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Just Cause 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Just Cause 2 (Xbox 360) review

"Just Cause 2 doesn’t rely on things that go boom. Instead, the game succeeds by delivering moments that are intense, surreal, and will push players off the edge of their seats in cool and unexpected ways."

At some point in time, filmmakers got the impression that explosions, gunfights and lengthy car chases were all that they needed to make a good (or at very least sellable) action flick. Over time, game developers got the same impression: who needs creativity when you’ve got a burst of orange, red and yellow polygons igniting over massive cityscapes?

That kind of thinking has put action games into a major rut. Just Cause 2 is one of the few games to pull them out of it.

Using the essence of great action flicks to intensify the experience while inspiring a sense of awe, Just Cause 2 is vastly different from the Halo/Call of Duty fad that caused greedy publishers to flood the market with dozens of copycats. The game doesn’t shy away from explosions – there are plenty to be had along with rewards that are given out for spreading destruction across the land. But while this chaotic element is a fun (if not time-wasting) bonus, Just Cause 2 doesn’t rely on things that go boom. Instead, the game succeeds by delivering moments that are intense, surreal, and will push players off the edge of their seats in cool and unexpected ways.

Building on the qualities of the original, this long-awaited sequel is a car-stealing, high-flying, skydiving adventure. Based in Panau, a fictitious group of islands that consist of tropical beaches, snowy mountains, and bustling military-controlled cities, Just Cause 2 is filled with mile after mile of environmental interactivity.

The game world is enormous; it dwarfs Grand Theft Auto IV with little effort, and is presented with unprecedented realism. Despite the various bridges and hundreds of roadways featured in the game, the environments are by no means a navigational cakewalk. The mountainous areas are thick and rugged; though Rico Rodriguez (Just Cause 2’s anti-hero) could grapple-hook his way to the top of the mountains and visit many locations on foot, the time needed to do so would be too much for most gamers to bear. That’s where the vehicles come in. But instead of stealing cars and motorcycles (which there are plenty of), players will be dying to get their hands on planes and helicopters. Neither aircraft is easy to acquire; if they haven’t appeared on one of the dozens of runways or helipads littered throughout Panau, they’ll have to be stolen from an enemy or purchased on the black market. The latter offers free delivery to almost any location, but the enormous price tag ensures that the black market isn’t overused.

However, the former choice – stealing aircrafts from enemies – is much more gratifying, and is a prime example of Just Cause 2’s ability to capture the spirit of action. If a helicopter is flying overheard, the only way to steal it is to use Rico’s trusty grappling hook to attach himself to the bottom of the copter, Spider-Man-style. Next, players must spin the camera around, aim their weapon – only single-handed guns and semi-automatics will do – and take out any gun-toting passengers. Once they have been taken care of, Rico can hop into the cockpit and battle the pilot for control of the copter by pressing a few buttons as they flash on the screen. The last part is obviously a simple process, but that doesn’t take away from the intensity of the experience. It’s not every day that a game lets us steal airborne aircrafts. Even if more games did, the controls probably wouldn’t be as seamless or as intuitive as they are here.

When players finally get into the air and fly across a few miles of gorgeous terrain, they will be amazed by the eerily realistic sensations that come along for the ride. Just Cause 2 is the first arcade-style (read: not a simulator) video game that successfully mimics what it’s like to be in the air. The planes are extremely fast, but when flying several hundred feet into the air, the environments appear to move by very slowly. When flying within 100 feet of a city, however, everything moves by at a breathtaking pace. The same is true for the helicopters, which are purposely slower and create yet another exhilarating sensation.

That’s not to say that the developers haven’t dedicated any time to perfecting the on-ground vehicle and watercraft controls – they most certainly have. Motorcycles are particularly exciting, but their instability makes them a tough choice for most missions. Standard vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from puny two-seaters to enormous armor-covered beasts that come equipped with tank-like grenade launchers. The speedboats are also quite good, especially when traveling between the game’s many islands.

Like so many action titles, Just Cause 2 doesn’t have the best story. The instruction booklet sums it up quite nicely, “As the Agency’s most dangerous weapon, you must infiltrate the island and locate Sheldon [Rico’s friend and mentor], setting off a violent chain of events that will set Panau ablaze.” But as a result of this premise, Rico has been encouraged – and has been given free reign – to spread as much chaos as possible. Thus, whenever he completes a mission, collects a key item (such as a health upgrade box), or blows up an enemy-controlled structure, Chaos points will be dropped into his bank account, along with buckets of cash that can be used to purchase new weapons and vehicles.

Chaos points are essential because they allow players to unlock new missions and add additional vehicles and weapons to the black market. Those items can be ordered from a simple menu screen at any time by using Rico’s beacon.

Like the Grand Theft Auto series, Just Cause 2 is very open-ended. Only the primary missions – which include a familiar list of objectives: Assassinate General A, Protect Person B, Collect Item C, etc. – are restricted with a rule or two, which rarely amounts to more than a time limit or being required to use a specific vehicle. The rest of the game can be played freely without any limitations. If an evil military general is too difficult to kill on foot, hop in a helicopter and see if he can withstand a few rockets. When grenades and other explosives just aren’t enough, use missile-launching aircrafts to blow up oil rigs and other giant structures. During a heated battle between vehicles (by land, air or sea), Rico can jump out, grapple hook his way to the enemy, and steal their vehicle(s) to gain the upper hand. With an amazing parachute that allows players to safely exit any aircraft at any time, kamikaze attacks are wholly possible. And, just for fun, Rico can hop on the roof of a commercial airliner and take control of it or hang on for a several minute ride across Panau.

It’s moments like these that make Just Cause 2 an immersive game that’s hard to put down. There are some occasional frustrations, most notably the camera, which may jump forward when standing too close to a wall. But that won’t stop anyone from loving their time with Just Cause 2. This game succeeds not only as a great action title, but as a great flight/combat simulator, as a great driving game, and as one of the deepest shoot-‘em-ups of the generation. It is not merely a sequel that must be played (take note: the Xbox Live demo is not representative of the game’s quality), it is a must-own release that gamers will be glad to have in their collection.


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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (April 25, 2010)

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