Just Cause (PlayStation 2) review
"As the sun rises over the nation of San Esperito, the local townsfolk prepare for another day of senseless bloodshed. Drug traffickers and petty criminals have long overrun the land, turning into it their own private haven. Things have gotten so corrupt that even the President Mendoza is in on the action. Meanwhile, innocent civilians are being gunned down by the dozens, la policia are idly standing by, and poverty continues to run rampant. Indeed, things look pretty grim. Along a curving..."
As the sun rises over the nation of San Esperito, the local townsfolk prepare for another day of senseless bloodshed. Drug traffickers and petty criminals have long overrun the land, turning into it their own private haven. Things have gotten so corrupt that even the President Mendoza is in on the action. Meanwhile, innocent civilians are being gunned down by the dozens, la policia are idly standing by, and poverty continues to run rampant. Indeed, things look pretty grim. Along a curving stretch of scenic coastal highway, a truck carrying an ungodly amount of cocaine rumbles toward its destination. Its drivers are so confident of their success that they don’t notice their killer until it’s too late.
Suddenly, an invisible mariachi band begins to play. There’s a loud thump on top of truck cab’s roof. The windshield is blanketed by what looks like a parachute. The side door is ripped open, and a polished black boot crushes the driver’s jaw into a mess of bone and flesh. Just a brief flash of a face is all it takes; one only has to glimpse at Rico Rodriguez’s manly mug to realize just how deadly he is. Gibbering with pure terror, the passenger leaps out the other door and is summarily squished beneath the truck’s tires. With both drug smugglers out of the way, the man commandeers the vehicle and speeds off with its payload. That ought to give el presidente a little wakeup call; the people of San Esperito want their country back. His dirty work done, Rico smoothes over his greasy long hair, smiles with a grin appealing enough to make grown women swoon, and radios in his success.
Don’t let the politically charged plotline fool you, though. The characters of Just Cause are so underdeveloped that you’ll likely forget their names halfway through the story. Well, maybe except for Rico. He’s arguably the most generic video game action hero you could ever find, a mishmash of James Bond’s stealth, Antonio Banderas’ sexiness, and The Punisher’s gunplay all rolled up into a Latin clone of Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti. True to such uninspired designs, Rico’s mission is essentially the same as the heroes of the last few Grand Theft Auto games: wander through a vast world, complete various objectives to unlock new areas, steal countless vehicles, and slaughter anyone that gets in his way. He’ll have to endure several suicidal missions from the CIA, warring drug cartels, and just about anyone else willing to cause some trouble.
At least, the missions are supposed to be suicidal. Unlike the brutally efficient cops and gang members from the Grand Theft Auto games, the enemies in Just Cause are ridiculously inept. Not only will they ignore Rico most of the time, but they’ll actually shoot away from him during a gunfight. Maybe the game designers wanted to make battles a little more random, but there’s something wrong when a policia can miss his target from pointblank range. It’s not like being accurate would really help, anyway; Rico’s sexy looks apparently make him nearly impervious to bullets. Considering that the third-person camera perspective is limited to only a few dozen feet, that’s probably a blessing. On the flipside, the slippery controls and poorly implemented auto-aim feature make combat awkward at best; you’ll frequently struggle to get an enemy in your crosshairs. Since it takes several shots to leave our hero bleeding in the gutters of San Esperito (and the fact that his health regenerates fairly quickly), you’ll have little trouble completing your missions.
That’s assuming, of course, that you actually want to bother finishing them. Many of the objectives require little more than walking up to a certain person or target (conveniently pinpointed on an onscreen map that even measures the distance between you and the objective) and pressing the X Button. Sure, sometimes you’ll have to assassinate some random bigshot, but the majority of the time you’ll be traveling to a certain area, picking up an item, and delivering it somewhere else. Other times, you’ll merely have to slaughter any police/military officers in the immediate area. But somewhere in between planting bombs, blowing up a nearby blockade and raising the rebels’ flag for the umpteenth time, you’ll find that the missions are both repetitive and utterly boring. The only real rewards are unlocking more safehouses strewn throughout the island and the newer weapons they provide.
But hey, at least you can steal any vehicle in the game. That’s got to count for something, right? Right? Well, not exactly. Ads for Just Cause proclaim that 89 vehicles are at your disposal. However, you’ll find that the majority of them tend to work identically; despite the wide variety of crudely designed models, they all have the same lagging movements and sluggish speeds. It’s not like the motorcycles, boats, and helicopters are much better; the unreliable controls make things far more aggravating than necessary. The nigh invincibility of the vehicles ought to raise a few eyebrows as well. Unlike the ultra-fragile cars of the Grand Theft Auto games, you can send a vehicle careening over a cliff at full speed, only to watch it land without a scratch (let alone a fiery explosion). Considering Rico’s carjacking abilities, however, that isn’t surprising. He doesn’t walk up to a car to steal it; he jumps on its roof and shimmies through the window in the blink of an eye. If he gets tired of driving it around, he can remount the roof, then jump onto to the nearest vehicle – even if it is dozens of feet away – and begin the process anew.
Needless to say, realistic physics don’t matter much in Just Cause. In fact, the game’s countless glitches eliminate any sort of realism whatsoever. You’ll realize that something is amiss when Rico’s dinky little motorcycle can ram an SUV off the road. For some reason, all the vehicles, be they ten-car pile-ups on the freeway or a helicopter spewing bullets, will randomly vanish as soon as they leave your field of vision. Since you can drive through trees and other obstacles, you’ll find that evading the authorities is fairly easy. But if you feel like trekking your way through San Esperito, you’ll find that Rico’s superhuman physicality allows him to walk up straight walls, swim for miles without rest, climb invisible ladders, and virtually ignore your button commands half the time. That’s beside the fact that he can survive a hundred-foot fall by randomly running in midair before impact. With so many glitches and inconsistencies everywhere, one has to wonder how the game got past its testing phase.
Perhaps the game designers thought that you’d be too impressed by the game’s massive size to notice the horrid flaws. The back of the game case states that Just Cause has 250,000 acres to explore. While the vastness of San Esperito is certainly mind-boggling, you’ll find that much of it is little more than endless miles of tropical wasteland. Several of the areas don’t have any features whatsoever; there are only fields of dotted with weeds, blandly textured greenish hills, and palm trees that look like a bunch of lines glued together. The towns and villages don’t look much better either; the majority of the buildings look like cardboard cutouts with heavily pixilated paint jobs. Most of the cars just look like big blobs of color with a pair of glowing taillights stuck on. Even the characters look like a bunch of clothed stick figures; the average innocent bystander hides his non-existent face with an oversized sombrero and tries to beg (with a poorly imitated Spanish accent, no less) for his pathetic life. Despite his handsome Che Guevara-esque mug on the box cover art, Rico looks like a walking pile of black polygons. For a game to come out so late in the PS2’s lifetime, it’s depressing to see graphics that could have been rendered on an older console.
Well, at least the mariachi band music is top notch.
It’s a shame, really. Just Cause reeks of wasted potential. The story could have been interesting, but the generic characters and bland execution aren’t endearing in the slightest. While there are tons of missions to complete, many of them feel repetitive and watered-down. The utterly stupid AI and questionable controls make the combat dull and tedious. The physics-defying stunts and sheer amount of glitches will break your patience long before the story is done. The graphical quality makes the game look like some godforsaken PS1 bargain title. So unless you’re in some serious need of a half-assed Grand Theft Auto clone, forget about la revolucion and stay away.
Community review by disco (June 24, 2007)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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