world to explore
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Blowing shit up is mindless fun
+ Grappling hook is a blast to experiment with

Cons:
– Not enough depth or variety to hold your attention
– Rarely puts up much of a challenge
– Pointless storyline
– Dreadful voice acting

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also on PC and PS3
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Release Date: 3/23/2010
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!