Retrospective: Just Cause 2 PC Review

Just Cause 2 Box
The game that just keeps on giving

I wasn’t asked to review Just Cause 2, I volunteered.  It was one of those games that fired me up with so much excitement that I really needed to write about it.

I’d really enjoyed the first Just Cause, even though it was a bit lacking. The demo for the sequel looked great on the Xbox 360 and it looked awesome on the PC. I picked it up on Steam before it was available in NZ at retail, enabling me to write a review whilst the game was still fresh.

Just Cause 2, for me, is a game that still keeps on giving. Not the most powerful in-game narrative, but it is massive and there is alway something to do (i.e. blow-up). I think the game provides a level of entertainment value-for-money far in excess for a lot of today’s games. I recommend that you give it a go if you haven’t already. It’s still available on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

I still return to it on a regular basis. In fact, I’m going to have a go now. Here’s  my review as originally published on the Game Console website in April 2010.

Just Cause 2 sees the return of Hispanic black ops action hero, Rico Rodriguez. Armed and dangerous with new tools and abilities, this time Rico finds himself in the south-east Asian archipelago of Panau. His mission is to overthrow the country’s dictator, Pandak “Baby” Panay, and locate his former boss who is suspected of going rogue.

Like its predecessor, Just Cause 2 is an open world sandbox action game. These open world type games have a love/hate relationship with the gaming public. The player, given an immense place to play in, is nearly always enamoured by the newness of it all. Massive free-roaming environments offer up loads of opportunities for exploration that may be fun for a while, but tend to be over very quickly. It is often the case that the developers concentrated so hard on that authentic looking gaming environment that they overlooked the actual gameplay, which ends up feeling half-baked and repetitive. It is all too easy for a sandbox game to be no more than nice big place that’s fun to explore but untimately empty once all its secrets have been discovered. Just Cause 2 walks a very fine line, providing an experience that is not going to be for everyone but at the same time giving the player loads of activities to do.

Just Cause 2 Screenshot
Feel failing

If you like your gaming experience to be focused and linier (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you are probably going to struggle to get much out of Just Cause 2. The game is, at its base, a big playground that encourages the player to partake in over-the-top Hollywood style stunts and explosions. At the game’s heart is a physics engine that really needs the player to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy it. If the idea of having an unlimited supply of parachutes or being able to use a self-propelled grapple to tie two vehicles together goes against your deep-rooted sense of logic, walk away. Just Cause 2 makes Michael Bay movies look like documentaries. The developers, Avalanche, were not going for realism when they put this game together.

Just Cause 2 Screenshot

Rico Rodriguez has been sent to the island nation of Panau to hunt down his boss from the first game, Tom Sheldon. Whilst there, Rico is to do all he can to destabilise the country’s government. To achieve all this Rico must enlist with the local rebel factions, each of which provide the game’s many side missions. As you guide Rico on his path of destruction you will earn chaos points that will unlock the main story missions. Whilst the main missions are unique, some of the faction missions, again, as in the first game, are a little cookie-cutter and repetitive. Panau is also littered with settlements and military based that can all be liberated from the oppressive dictatorship. There are also time trial races dotted around the islands, utilising the multitude of available vehicles. In every way it can be, Just Cause 2 is a massive game.

Just Cause 2 Screenshot
BooOOoom, again!!

The nation of Panau is breaktakingly beautiful. As nice as the first game looked, the landscape in Just Cause looked a little too computer generated and unnatural. This not the case with Just Cause 2, which actual looks like it could be a real, if unlikely, place. Panau features an eclectic selection of improbable environmental ecosystems in what is a relatively small geographic area. Forget about the science, for us it means that we get to play in large, fantastic-looking areas of desert, jungle and snow. The sunsets are jaw dropping, as is the way that the sun’s rays flicker between the leaves of the windblown trees. The fantastic visuals are topped off with a dynamic weather system, shimmeringly inviting water effects and a realistic-looking desert heat-haze. Oh, yeah, mustn’t forget the red-hot explosions. Just Cause 2 is one fine-looking thing.

Unlike similar games, the entire of Panau is opened up to the player from the start and it is vast place, indeed. Thankfully, Just Cause 2 provides players with the largest selection of vehicle I’ve ever seen in a game, everything from tuk-tuks to fighter jets. Some vehicles are just lying about; others will require some old school Grand Theft Auto style carjacking. You can also get around using Rico’s parachute and grapple, which returns from the first game in an upgraded form. Rico’s grapple can be fired at anything, including the ground, allowing him to rappel at great speed to the target. If you open his parachute mid-rappel, Rico is propelled into the air, allowing you to steer him as he glides back down. You can also use the grapple with the parachute open to drag Rico along and increase his altitude. Of course, if you jump off something, you don’t have to open the ‘chute right, you can instead engage in a bit of base jumping and free-fall, opening the canopy at the last moment.

Just Cause 2 Screenshot
BooOOoom, one more time!!!

As well as the grapple, which makes an effective weapon in itself (pinning enemy soldiers to wall or dragging them behind you motorcycle/car/boat/plane) the game features a vast arsenal of weapons, from the humble pistol to rocket launchers. You can carry both a two-hand and a couple of one-handed guns, you can also duel wield handguns to partake in some John Woo inspired, guns akimbo, mayhem. Grenades come in two flavours, the usual frag and the more fun-to-use triggered varieties.

Just Cause 2 Screenshot
Final booOOoom!!!

Just Cause 2 is really all about blowing stuff up and destroying things in the most imaginative way possible. Whilst it is loads of fun, your only reward for, say, using a car as a wrecking ball hanging from your helicopter is the extent to which you personally find it amusing. You will get the same amount of chaos points destroying stuff in a novel way as you would if you simply unloaded round after round from your hand gun. A word of warning: randomly blowing stuff up and causing havoc is extremely addictive; as well as being a major positive for the game, it is also its downfall. Don’t forget about the missions. Because the game puts its cards on the table from the get go it is all too easy for the player to greedily feast on all that is offered leaving the missions to one side until the boredom sets in. The missions, which use a lot of activities that you can do on your own, will seem old hat if you have already experienced most of what the game has on offer.

It is really import for me to get this across. If you can play on your own, without a game supervising you with nags and scripted events, you are going to have a lot of fun with Just Cause 2. If you have a great desire for a sense of purpose when playing games, Just Cause 2 will get old for you very quickly. If you are like me and have wasted hours and hours in Grand Theft Auto by simply driving into a cop car and getting chased around Liberty City, you are going to love it. Being as vast a game as it is, you are probably not going to want to do it all in one sitting, but Just Cause 2 will be a game that you return to for a long time to come.

Score 9/10

An edited version of this article was originally published on 0n 16 April 2010. Just Cause 2 is still available on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.