Just Cause 2: Xbox360 Game: Developer:Avalanche Studios Publisher: Square Enix
Sequels for video games have a better reputation than say movie sequels. Many of the most innovative games ever made (Mario 64, Grand Theft Auto 3, Final Fantasy VII) were of course sequels. Indeed in this generation we have seen many sequels improve upon their original outing (Assassins Creed 2, Mass Effect 2). These games succeed by fixing many of the niggling issues, that made the first game less than perfect, while still keeping the tone of the original piece.
Even among these improved sequels Just Cause 2 stands out. The original Just Cause could neither be called beloved nor all that terribly well received. Calling the first Just Cause a flawed open world game with some fun bits would be the kindest of labels. Nobody certainly seemed to be clamoring for a second go. When Just Cause 2 was delayed from an Christmas 2008 release date to 2009 and eventually 2010 there was no gnashing of teeth. Many expected it to never be released or at the very least, to be an under the radar, by the numbers rehash.
So when Just Cause 2 was finally released it was a jaw dropping shocker. Here was the open world Michael Bay movie we all wanted (even if we didn't know it). In fact Just Cause 2 nails two factors with such perfection mere words simply cannot do it justice.
The first is the open world itself. In the somewhat crowded field of open worlds to explore the island of Panua is simply a standout. In fact it is simply the best open world ever designed. (Knocking Oblivion and Grand Theft Auto IV out of the top spots). It is huge. It has everything from snow capped mountains to rally style deserts to Tarzanesque jungle to coral reefs. What is more impressive is that it is truly three dimensional. Unlike many open worlds you can fly anywhere up to a mile high or dive anywhere a few hundred feet below the surface. The travel is seamless and the graphics are jaw dropping gorgeous.
If the open world is the star of the show the dual-grappling hook is the love interest. Words again simply fail to describe the eventual joy one gets from use of this tool. With a grappling hook one can tie enemies to trees, fling oneself through the jungle like some parachute wearing Tarzan, hijack any vehicle in the game (including 737 passenger jets), and fulfill your Spider-man fantasies than any Spider-man game can.
Alas like any Michael Bay movie the plot itself is a throwaway. You play Agency Agent Rico Rodriguez being dropped into the South-east Asian island nation of Panau. Panau has taken over by Kim Jong Il doppelganger Baby Panay, who assassinated his father, institutes a hilariously propaganda filled regime and cuts off all ties to the US in favor of eventually revealed evil foreign powers. Your mission is to oust Panay from office, as well as track down your mentor from the first game Tom Sheldon, whom the Agency fears has gone native while on the island. To achieve all this you ally yourself with the three dominant criminal gangs on the island: the Roaches, the Reapers, and the Ular Boys.
In other words you blow stuff up to unlock criminal gang missions (which honestly consist of blowing stuff up)to finally unlock Agency missions (which also consist of blowing stuff up).
Fortunately blowing stuff up (like shooting super-mutants in slow-mo while playing Fallout 3) simply never gets old. In fact the game gets more enjoyable the longer one plays it. As one becomes more comfortable with the grappling hook-parachute mechanic, learns which cars to avoid, and realizes that the developers really did think of everything. The Island of Panua becomes an increasingly enjoyable experience.
Anytime I gush uncontrollably about a game it only seems fair to point out those few niggling problems that others may have noticed.
Vehicle Control: With over a hundred vehicles in the game it is no surprise some are better than others. With cars one will find their comfort zone between the Tuk-Tuks that can't seem to make it up hills and the overpowered Titus ZJ Cabriolet sports cars that cannot seem to go two hundred yards without flipping over. Cars in general handle well as do motorcycles and boats. Helicopters in particular are a joy to control... and that is an awfully good thing to since planes are the definite fly in the vehicle ointment.
For some reason developers decided to control planes with only the left stick. How does one fly a vehicle in three-dimensional space with a two dimensional control? Very poorly it turns out. Fortunately, outside of one mission where your jet fighter has to shoot down a rocket in flight, this really doesn't come into play if you do not want it to.
The Story and Voice Acting. I finished the main story without really finishing the game. In fact I was only 22% done when the final credits rolled. (In the games defense It did take me 33 hours to get to that point.) Needless to say many of the Easter eggs, Mile High nudie bars, Japanese WW2 soldier encampments and the island from the TV show Lost will have to wait till my next play through.
While clearly Just Cause 2 has an insane amount of content (There is an achievement for 75% completion but none for 100% ) I do wish the story had been a little more... well there. The criminal gangs you do missions for could have also been a little better drawn as they all seem to blend together (Think the gangs in Saints Row 2 as an example of gangs done right).
The voice acting is universally awful. If it is so bad its good is truly a personal judgment. (I vote for no). Who gives the worse performance in Just Cause 2 is a game one can play with ones friends. The popular choice around here is Bolo Santos' G-Man like Singaporean accent as leader of the Reapers, but I am inclined to give the prize to Tom Sheldon's massacre of a Texas drawl.)
Ironically even though you are forced to play with a fixed character throughout (A common complaint I have with Rockstar open world games) the sheer lack of story and personality actually negates my usual complaint of being unable to "roll my own".
Some others have complained about the lack of ammo (and general difficulty) in the beginning of the game, the loose gun-play (which once you get used to it works rather well) and the fact they want a pony.
Generally these complaints (outside of the pony one) are negated as one gets used to the controls, upgrades their weapons, and discovers the myriad ways one can use the dual-grappling hook. The game really does improve with time and I am chomping at the bit to try another go (at a higher difficulty level no less.)
Just Cause 2 is in the running to be my Game of the Year (against some pretty hefty competition) and is simply a must by for any action fan.
Final Score: $80 buy it now.
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