Game: Just Cause 2
Reviewed: July 2014
A tropical island; what could be a nicer place to visit? The sun shining, the waves gently lapping at the shore, the birds singing… and sure enough, in Just Cause 2, there are some nice spots to take in the brightly coloured and vivid graphics, with spectacular sun-rises and sun-sets. But chaos is on the horizon, and that’s what you’ll spend most of your time in this game creating.
Having never played the first game, I can’t offer any direct comparisons, but I do know that the first game also has a tropical island setting, again with some egotistical dictator running the show, and it stars the exact same protagonist, Rico Rodriguez, and his allies from the agency he works for, Tom Sheldon, and Maria Kane, whom you only encounter in cut-scenes.
As I said, though, this means nothing to me, and the game never really provides any much depth to these characters, or indeed, any of the others, that you’ll encounter in the game. Sure, I noticed that Tom seemed pre-occupied with cooking pigs on a barbeque an awful lot, but any of the other characters are just there because they are, and even the main character you play as feels about as wooden as the numerous huts on the island.
That being said, characters, or story, aren’t really what this game is about. What this game does best is mindless destruction, and a lot of vehicular based fun. The game is basically one giant sandbox, and by giant, I really mean to say monumentally huge. It’s that big! It makes Skyrim look like someone’s back-garden. You get plenty of weapons to choose from, with most of these, early in the game, being picked up from the enemies you kill. You can also steal vehicles off civilians and the army, with QTE’s used to take control of them while they are moving. But what is the point of all this destruction? Well, to progress through the game, you have to create chaos, and you get a chaos meter that gradually fills up the more you destroy objects, complete missions, and take out key parts of a settlement. Once you reach a certain thresh-hold, you’ll unlock more faction or agency missions, and you also gain the benefit of money that can be used to purchase fancier weapons, and XP that can be used to upgrade them.
Buying and upgrading weapons is done via what is called the Black Market, and you can call this up by setting off a beacon on the ground. The item can then be selected from a list, and is then delivered to the spot where the beacon was activated. You also get the option of fast travelling to a destination you have already been to, saving you a lot of time, since travelling via parachute/grappling hook, or vehicles, will potentially take a long time.
The major gimmick, of Just Cause 2 is the grappling hook, and this is the star of the show, and is what helps make the game more fun than it would be normally. With it, you can scale the tallest buildings, launch yourself at cars or planes to take control of them, launch yourself into the air, from which you can then open a parachute to glide around in, guided and pulled along by repeated use of the grappling hook, tether vehicles together, and the most fun bit, tethering people to vehicles, or even tethering two people together. I had a lot of fun with this, with my funniest moment being when I tethered an enemy to a jet fighter while it was on the runway, which then proceeded to be dragged along the runway at speed, then up into the sky, thrown around like a rag-doll.
Going back to the plot, most of the game is centred on the fact that the dictator in charge, Baby Panay, is ruthless and took over following a coup. This has strained relations with America, which, from what I gather, is either a protectorate of the islands, or a very close ally. When you arrive on the island, you are thrown straight into a largely forgettable, but fun, action-packed set-piece, and from then onwards, you are given the opportunity to play missions for one of three factions that are present on the island, and aren’t happy with Baby Panay being in charge. Collectively, they are all rebels to him, but individually, they are known as the Reapers, the Roaches, and the Ular Boys, and each has their own ideological agenda.
Completing certain missions, such as army base take-overs, allows you to unlock further missions for that faction, as well as setting up a local re-spawn point should you die, and since dying is something you’ll do a lot in this game, it is essential to complete these particular missions as soon as you can, providing you have the firepower to do so. Agency missions are unlocked as you create chaos, and so generally going around creating havoc will help unlock them to a certain point, but to complete the main story, you’ll have to complete all the faction missions first. These are all pretty basic in format, and will either involve you destroying an army base, stealing technology or vehicles, and generally being a thorn in the side of Baby Panay’s army. None really deviate from the basic script too much, so there’s a chance they could get tiresome after a while, in which case, you can just head off and do something random instead.
There are a few side-quests and mini-games you can take part in, such as races in boats, cars, or planes, and these generally all follow the same format too, by having to get through ‘hoops’ which represent timed checkpoints. You can also perform stunts at various places on the map, such as fancy high jumps in cars or bikes when you see a ramp. Unlike in other games, like Saints Row, I didn’t really find myself getting much satisfaction out of them, though, since completing them didn’t really matter, and most of the time I just found myself preferring to be a ‘completionist’ in terms of the settlements.
