Let me tell you what i, Mr. Exposition, love. I love lush jungle, snowy mountain peaks, peaceful oceanic waves. I love insane car stunts and people flying through the air like cannonballs. And of course i love the smell of napalm in the morning. Today, i am reviewing the game that contains gratuitous amounts of all three. On my 5050th post, let me introduce you to Just Cause 2: the best action movie you'll EVER play.
Just Cause 2 was released just yesterday (actually March 2010) by Avalanche Studios. It's their second game, with original Just Cause being the first. First JC was promising but clunky and inept - a badass extraordinare in training. The second one, meanwhie, is pretty much Chuck Norris in videogame form. It is so ridiculously awesome that it simply cannot be represented in static images: instead of screenshots, this review has to use embedded videos. Last but not least: suspend any and all disbelief, ye who enter here.
The beautiful nature of Panau
As another, much more popular reviewer has noted, Just Cause 2 is pretty much a quintessential sandbox. The game's map is 32 kilometres long and 32 kilometres wide, which gives us the territory of 1024 square km, same map size as in it's predecessor. Both games are fucking immense in the most literal sense of the word, the only difference is that JC2 is much more varied. The problem of copy-and-paste towns may still stand, but there is a surprising amount of variety in the environments: the only thing truly missing is an active volcano. In addition to vast jungle, seemingly endless beaches, and the ocean, there are the capital city of Panau with it's suspension bridges, mangrove swamps in the river delta, snowy mountains (too low to be even remotely realistic, but whatchagonnado?) and even a sizable desert (rain shadow effect is probably in play). And they're all awesome.
Some people insist that Panau is boring, with too much land to traverse and too few scripted missions. Well, i can say only one thing about that notion: it's bloody ridiculous. Just Cause 2 is a nice example of a sandbox game that has scripted missions, but isn't built entirely around them - precisely what should have been expected from, you know, a sandbox game. For comparsion purposes, let's use my favorite open-world strawman: Grand Theft Auto IV.
- In GTA IV, we have the tiny Liberty City drenched in grays and browns, realistic storyline consisting chiefly of petty gang violence, bowling and darts as side activites, buildings serving mostly as decorations, NEEKO EET EEZ YOUR CAZAN, and awesome procedural animation.
- In JC2, we have the sprawling Panau islands utilizing all primary colors without shame, secondary story missions that have you blowing up space rockets and televison center, Michael Baysplosions as side activities, buildings you can climb like Spider-Man, MY NAME IS BOLO SANTOSI, and average-to-good animations you won't pay attention to because you're too busy having fun.
Wonder if this is possible in game? Yes, it's from the tutorial.
But wait, there's more - here comes the real shocker: this game is not entirely about crazy stunts and explosions! Unbelieveable, i know. But since JC2 came out only a few months ago and utilizes modern graphics engine, all the scenery porn is actually very pretty. Just Cause 2 manages to pull a double duty: it appeals to my aesthetic sense as well as to my thirst for over-the-top action. For me, sunrises and roadtrips can be just as entertaining as assaulting enemy bases. Not to mention the technical achievement inherent in such a big world. Once upon a time, i saw the snow-capped Berawan Bezar mountains off in the distance and thought: "usually when you see that kind of thing in games, you go: "hey, nice skybox!" - but here, i can actually go there and explore the shit out of those mountaintops. Wow."
The architecture of chaos
Rico's preferred method of destabilizing the country is simple: chaos. Lots and lots of it. Hereunder, i shall describe some of the truly, truly outrageous ways to cause it. Destroying military property, sabotaging the infrastructure, assisting any or all of three local gangs in their wacky hijinx - anything goes.
The beginning of the game is as follows: Rico, his superior Maria Kane, and a black dude are flown in to Panau islands via helicopter, when they get shot at with flak cannons. The black dude dies - obviously - and falls out of a helicopter, forcing Rico to catch up with him in freefall and grab the PDA. Then Rico has to enter a military base, unarmed, in order to retrieve compromising data cards which sort of fell out of a helo. The second mission, immediately after leaving the base, has him scale the twin casino towers over the waterfall, take down two helicopters without any explosives, then escape the pursuing military while carsurfing and shooting back (as seen above). Then the tutorial ends and the main game begins.
The main method of advancing the main plot, getting new faction missions and stronghold takeovers, and unlocking black market items is to cause as much chaos as you possibly can. In the beginning of the game, you have three stronghold takeovers available, one for each faction: as soon as faction gets control of a territory, faction missions (generate both chaos and money) and race missions (give only money) appear in said territory. You can also cause chaos by blowing up various fuel and gas installations, explosive barrels, antennaes, military hardware... pretty much any kind of government property. There's also fifty colonels out and about who you can murder - though it's not easy, and some of them (like the one with seven loving children) hardly deserve it. Oh, and you can also draw nerd glasses and silly moustache on Panay's portraits strewn across the country. I am not making this up, you CAN do that.
