Review: Just Cause 2

Okay, I admit it. Sometimes, flooring it and dragging along a human speedbump beneath my stolen car gets to be a little old. It’s dizzying having all that freedom. I suppose that’s why I’m such trash at sandbox and open-world games. There’s so much to do at one given time that my mind, moving at a breakneck pace, simply can’t focus on one task at a time. Should I be doing this mission first? Or maybe that one? It’s tough to get myself to focus on one piece of the larger puzzle, which is why I shelved Grand Theft Auto IV not too long after receiving it. The original Just Cause was much the same in my eyes. While I enjoyed roaming the lush island paradise and wreaking havoc, it felt much too disjointed for me to be able to get much of anything done. Fortunately, the entire aesthetic, mood, and overall attitude of Just Cause 2 have been vastly improved, making it an adrenaline-laced chaotic adventure for those of us who need that extra push to be able to enjoy a game where anything goes.

Four years have indeed been kind to Rico Rodriguez, and it’s evident as soon as you jump straight into the action. Panau, a southeast Asian island, has fallen under the iron fist of devious dictator “Baby” Panay, and while tailing  his ex-boss who he has reason to believe has gone rogue. Rico joins up with several of the gangs inhabiting gorgeous Panau in order to take the traitor down, all the while clearing up problems exclusive to the citizens under Panay’s tyranny. The plot’s a bit scattershot, true. And it’s difficult to ensure that you remember why you’re traversing the 400 square mile in-game map in the first place. In any other genre, I would find this to be a strong demerit — giving me so much to work with that I forget my main goal.

Luckily, there’s more to keep you playing that I can hardly fault the game for presenting the player with so many options and so much mileage to explore. That’s no exaggeration. Stop to think about it for a moment: Just Cause 2 offers a staggering amount of ground to cover. Of course, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to travel everywhere on your itenerary, but if you take the time to run around every single area on Panau you’ll be acquainted with one of the lushest, vibrant locations in the gaming world. It’s literally as if you’ve packed up and moved to a beautiful island continent that’s your own personal playground. Across seven campaign missions, checkpoint challenges, and nearly fifty faction missions, if you can see it, you can travel there. What’s more, the beautiful scenery, the rolling hills, the monuments to dictator Panay? It’s all yours to destroy.

Much like with Red Faction: Guerrilla, the main draw to this title is the copious amounts of destruction it offers, coupled with the beautiful freedom given to the player to get things done on their own terms. In fact, you’re encouraged to cause a little chaos. Chain up destruction bonuses via “Sabotage,” a.k.a. destroying anything remotely related to Panay’s dictatorship. Cause a few fires. Overturn a few hundred oil tankers. Anything goes, and that’s what makes Just Cause 2 so ridiculously fun. You could literally spend hours simply traipsing throughout Panau doing nothing but wreaking havoc upon the countryside, and come out feeling as though you’ve accomplished more than in a solid session of completing story missions. Never before have I found this kind of exploration so invigorating or so freeing.

Getting from point A to point B may be accomplished via several different vehicles found throughout the island, or you can simply rely on Rico’s grappling hook. If you’re familiar with the first game then you might find that it’s been ramped up considerably, and depending on whether or not you find it feasible that Rico can grapple straight to the zenith of most heights simply through grappling you’ll come to enjoy it more than any weapon or mode of transportation in the game.

It’s far more than a simply way to ascend impossible heights, though. Sure, all of Panau is ripe for the taking…if you make sure to mow down the enemies standing in your way. That’s where the grapple hook shines. You can make A.I. characters’ lives a living hell if you so choose to via some decadently devious methods that involve quite a bit of tethering. Aim and fire at enemies to force them to you, riddle them with bullets, and juggle them in the air to initiate a combat bonus. Hitch a ride in a stolen vehicle and drag that poor sap along the entire way to your destination. Or just pull them off of a ledge straight into a ravine. Lovely stuff, really. You’ll forget all about the collection of arms at your disposal once you’ve painted the pavement with the blood of a Panay soldier. Hey, they’d do that stuff to you! Don’t feel bad for a second…unless it’s to lament on how terrible most of the vehicles handle, which is not pretty. It’s a good thing that Rico’s such an athletic cat, right?

And the grapple works much better, in fact, than guns do. I found the targeting system and the subsequent bullet spray more than a little finicky, which got a little old upon encountering wave after wave of some truly dull enemies. It shouldn’t take one whole clip to down one simple baddie. Really, that’s fundamental stuff. The lackluster cover/crouch system detracts in a major way from gunplay that’s been done far better in similar games. In fact, if Rico were without his grapple, even the most hectic of brawls would prove yawn-inducing. It’s quite disappointing, too, when offing guys are such an integral part of the story. While the game overall is a huge step forward for the blossoming series, gunplay took a little samba in the wrong direction. Oops!

To perhaps somewhat make up for where it falters, the game looks fantastic. With every setting sun over a sparkling blue ocean, journeys through lush greenery, and trips you’ll make hanging from a chopper, you’ll be reminded exactly why that HD television is nestled comfortably in your living room. The voice acting falls victim to a few pitfalls here and there, but overall the satisfying screams of soldiers and Rico’s sarcastic quips are appreciably in-character.

Despite the detours it takes from being a nearly-impeccable and almost neverending romp through a tropical paradise going to ruin, Just Cause 2 is most certainly worthy of your time and attention. If you’re a fan at all of games such as Grand Theft Auto, The Saboteur, or Red Faction: Guerilla, you’ll no doubt feel at home here. There’s plenty to do and even more to see, so if you’re ready to take that long-awaited trip to an island getaway, don’t let money be an obstacle — you can travel on the cheap with Just Cause 2, if you’re willing to excuse a few bumps along the way.

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