I’ve often wondered about the title; is it Cause, as in “the cause of the explosion”, or a shortening of “because”? I’m beginning to swing on a parachute towards the latter, before sliding in through the window, kicking out the driver in the process and leaving all thought processes in the dust as we tear away into the Mexican sunset. Why can I start a review with such random blabbering? Just ‘cause.
Flying when drunk isn’t as cool as first thought
You see, Just Cause pretty much breaks all the rules laid down over time for a game to be successful. If you grab a motorbike and proceed to drive off a cliff to evade the police, falling 300 feet into the dense jungle below, you’d expect a Hollywood explosion halfway down with the lead character dead and buried. Not so. You hit the floor gunning the engine, with not much more than a mere splutter of dust kicked up by the landing. On the first few play throughs, this had me jumping up shouting “no ****ing way!” It’s unheard of – you can’t get away with that, it’s far too unrealistic to be believable. But Just Cause manages to pull it off, just…because.
The antics don’t stop there. Cops seem to continuously drive into trees, pursuing helicopters disappear for no known reason, Rico (your character) can take thousands of bullets without being smoked and can jump a hundred feet into the air and through rotor blades to hijack helicopters; pursued bad guys have a habit of screeching to a halt when there’s a clear road ahead to take aim at your much-invincible arse. Theres alot to be concerned about within Just Cause, much of which that was unearthed with the lacklustre demo made available through Xbox Live back in August.
Thank you for flying with British Airways!
But it’s the unpredictability within the game which seems to make it so appealing. The nature of the environment sums up the feeling here – racing through a jungle in a hot rod, you’re dodging between trees as the police trail behind. Suddenly, there’s a hidden rock or stump that flips the car over onto its roof. You’re surrounded; the police jump out and start firing, so with a quick press of the controller you manage to leap-frog over the wreckage and into a police car. The chase is back on, the jungle’s getting thick…but wait, there’s a white light in the distance. Foot to the floor, adrenaline pumping, and freedom must be near in the form of tarmac. It’s just a few hundred feet away, the light getting brighter, like when the aliens open up the spaceship in Independence Day, and suddenly, all is clear; you’ve just driven off the edge of a cliff. Bailing out of the car and opening up the parachute, the police fall straight down to their deaths, as you glide majestically over a town, before skydiving down onto a pick-up truck to hijack and make your get away in. If anything, Just Cause’s “problems” make you think quick on your feet, and with Rico’s agility and vast array of acrobatic talent, literally anything is possible.
As you’ve probably guessed from the umpteen previews across the web, the main pull factor is the ability to base jump from anything. A simple press of a button sees Rico clamber out of any vehicle, whether driving as normal or in flight or freefall, and assume the action position. From here, you can jump off and activate the chute, or just sky dive if you prefer, and if another vehicle (land based or otherwise) is within the vicinity, Rico can leap from one to the other, assume his action pose and await further instruction. This means you can evade capture by performing a series of jumping feats only seen in the movies, as you can keep moving across vehicles with the option of jumping aboard and assuming control at any given moment. More options open up from this freedom of movement, as assassination attempts no longer require squatting with a powerful sniper rifle, tedious stealth sequences or ingenious plans of a blockade followed by death by firing squad; just jump in the car, knock the enemy unconscious, head to the nearest cliff and bail out at the last moment to sail down majestically as the flames from the wreckage become a background worthy of submission to eviantART.
Let’s hope he’s got insurance
San Esperito is a wild and wacky place that needs such agility and stunts. Sadly, it’s miles too big. Taking a helicopter or plane up to the limit of the clouds then skydiving out shows the sheer beauty of the scattering of islands, and they really are pretty, but the problem is when you come down to land. With no distinct changes in building’s models, you don’t feel as if you’ve just flown 15 miles due east, rather that you’ve landed in exactly the same place. There also doesn’t seem to be any sort of pattern for vehicles, in that old run down farm trucks keeping around the old dusty towns whilst more built up areas see flashy sports cars – there’s none of this, it feels so random. The size of the area really starts to kick in as you progress through the main missions. The further up the scale you go, the more you’re expected to travel, which can really be a bore as it takes far too long for such little reward. They generally melt down to chasing a guy in a car, eventually stopping to give you a chance to assassinate him. Or you can take items from point A to point B. The side missions really start to grate after a while too. At first, the variety of missions is refreshing. Liberating towns is something I enjoy most, but after the 20th go at running through long undergrowth pumping bullets in anything wearing a police badge, lobbing grenades at a blockade for god-knows-why reasons, you start asking for more. And there is more, but they seem to show a distinct lack of imagination. Hunt around the jungle for lost items and vehicles? No-brainer search and destroy? Come on people. The amount of vehicles at our disposal, weapons and stunts should have yielded something much more exhilarating.
Despite the impressive death-defying moves of our character, the controls feel incredibly loose. Everyone seems to run like members of Thunderbirds, which really starts to annoy, driving can be something of a nightmare because there seems to be a hidden point in which the car loses grip. You can’t quite tell when that is because the sense of speed just isn’t there, despite endless motion blur. This means motorbikes are extremely dangerous, because after revving away from the enemy, you’ll spin out at a corner and find yourself surrounded again. The controls really come into their own when in the air however, because the loose nature feels far more at home here. We all know that helicopters, planes and parachutes aren’t nimble things, so you begin to compensate movement. On the ground, responses should be much sharper.
Action Man to the rescue!
Just Cause seems to have a habit of showing you something absolutely amazing, and then whipping away all the hype and hysteria with a feature that disappoints. There are tons of cars, but they handle like jelly. There’s a humongous playing area, but unimaginative missions to explore it with. Great law enforcement, but with an IQ of ten. Excellent auto-aiming feature, but guns with no distinct difference. The graphics are no different. Leap out of a plane and you see the sun setting over the trees of the islands – it really does looks remarkable as you float down and see the light glinting off the sea. Vehicles really look the part, and when you speed down dirt roads, the car slowly gets covered in dust and muck. Then you’ll see the drab buildings, the unimpressive jungle and poor character models and start to winder why you bothered playing. For example, in one of the many volcanoes sits a rich-man’s club, yet there’s nothing to do there except solve a simple mystery involving drugs. Where are the slot machines? The lap dancers? Why can’t we re-generate health in the Jacuzzis? Spend money at the bar? All you can do is run around, wonder why it’s up there before descending down the side of the volcano again. A massive missed opportunity if I ever saw one.
Just Cause should have been absolutely stunning. I’ve read many reviews that tell the reader to excuse the glitches and weird physics, that the massive playing area is what we’ve always wanted. That’s complete crap. Because of the unrealistic physics, you don’t feel vulnerable. There’s no risk involved running around the jungle wearing only y-fronts with a knife between your teeth, because you’re invulnerable to lengthy drops and those notorious life-enders called bullets. It’s this lack of fear that makes the save system almost neglectable – why bother saving my progress when the missions are all the same? Why bother saving when it’s almost impossible to die? There’s a lot of fun to be had in Just Cause if all you want to do is run cars off of cliffs and parachute down onto another vehicle, or fly planes under bridges – it’s a sandbox full of opportunities. However, anyone over the age of 14 will seek challenge, something to get their teeth into, and unless you’re satisfied with the same missions over and over and over again, that copy of GTA San Andreas suddenly looks damn inviting.
It’s like two guys standing in a pub, trying to woo the busty yet gormless barmaid into their clutches. It’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it that counts. Just Cause won’t be getting any booty tonight.