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Just Cause (Xbox 360) artwork

Just Cause (Xbox 360) review

"We all have to start somewhere..."

Visually speaking, Just Cause's open world, GTA-inspired environments have a lot of goofy things going on with them. Driving through a thick jungle results in branches, vines, bushes, and trees cluttering the screen, some of which you can phase through... if you squint hard enough to tell what to make out. Staring at certain mountains is like looking at a child's drawing where the crayon kept changing direction, because the textures are all over the place. Not to mention, a good chunk of vehicles have a very shiny, glossy finish to their paint job, which made me wonder if these assets were lifted from an unfinished Dreamcast title. And if you're especially curious, you can even notice how some objects aren't firmly planted to the ground, creating awkward situations where half of a fence is rooted, or a motorcycle is floating an inch off the soil.

I guess it's to be expected, considering this is the first title from a then-small, unknown company by the name of Avalanche Studios. However, this makes it all the more astonishing that, under the right circumstances, the game can look really, really beautiful. I remember one time just stopping whatever I was doing to admire the contrasting, colorful scenery: the setting sun glazing its rays across the ocean in one distance, a storm brewing in the opposite direction, along with lightning bouncing inside its clouds, and there I was, standing at the shore as light green waves clashed along the sand with surprisingly detailed birds flying everywhere. If there's ultimately one thing I took away from Just Cause, it's that solid lighting effects can drastically change the tone of a game, even with flaws present.

But one can't linger for long in the tropical island surroundings of San Esperito, as its natives have been suddenly ruled by a new, tyrannical president and his army of mercenaries. As other nations are caught in red tape, the citizens' only hope ride on your protagonist, a field agent by the name of Rico Rodriguez, who looks like he should instead be in an American Spanish soap opera with his slicked-back hair, black outfit, lavish belt buckle, and awful catchphrases. With no proper way of entering the island without getting blown to pieces, you first take control of the hero in a peculiar manner: jumping out of a plane and skydiving towards the beach!

Perfect landing or not, a scuffle with a mercenary squad immediately breaks out, but you thankfully have backup in the form of a rowdy, gruff-sounding American by the name of Tom Sheldon. Before you know it, you're in the back of a speeding pick-up truck manning a turret, causing quite the display as jeeps flip off the road and flaming helicopters succumb to gravity. So much for a sneaky entrance. Once that introduction dies down, you get to undertake in Just Cause's first story mission, involving the rescue of a guerrilla leader in prison. In traditional GTA fashion, you can approach this using the motorcycle provided to you... or hijack a passing car, but not without consequence by way of mounting wanted levels, of course. As for entering the prison, you can either shoot your way through the front entrance, or access the side dock area with a boat.

Me? I jumped off a cliff and used a parachute to land on the roof.

If you were to play in that particular order up to that point, you wouldn't be wrong in thinking things could get much better from there on out. This optimism is assisted by the fact that Rico eventually obtains a grappling hook that allows him to either glide behind or commandeer cars, boats, and even helicopters. It doesn't hurt that he also has an infinite supply of parachutes (or is it one parachute that retracts?) that can be used whenever he jumps from a high enough position, or while surfing on a speeding vehicle. It's almost enough to forgive and forget about his questionable attire. I mean... why would you wear that in a tropical setting?

Once you start participating in missions beyond that first, however, Just Cause turns into one of the most mundane open world gaming experiences of the seventh console generation. Whether it'd be a story mission, a side mission, or a liberation mission, a ginormous aspect of the game simply involves doing the exact same thing, which is heading to a marked destination to kill or blow up, then escape. This might've been fine if there was some genuine variety in the way you handle tasks, but in nearly every instance, you literally just need to show up and start shooting. The only difference between the three mission structures are their lengths, with the story being the longest, and the side missions being insultingly short since you just have to shoot one guy or pick up a thing, then usually escape to a marker that's only three to four miles away while being chased!

There's absolutely next to zero challenge when missions start, as well, since the enemy AI is baffling; there can be up to six men shooting at close range and two helicopters pounding away from the sky at a 5 wanted level, and you can easily dodge every single bullet by jogging nonstop. Seriously. It doesn't help these goobers go down really fast after a few shots, which is further aided by a lock-on that can hit from yards away. Oh, and you rarely run out of ammo, since ammo crates are always nearby. The only time the AI becomes a bit smart is when you're in a car, as opposing vehicles successfully shoot and pin you to the side, which is actually irritating for the few missions that involve transporting a vehicle in one piece. Sadly, when the game gets a difficulty spike later with the introduction of tanks in certain missions, they are infuriating. They're fast, difficult to destroy, fade in, and can kill you with back to back shots from far away.

Check out that level 5 action!

Outside missions, despite San Esperito being a huge island with 34 provinces, there's shockingly very little diversity. It's easy to blame this purely on the tropic setting, but I consider it more due to the devs' lack of creativity. I'd say a good 97/98% of the island is littered with jungles, which means you'll see nothing but trees for miles and miles, and miles and miles... and miles and miles. The traffic AI in the game is also a pain when combined with the tight dirt roads, as vehicles sometimes nudge over to the opposite lane, not to mention attempting to drive around usually is met with a crash into a boulder or off a cliff. And as mentioned earlier, trying to drive through the jungles feel more like a chore than a fun, bumpy ride, since you can't tell if you'll hit a tree. Basically, traversing San Esperito with ground vehicles is the most irritating, time-consuming thing you will do in Just Cause.

There are safehouses which you can use to fast travel, but in what seems like a twisted moment of "brilliance" on the developer's behalf, unlocking them require the combined effort of the story and liberation missions. If you want a safehouse, you need to liberate a nearby settlement. Can't liberate the settlement for some reason? That's because the province you're in isn't unstable, and in order for that to happen, you need to complete a story mission in that area. This back and forth continues for the entire campaign, and while you don't have to liberate every settlement, you'll need to do just enough to avoid traveling by road as much as possible. Thank goodness this game also has helicopters... that you kinda have to go out of your way to obtain. Oh, and speaking as someone who went out of their way to free all 34 provinces and takeover 45 villas, you don't get anything special after completing everything. Only achievements.

Just Cause is a solid example of doing an open world title the wrong way; you can't think your game is going to be good enough just because it has a huge map and tons of missions to do, especially when the actual content is bullheadedly shallow. By the two hour mark, the game exhausts its resources, so it boggles the mind that Avalanche Studios thought they could get away with doing this for another 10-plus hours. It's even more astonishing that I somehow completed the story missions and then some without losing my mind. Maybe I was in denial that an open world game could be this offensively simple, and kept playing in the hope that some dramatic change could happen. The closest I got was a finale that felt like a bunch of minigames sowed together, and a flaccid ending cutscene that left a bad taste in my mouth.

'Tis a shame they never went on to make an improved sequel, nor had the opportunity to create a game based on a post-apocalyptic franchise. Call me crazy, but maybe Avalanche Studios could've had a chance to offer assistance on a Final Fantasy game!

What I'm doing is cute, right?


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (August 27, 2015)

In Blood & Truth, the protagonist is supposedly named Ryan Marks. But the Japanese title for the game, Ryan Mark's Revenge Mission, implies that it's Ryan Mark. Which one is it???


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