Just Cause 2 Author: T_H_Schafer -- Posted: 2011-04-11
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Platform: PC (Reviewed), XBox 360, PS3
Open world games have been my forte for quite some time. I enjoy the freedom, the exploration and the ability to tackle tasks at my leisure. These qualities are the key features of any sandbox game in my opinion, something that takes a lot of attention to pull off successfully. In my mind, the success of a sandbox game comes down to something akin to atmosphere. For me to enjoy myself as I explore a game environment it needs to feel alive, it needs to have things to do. I'll let my bias out now, the GTA series has been my personal favorite sandbox series thus far. I thought San Andreas was probably the most full featured of the GTA games, but I thought GTA 4 had more of what I personally look for in a game, a fleshed out beautiful city that seemed alive, even if it didn't have all the mini-games and tasks that San Andreas had. In the same vein of open world games comes Just Cause 2. Taking place in a massively beautiful fictional island called Panau, the game has you causing chaos to overthrow an oppressive regime.
First off, the story in Just Cause 2 is easily ignorable. The voice acting is bad, the characters are stupid. I never started caring for any of the characters. There was not one instance where I thought things were going to go badly for my controllable protagonist, and if they did I probably wouldn't have noticed. The story is paper thin, but it has all the bits and pieces that make up a mediocre action flick and most importantly, none of it really matters. The story isn't what is important and certainly isn't what the developers wanted to focus on. Think of the story as a tool to introduce the main character to new places and things to blow them up with. For what Just Cause 2 is it is hard to mind the lack of a good story. If it really had one it would probably have put Just Cause 2 over the top, but I really don't see that happening in a game like this, it isn't in its design. It seems pretty content with what it does. It is a sandbox game to the max and it sticks to those guns exclusively.
The game is essentially wide open from the very beginning. Travel is incredibly easy. You're equipped with a magic parachute that can explode out at any moment, saving you from mid-air helicopter exits and allowing you to burst into the sky out of a careening automobile. Combining it with your spider man 'esque grappling hook you can keep yourself in the air indefinitely, latching on to surfaces and pulling yourself around to maintain momentum. These 2 tools are what make up the bulk of Just Cause 2's gameplay and you'll use them constantly. The grappling hook doubles as a weapon to pull enemies closer or out of cover and also as a tether. Lots of interesting things can be tethered. You can tether perusing vehicles to the road, causing them to flip into the air, stopping them immediately and probably causing them to exploding. You can tether people to vehicles, people to boats, people to people and people to rocket propelling gas tanks that launch into the air after you shoot them. Its good fun and something that gets better the more you imagine interesting uses.
My main concern with Just Cause 2, which is something likely not shared among most gamers, is how open the game is from the beginning. You do make progress in the game. As you control more and more territory you unlock new weapons and vehicles but I found that I never really felt much progress, I just felt like I was being guided to different locations by the story and that there wasn't an interest in developing characters or thickening up the plot. That might be something most gamers don't care about but it's something that I personally really wanted out of Just Cause 2. I felt like there was too much freedom, which in some games is very interesting, but here I didn't have the drive to do much other than tool around on my own. This can be great fun, but it is something that wears kind of thin after a while for me. For me the amount of freedom had a hard time making an impact. I'm reminded of how GTA reveals sections of the game world after making progress in the story. Although some probably hate this method, I found it useful because you get to really know the map. Just Cause 2 ops to reveal everything and give you most of the tools from the get go which pretty much meant I was flying a jumbo jet 30 feet off the ground at 500 MPH within the first hour of playing. I just feel like I wanted some middle ground. If you put me in a jumbo jet, let me jump on top of it, fly it into mountains and parachute away at the last possible second without first giving me something to compare that awesomeness to, or having more awesome stuff than that down the line I'm gonna have a hard time sticking around. Just Cause 2 can sort of jump the shark pretty soon if you're not careful.
To me, Just Cause 2 is a true sandbox game. It is a game that gives you little incentive to do much other than whatever you feel like. It is a game that reveals just about all that it is within the first half hour playing around in it. It has few surprises and to get to them you'll have to dig into it, and some of the surprises might not be pleasant. Most importantly, to have a good time with Just Cause 2 you're going to have to make your own fun, otherwise you might just start feeling like what you are doing is a little pointless. But, overall, Just Cause 2 is hard to take points away from. Everything works well, it is as much fun as you make it, and just the size of the environment is breathtaking. There is a lot of stuff to do but my advice would be to take it slow.