Just Cause 2 Review

Posted on July 10, 2010 by


I always wondered about the title of this game, and indeed, the title of its predecessor. Was it meant to imply that you were fighting for a just and worthy cause, or did it simply mean that anything you did, was ‘just ’cause’? I very rarely come across a game that makes me stop and stare at it on the shelf, trying to work out how the hell you pronounce its damn name. JC was one of those games. Plus, it had a scorpion made out of guns on the cover.

My previous experience with this game, by which I mean my experience with the original, though there seems so little difference betwixt the two that to call this a sequel would be like describing The Last Airbender as being good. It’s more like a remake, only this time around its also a pretty decent game. Mostly.

Imagine you pop into being. You literally just start existing in a world that is massive, completely new and so full of things to do that you could spend your whole life trying to do them all and not even come close. You have absolute freedom. You have no understanding of laws, morals or ethics, you can quite literally do whatever you please and feel no guilt, because you have no understanding of guilt. That’s what it’s like to start playing JC2.

And I don’t know about you, but I find that sudden, total freedom to do anything utterly crippling. I just stand there whimpering, occasionally bringing up the PDA to see how many things must be done, and knowing that were I attempt these things, further things would simply arrive in their place. I feel trapped in what is possibly the largest open-world environment in any game I’ve ever played, and to make matters worse, you don’t just start the game standing by a safehouse or something, from where you can make contacts, friends and allies, learn the plot and the context and from there, work out your plan of action. No, this game starts by throwing you out of a helicopter, a mile and a half above frozen, snowy mountains of death. This game wants you to know, from the outset, that you are its bitch.

Okay, there is some plot. Basically, you’re a terrorist working for the CIA. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Terrorist. I guarantee that Spell Checked* has now been flagged on the servers of at least two national security agencies. If at any point I stop typing halfway through a sentence, assume that I’ve been taken to the bay, for water-boarding. But yeah, Rico Rodriguez is a chuffing terrorist. He blows stuff up, kills people, destroys bridges and statues, sabotages army bases and generally has to cause enough chaos to topple this nation and its leaders, but oddly enough, this was never remarked upon by the games activists, who prefer to pick on small time criminals like Nico Bellic, who actually did a hell of a lot to wipe out all of the criminals in Liberty City…

The nation in question is an island in south-east Asia, called Panau. It might be better named stereotypical third-world dictatorship, the sort of place America feels it has to ‘sort out’ for it’s own good. Taken in a real world context, I suppose Rodriguez’s terrorism is actually much less damaging than the normal US approach to picking on tiny countries with no real ability to defend themselves. Panau used to be a US ally, which I assume means ‘the children made shoes in sweatshops all day while the grown-ups drilled for oil’ (this is not a joke, the US, Russia, China and Japan are all only interested in Panau for the oil).

It got taken over a few years ago (at least, judging by all the statues everywhere) by Pandak “Baby” Panay, who is the single least threatening dictator since the Nostalgia Critic took over Molassia. Naturally, Uncle Sam disapproves of this turn of events, and promptly enlists a mass-murdering sociopath to bring Panay’s whole empire down around his head.  Not that Rodriguez is portrayed as such. No, he’s like James Bond, he can get away with anything because he’s a smarmy cheeky fellow who makes quips when he kills people. He’s this swarthy, charming latin guy, and so naturally he can commit genocide, terrorism and a Coup d’état and no one so much as bats an eyelid. Can you tell that I don’t like him?

There is absolutely no need to ever approach the story mode in this game, though. There is enough stuff going on, things to do, just generally exploring and messing about, that you can always have something to do that will not affect the story progress at all. Unlike other free-roam games, like GTA, there are no ‘broken bridges’ stopping you from getting somewhere. On this massive island, you can go anywhere, anytime.

There is a tool in your possession, the grappling hook. It fires from a thing on your wrist. You have it from the very beginning of the game. This is possibly the single most useful thing in any game since the Gravity gun in Half life 2 (Zero-point energy field manipulator, if you prefer). You can grapple to nearly anything, and either pull it towards you, or pull you towards it. You can tether two things together, such as an annoying helicopter, and the ground. These cables do not break. Ever. Second in your arsenal is the parachute. Again, you have this from the start of the game, and it never needs replacing.  It opens with the press of a button, you can haul yourself over serious distances using it in conjunction with the grapple, and it is so useful that you will probably never walk anywhere ever. Oh, and you will still try to use it on any other free-roam game you play afterwards. Even RDR.

I hope by this point i’ve established just how much potential there is to do stuff in this game, because this is where things start going downhill.

The vehicles– the controls are loose and sloppy. In fact, these are last-gen controls. These are the controls we exalted at while playing GTA San Andreas, but in a current-gen game they feel cartoony and annoying and out of place.

The Guns– the targeting is slapdash, and enemies are always a better shot than you, and every weapon short of something that explodes on impact feels like a peashooter. And has about the same effect on foes.

The world– it’s massive, I cannot deny it. it is mind-bogglingly huge, and I have to admit that I don’t think I will ever see all of it in any detail, but a lot of it feels… empty. It’s full of towns and villages that are cut and pasted, and while it has any number of unique monuments, the entire country just doesn’t have the character and life of one island in GTA IV.

The story– cookie-cutter imitation of every spy thriller/action movie ever. Not even slightly memorable. To be honest, the story really isn’t important, tis game is just about having ridiculous amounts of fun.

Because yes, it really does boil down to that. Fun. That is this games whole raison d’être, to engage the player in nonstop extreme! action till they can handle no more. Everything is deigned to look cool, I suspect it’s even why enemies can take so many hits from a heavy machine gun and keep standing, because watching them get riddled is more entertaining than the terrifyingly powerful guns you got in the single player of CoD4:MW. It’s all basically one big budget action/spy/thriller movie, except you make up most of the plot. This is the epitome of the sandbox genre. It’s like a blank slate. In much the same way as Little Big Planet is not a game, but a platform for games, JC2 is a platform for mindless, explosive action.

I love this game for it’s sheer mind-numbing catharsis, especially when i’ve just come out of a big emotional ending like in RDR, GTA IV, HL2EP2 . But at the same time I have a hatred for the fact that this game is itself apparently missing any actual game, and that for the most part you have to go and make your own. But given how long this game will last (forever) I can’t really hold that against it. I wouldn’t recommend renting it- there’s too much to do. Do what I did and buy, and then keep it for those times between games to just mess around and blow crap up.

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