And how does he cause all that destruction, you ask? Quite easily. At any moment you can carry two one-handed weapons (different or two of the same model) and one two-handed, plus ridiculous amounts of grenades and triggered explosives. You can also lash your enemies with the grappling hook - unconventional, but surprisingly effective melee attack. You can use one one-handed gun with grapple and grenades, or double-wield the one-handed guns you have. JC2 has one weapon model per type (not counting the DLC) - one pistol model, one revolver model, one sniper rifle model, and so on.
There is also The Fun Stuff - also known as stationary Gatling turrets and vehicle-mounted guns. They all have infinite ammo (rockets on helicopters and planes included) - and you know what's really cool? You can take a gun from stationary emplacement and walk around with it, turning all enemies into swiss cheese. It's the kind of gun that you point at something and hold the trigger untill it dies. And even detached, it STILL HAS INFINITE AMMO - how's that for an unfair advantage?
Yes, you can do all THAT too. Routinely.
Rico's health is able to regenerate, but it does so only out of combat (well, duh) and at a leisurey pace. If you need to regain all health here and now, you can find a medical cabinet on the wall and liberate it of eight or so medpacks. What does Rico even do - eats them?
When you perform missions, you also earn money parallel to the chaos. The cold hard cash has only one purpose in the game - buying weapons and vehicles from the black market. While we're on the subject of money... too bad there's no easter egg allowing Rico to give to the poor. Anyway, Black Market is pretty useful: if you need something in a pinch, just call in a helicopter which can drop any weapon or deliver vehicles (including some unique to Black Market - such as a jeep similar to good ol' Warthog or a pimped-out ice cream truck). The black market guys also can also upgrade the stuff they sell.
The upgrade system allows you to improve Upgrades are integrated in the game to reward exploration. While travelling around Panau, you'll find many (like, thousands of) cash stashes, weapon parts, vehicle parts, and armour boxes. For each five armour boxes, you'll get a very small total HP increase - so if you you'll have to collect an awful lot. The same applies to vehicle and weapon parts: upgrade cost increases exponentially (5 parts for Level 2, 10 for Level 3, and up to 25 for Level 6), so it's a costly endevaour to try and upgrade everything.
The giant exploding testicles
And so, we have come to the tastiest part: the grappling and stunt mechanics. No game before has allowed me to fly a jet over the convoy while surfing on said jet's roof, jump off with somersault, land on an enemy car's roof, jump around on a vehicle while shooting everyone inside, grapple and reel in to a second one, plant a bomb on the roof of this second car, then hang onto a chopper overhead, shoot the gunner, smash the pilot's face in and throw him out, chase the speedboat in it, then jump to a speedboat and dance a fucking jig on it as leprechauns play fiddles in the background... okay, NOW i'm exagerrating, Rico dosen't actually do jig.
This game has three devices used for stunts: the grappling hook, the parachute, and Rico's MASSIVE BALLS. Seriously, only a completely reckless omnipotent übermacho would be able constantly pull off THIS kind of shit - his balls are probably the size of Jupiter. The guy is almost certainly a manifestation of some god or a similar being, or maybe even a remote projection of The Lombax Emperor Himself.
Rico's parachute - or should we say parachutes - has a few useful abilites. Firstly, he can open and then detach it as many times as he wants to. What's particulary funny, he dosen't even have a backpack for it - only a tiny fanny pack. Another useful capacity is that the parachute can be opened while driving ANY vehicle faster than 5 KPH - i can only assume that Rico is so badass he breaches the car's roof with his head. The Aerial DLC pack adds yet another bit of useful functionality - ROCKET BOOSTERS!
There are several parachute/skydiving tricks. When in freefall, you can rotate, fall faster, or slow down. While parachuting, you can fire the grapple at the ground and reel in, giving yourself a boost of speed. That can allow you to stay in the air for long times. To get in the air in the first place, you can grapple to something and THEN, when you start flying towards it, open the parachute.
The grappling hook is also quite varied in use. You can fling yourself towards absolutely any surface including that of any vehicle, grapple to buildings' walls in order to scale them, grapple to a gas canister and use it as a makeshift rocket (this never gets truly old), yank enemies towards you, hang them on walls or trees, tether enemies to other enemies, tether enemies to cars, tether cars to surfaces, tether cars to cars, cars to jets, tanks to jets, jets to helis, helis to boats, boats to trees, and basically whatever you want to whatever else you want. The grapple is very versatile, intuitive, simple to use (only one button!), and lets you do things which will leave all bystanders silently thinking to themselves "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!!!" Oh, and you can flip a car back on it's wheels with the dual hook.
This entire trailer consists entirely of in-game footage. Everything shown here you can, and probably will, do.
Propane Nightmares by Pendulum sadly not included... really, this music SHOULD have been in the game.
