Just Cause 2: I’m The Bull in Panau’s China Shop.

It’s been a while since I did a game review on this blog and there’s a very good reason for that. After spending a solid few months developing Geon (and subsequently relegating myself to rewrite it again) I fell hopelessly back into my old addict, World of Warcraft. The lure of defeating the nemesis that Warcraft 3 created in the Lich King was too tempting and I was soon caught up in the rough and tumble world of raiding once again. Still I found myself with less tolerance for some of the crap the game throws at you (although I admit most of it has been removed, thank heavens) so I’ve been dabbling with a few other games. Just Cause 2 happened by my way through several recommendations from friends so I ponied up the US$50 for the game and gave it a good slog over the past couple weeks. There’s a couple unique things about this game that got me hooked and one external thing that changed the game fundamentally for me.

The name has been subject to both ridicule and praise amongst the gaming community and rightly so. Whilst I think that the actual thrust of the name is supposed to be that you’re fighting for a just cause (although that’s questionable) it can also be taken as a light hearted stab at the core of the game: fucking around. Probably a more apt name for the name would be Grand Theft Democracy: Panau, but then again I’m not really in the business of making up game names now am I? 😉

Right off the bat the game is quite a looker. I caught myself on several occasions just flying around the island of Panau and checking out the scenery. You’re not left wanting for various methods to see the scenery either as nearly every form of transport is represented on the tiny island nation. The attention to detail also extends to the little things like the constant stream of explosions you’ll be setting off, and all the glorious debris that follow it.

The story itself is a little thin on the ground. You’re an Agency Agent named Rico Rodriguez (wait it gets better) who’s being sent to Panau to figure out why the island has severed all ties with the glorious USA and to hunt down one of your former colleagues who’s gone rogue. Nearly every character is some kind of overblown stereotype and realistically the game wouldn’t have suffered much if they replaced everything with just text boxes instead of in game videos. Not that I come seeking a deep story from an sandbox action game but the deliberate attempt to be completely cheesy and bordering on the racist, whilst amusing, became almost a chore to sit through towards the end.

Combat in Just Cause 2 is a ludicrous as it comes. The main objective of the game is to cause chaos by any means necessary which mostly means going around and blowing anything and everything up. For such a small island nation Panau seems to have an extremely healthy and incompetent military with fully armed helicopters, aircraft and land vehicles all laying about just waiting to be driven away. This leads to a game where you spend most of your time looking for somewhere to lay waste to or laying waste to something. Realistically though you’ll usually end up trying to find a helicopter with rockets on it as it’s the quickest way to blow up a whole mess of things and it provides you a quick getaway once the fuzz gets on the scene.

Now I’m not one to complain about a game that enables, nay encourages, you to unleash untold destruction on the world they’ve thrust you into. I’m known for being a complete ass in games that let you do this, leading to me spending many hours loading up a save game and wrecking havoc on the in game world. My better half has grown used to me cackling madly as I set up elaborate contraptions in games just to see the NPC crowd explode in a flurry of ragdoll physics and giblets. Still after a while I became bored with the whole untold destruction thing, opting more to try and do missions that would grant me more chaos so I could progress the damn story. To be honest I lasted about 7 hours before this got extremely tedious, so I started to look for other solutions.

You see it wasn’t too long after I got the game that someone put me onto this video of someone having some fun with multiple grappling hooks (yet another one of the games unique features). Intrigued I started hunting down the mod that he made reference to called Bolo Patch which, amongst many other things, enabled this multi grapple ability. Included in the usual money and upgrade hacks there was also the ability to change how much chaos you had, and I couldn’t resist setting it to its highest setting. Now many people will say I was missing the point of the whole game here but hear me out, I was completely and totally bored with what it had to offer. Really all I was after was some closure on the thin plot they had got me interested in and hopefully something different than blowing up yet another military installation.

Playing just the agency missions would see this game done in about 3 hours so you can see why they padded it out with the various faction missions as well as the traditional sandbox chicanery. That wouldn’t of been too bad except for the fact that many of the missions felt like I was doing the same thing just in a different area. Additionally there are whole parts of the game rendered completely moot, such as the black market dealer. Why would I bother buying something from him when realistically I was only 5 minutes away from having something infinitely better? I can’t tell you the number of missions were trivialized by just finding a helicopter and then raining hell from the skies or how every stronghold mission seemed to have a mounted gun that I could take with me for the whole ride.

In the end I turned on god mode and gave myself a fully upgraded rocket launcher with unlimited ammo and honestly the last few missions were a blast. There’s nothing more fun than juggling your enemy in the air with a relentless chain of RPG fire which every so often would land directly at my feet sending Rico flying skyward in a hilarious rag doll spin. There’s also some fun to be had with stacking 50 triggered explosives under your feet and doing the same, as you can actually throw yourself up so high that you can sky dive back down to the ground.

Would I recommend Just Cause 2? That depends, you really have to be a fan of sandbox type games to enjoy the things that this game provides. Whilst it does have its moments (and really some of them are just spectacular) the real meat of the game is just too much of the same thing and after a while you’re longing for something other than blowing up another village or fending off an endless horde of Panauian soldiers. The redeeming feature of Just Cause 2 are the stories you’ll tell with your friends, like that time you hijacked a plane, flew up to another plane, grapple hooked them together and then watched them collide as you parachuted back down to earth.

Rating: 6.5/10

Just Cause 2 is available right now for PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and PC right now for AU$99, $99 and $78 respectively. Game was played on hardest difficulty setting for the entire game, with the last 3 out of 10 hours game play spent cheating like there was no tomorrow.

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