Just Cause 2
I had just broken through the first line of defense at the enemy’s base when I decided to take the scenic route. My comrades were moving ahead while I stayed back to scout around for parts to upgrade my arsenal of weapons and vehicles. Shots were ringing out in the distance, and I knew I had to protect the technician or else the mission would be over. However, something beautiful caught my eye. The sun was setting.
The base was thousands of feet above sea level and situated on a frigid mountain. I stood on the edge of the cliff and looked at the seemingly infinite expanse of land. Beneath me were jagged peaks and snow-white paths. Beyond the mountains and out of my view distance were tropical islands, lonely deserts, modest villages and crowded cities.
The sandbox genre has been providing large – some might say too large – worlds ripe for exploration for years now. Everything from New York City-style environments to the planet Mars have been featured as the backgrounds for chaos and destruction. In Just Cause 2, what sets the fictional Southeast Asian country of Panua apart, which totals approximately 400 square miles, is not the sheer scope of the land. It’s not the beauty of it either, although that’s one of the most striking features.
The key factor is that there are a number of efficient and, dare I say exciting, ways to explore that world. The excellent gameplay makes traversing such a dangerous, massive expanse of land, air and sea a delight. That manages to mostly remain true even when it all starts to feel like a chore.
There’s the usual array of guns, such as revolvers, sniper rifles, and the like, but it’s the two non-lethal items that get the most use. First, there’s the infinite amount of parachutes that can be deployed even when jumping just a couple stories. The parachutes can be quickly deployed, removed for a fast drop and then deployed once again. Coupled with the other item, the grapple, there’s a lot of fun to be had. In the air, the grapple can be used to slingshot forward, so moving large expanses can be fairly easy with these two tools. It’s on the ground that the grapple is most fun.
It deploys quickly and easily, much like the parachute, and it almost acts like a web from Spider-Man. Buildings can be latched on to if a quick escape is needed, and moving hundreds of yards can take seconds. That’s how it can be used for defense, but it also works on offense. An enemy can be latched onto and then dangled helplessly from the roof. A pesky sniper on a ledge can be grabbed onto and pulled over the barrier and plummet to the ground. Two vehicles can be strung together, making for some humorous chase scenes. One silly yet irresistible use is to latch onto a gas canister that’s about to erupt. It’s the best way to fly in the game without piloting one of the many helicopters or airplanes.
The implementation of logic-defying parachutes and the improbable grapple device are truly substantial facets of the gameplay and not just window dressing. With those two items it feels like anything is possible. An enemy helicopter can be latched onto, hijacked after a quick-time event and then piloted into an opposing base. Since those particular military goons may have plenty of anti-aircraft weapons, the helicopter can be ditched and some skydiving becomes the intrusion method of choice. The buildings quickly grow from their miniature size as the altitude declines. Some trees appear, the details of the world emerge and so do the gun-toting goons. Hitting the parachute early makes for an easy target. Hitting it too late results in a game over.
The vehicular portions play a huge part in the game, and that sense of freedom is present whether piloting a three-wheeled Tuk Tuk or a fighter jet. One button touch results in a quick exit to the roof. From there, enemies can be gunned down, the parachute can be deployed or the grapple can be used to hop onto another vehicle. All these mechanics make for possibly the best chase scenes ever conceived in a game.
There’s a plot tucked away behind all those explosions and skydiving. It’s appropriately paper thin and non-intrusive. Rico Rodriguez, the surly, burly protagonist, is one of the best government agents around, and he also delivers a mean one-liner at the most appropriate times. He’s sent to Panua to take out a fellow agent who has gone rogue and Kurtz-like with the natives. The Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now allusions take the back seat to the main objective, which is blowing stuff up. Thankfully so, since the voice acting is inconsistent and the cutscenes are cheesier than a bad action movie. Seriously, a character even repeatedly tells Rico that his main objective is to blow stuff up and cause chaos. Doing so unlocks new missions, items and vehicles. It also moves the main story along, as limited as it may be.
With a game so massive, fatigue does eventually wear on. There are 350 locations Panua, such as military installations, municipalities, oil rigs, etc., and each one presents another battle. The main story mode only consists of seven missions, but there are seemingly countless other missions given out by three different gangs. Each area – every single one of them – can be “completed” by obtaining 100 percent of the items and destroying all the government structures, from oil pipelines to ridiculously huge antennas. There are so many places to see and so many things to destroy that it’s almost overwhelming. Soon, a pattern seems to emerge. While the areas are all a little different, hunting down the last item to pick up or generator to demolish grows tiresome.
It got to the point where I almost forgot about the cool items available and didn’t even look at the normally-satisfying explosions that just occurred. Still, as weary as one might become, it was hard to stop. Just one more town, I said to myself. Just one more base, I said once that town was conquered. Just one more mission, I said after the base was wiped out. Once I started playing, it was hard to stop. Sometimes I just needed to be reminded about all the great ways that chaos can be caused. Other times, I just had to sit back and watch the sunset. Panua, after all, is a paradise.