The vehicles themselves are also integral part of the stunts. Each vehicle (except motorbikes) has a stunt position, and some (mostly military ones) have several, allowing you to hang on a front grill or rear bumper while shooting every occupant of the car to death. Due to rotors, there's a unique stunt position for helicopters - you hang under them with your grapple. On any other vehicles, you just surf - even if it's a supersonic fighter jet. I have to say that i liked the plane stunt position from original JC (hanging on a wing with three fingers) better. I should mention that there's one hidden feature: while on the roof of a car you've last driven, you can change it's direction slightly. Alas, no handbrake turns - but it's still useful.
Read that all? Great. Now imagine all those elements - the parachute, the grapple, the vehicles, and Rico's balls - working toghether fluidly, allowing stuff like the sequence described in the beginning of this section. This is what Just Cause 2 is like.
The few parts that suck
Mind-blowingly, eye-meltingly, ball-inflatingly good as it is, Just Cause 2 is not without it's faults. The majority of the criticisms regarding this game can be summed up in four neat categories: the game being repetitive, the black market cutscenes, the godawful plot, and the atrocious voice acting. I will describe all four in order, and tell you what you can do about it. Let's start with repetition.
The course of action here is simple: download the demo, or rent the game if you own a console. Play it for some time, and note what you think of big open world. You should know what you prefer much better than i do - use your past experiences with this kind of games to determine whether you'll like it or not.
The black market cutscenes are annoying because they play every time you call the dealer in, and because he does in fact sound like lobotomized Yosemite Sam. Fortunately, if you play the game on PC, you can simply go to www.justcause2mods.com. One of the most popular mods, if not THE most popular, is called "No Blackmarket Cutscenes". If you're playing on X360 or PS3... well then, tough luck. I've also noticed (again, in PC version) that if you stay in one spot and order stuff in quick succession, the cutscenes only play the first time - not sure if it's a bug or a feature.
Now the second bad part: the plot. I won't lie, the plot is bad. The main storyline is merely an excuse to destroy everything in your path. It's short (only seven missions), it's awfuly cliched and unimaginative, and it's not even much more awesome and bombastic than the rest of the game.... except maybe for the ending. But the good news is that you're not here for the plot: it could have made a great game fantastic, but as it stands, it's just there without many upsides or downsides. Lastly, there's that whole matter with Sheldon going rogue - you'd expect it to culminate in a swordfight on top of a falling plane or something like that, but...
Then there's the matter of voice acting. Whether you'll love it or hate it depends on whether you like So-Bad-It's-Good stuff (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Plan Nine From Outer Space, Adam West's Batman series, and such), because many, many lines in this game are... well, so bad they're good. BOLO SANTOSI and her ridiculous Singaporean accent became quite famous since the release of the game. Sheldon's "How can i help you, hombre?" never fails to amuse (or annoy). Even Rico isn't immune, blurting out such gems as "Try transporting fuel now, you pipeline jerks!"
BOLO SANTOSI, queen of the screen. Who could possibly forget her wonderful voice?
And finally, my own criticism of the game - a little, but important one. As you might have noticed from the first video, Rico can move around the vehicles to pick off the occupants. The convoys of several cars are particulary juicy targets for this technique, but there are not nearly enough of them. Yes, that's right: i am complaining that there's not enough stuff to blow up.
Postscriptum - criticism #2, added two days after the publication, is simple: too many damn civilian cars on the roads! Panau is supposed to be a poor island nation, why the fuck there are as many cars on backwater roads as there is in New York City?! The neccesity of passing a car every fifteen seconds makes driving on two-lane roads nigh-impossible.
Recommendation: buy this game. I'm serious - do eet, DO EET NAO! The stunts are awesome, the open world is superb, the firefights are fantastic with explosions aplenty, the voice acting is hilariously awful. The side missions are kinda repetitive, yes, and the plot sucks as much as a black hole, if not more so... but you're not here for the plot, you're here to completely rape all laws of Newtonian physics and blow shit up! If you want awesome side missions, awesome plot, and awesome acting, you should go play Mass Effect 2 instead.
The official website of Just Cause can be found here. And then blown up by throwing a helicopter at it.
Oh, and before you leave... one last thing.
SCOR-PIO! SCOR-PIO! SCOR-PIO!
Now if you excuse me, i'm off to play some Just Cause 2 FOR THE GLORY OF PANAU!
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Mafia: The City Of Lost Heaven
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Sheep Dog n' Wolf
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Next up on Mr. Exposition...
DEFCOИ: Everybody Dies.
What do you think would you get if you spliced toghether the best chunks of DNA taken from James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, Mad Max, El Mariachi, Wolverine, The Punisher, Rambo, Tony Montana, Han Solo, Chuck Norris, Alister Azimuth, and added a touch of Enrique Iglesias to top it all off? You'd probably get an imperfect immitation of Rico Rodriguez, because Rico is none of those people, or any others - he just IS.