When Grand Theft Auto 3 came out in 2001, I would walk 4 blocks to my buddy's apartment in Brooklyn just to play it. Living in the city that inspired the game was part of the charm, I guess, but once we unlocked most of the weapons, we forgot about the story missions altogether. Instead, we made our own game of trying to wreak as much havoc, kill as many people, and blow up as many cars as we could before being arrested or assassinated by the copters and tanks that would inevitably be chasing us. The player would then pass off the controller to the next guy and watch him try his hand at causing chaos.
Just Cause 2 takes that nugget of fun, and makes it the focus of its sandbox. Story missions are only unlocked once you have caused enough chaos, and you earn Chaos Points through any number of activities such as blowing up government property like fuel depots, killing military colonels dotted on the map, completing race challenges, finding all of the collectibles in a location, and running missions for one of three factions on the fictional island nation of Panau.
The story in Just Cause 2 isn't as complex or original as it could be. You are Rico Rodriguez (a nice departure from the typical WASP hero) and you work for the "Agency." The American government sends you to Panau because its president was recently overthrown, and the Agency has lost contact with its one, um, agent there, Tom Sheldon, your mentor. Aside from an introductory mission, your only mandate is to find the three faction leaders and get on their good side so that they can help you track down Sheldon. There follows the cliché introductions (Hello, I'm So and So and I'm the leader of the Blah Blah Blahs) and somewhat meaningless missions.
Like too many games these days, you start by skydiving but the game does very little to explain the physics. I died the first 10 times I jumped because I couldn't figure out how to pilot parachuting Rico onto the landing spot on top of a mountain. This was incredibly frustrating, which is not the emotion you want to give your player during the first minute of the game.
My frustration grew with the incredibly long death sequence. When you die, everything goes black and white and your body is rag-dolled around for a few seconds. Then you are brought to a menu which asks you whether you want to reload. Even after you choose the "reload from checkpoint" option, you are sent to a loading screen which cycles the same 30 "tips" for another 10-20 seconds. Then you are almost invariably sent back to a checkpoint which is far earlier in the mission than it should be.
Open letter to the designers of Just Cause 2: Thank you for making me drive 2 kilometers each time I die. It really makes me appreciate your big open world.
The run and gun play of Just Cause is fun; I certainly appreciated that you could dual-wield any one handed weapon. Tossing down with a pistol in one hand and a submachine gun in another can make you feel like an action star. But the aiming reticle is finicky, and it takes far too many shots to kill random mooks.