Completing a settlement (Which includes army bases as well as towns and villages) usually requires you to either destroy certain objects, which will quickly incur the wrath of the local army, or to find certain hidden items, such as weapon or vehicle parts. These parts can be used to purchase upgrades for any weapons or vehicles that you buy, but keep in mind that those vehicles will need to be bought again once they get destroyed. Also keep in mind that a lot of tactics can be involved with completing an area, especially the army bases, since they are crawling with troops, and require a lot of swift movement with your grappling hook to avoid the heavy gunfire, and to quickly collect all the hidden items. The more you destroy things, the more you also increase what is called the ‘heat’, which means the army starts getting more numerous, with attack helicopters being called in. Things can get crazy pretty quickly, so to avoid dying, you need to keep both mobile, and behind cover, since a direct attack will most certainly get you killed quickly.
On some occasions, to complete a settlement will require you to make your way down into a large reactor-type area, and then entering a sequence of numbers to overload the reactor. You then have to quickly get out of there within a handful of seconds, otherwise you’ll be dead. You may not lose the progress gained from destroying it, but if you haven’t completed everything else at that settlement/army base, you’ll have to make a long trek back to finish it off.
Later in the game, with fancier vehicles and weapons available for you to buy, you can be a bit more brash with your actions, and although you still might not last long, even when just taking down the local police in a village, it does help you get destructible parts of the area dealt with quickly, so if you do die and have to come back, you can just go for any of the remaining hidden parts. Some of these can be quite tricky to find, so keep an eye on your radar, which flashes a white arrow in the direction of the parts when you are nearby.
One of the biggest issues I have had with the game is to do with the checkpoint save system. While your progress is always up-to-date and saved, the major problem is that you only ever re-spawn at the captured faction bases, meaning that dying often results in a tedious and frustrating journey back towards where you were previously. In some tough areas, which often resulted in a dozen deaths or so, and could have been completed fairly quickly and painlessly with a local re-spawn, it ends up being a long distance flight, which serves only to break up the pace of the game, and make you, the player much more annoyed. There were times when I got really mad with the game because of the poorly designed save-system, but despite this, the action can be so addictive, that even while annoyed, I would often keep making multiple attempts to finish off what I wanted to.
Once the game is over, and the credits have finished rolling, or you have skipped them, you are automatically put into ‘mercenary mode’, which basically just means you can carry on destroying as much as you want, and as possible, until you reach the 100% completion target. Even after playing the game for over 60 hours, I had only managed 55% completion, so to truly have everything ticked off would require a lot more play time. The problem, though, is that there is no real incentive to continue playing.
I enjoyed the game a lot, but the repetition does start to get a bit grating towards the end, meaning that once I reached the point where I’d had enough of randomly blowing things up, I quickly wanted to get through the remaining mandatory missions to finish things as soon as possible. So even though you do get the ability to continue with the game after the main story is finished, which is a nice feature, only the most hardcore of fans will probably do so.
Looking at the graphics, the art design direction is great, since all the areas are beautiful and filled with lots of bright, vivid colours; being on a tropical island helps. Vehicles also come in multiple colours, sizes, and shapes. Texturing is decent, and weather effects look good. Lighting is also a strong point, with some very nice looking sunrises and sunsets. The overall graphics package still holds up well after four years.
Physics effects, as you can gather, are pretty good, with numerous objects reacting to what is going on around you. Chairs can be sent flying, branches can be cut off trees, old tyres can be sent bouncing along a highway, and vehicles can be towed. As mentioned earlier, people can be tethered to vehicles, or together, to hilarious effect. I remember one section of the game where I tethered exploding barrels to a truck, and then drove them over to a crane, which I subsequently demolished. Another bit was where I managed to use an APC called a 'Razorback' (an armoured military vehicle that is quite big and heavy) to pull down a statue.
Sound wise, the voice acting is often poorly done, often due to silly accents, and with the problem compounded by the fact that it never seems to be in sync with the characters mouth. Overall, it is quite shoddy, but it actually adds to the comedy value of the game. It’s like when you have a joke that is so bad, it’s funny. Environmental and general sounds are okay, such as birds tweeting, vehicle engines, and weapons firing, but they are nothing more than average and what you would at least expect. The game does have some music in the menu, but there aren’t any memorable songs or radio stations like you have in a lot of other sandbox games.
Just Cause 2 is a likeable sandbox game and what it does; the epic levels of destruction, it does rather well. However, it is far from perfect, and some issues like poor vehicle controls (cars were twitchy, and fighter jets took a lot of practice to get any form of control), numerous little glitches (I once couldn’t get off a bike, and every time I tried to get off, my character would jump back on again!), poor voice acting that isn’t even synced, badly placed re-spawn points for the checkpoint saves, and a generally nonsensical plot, all serve to dampen what could have been a really great game for everyone.
On the plus side, the game is incredibly addictive, and offers a lot of potential content, if random destruction is your thing. Trust me, it’s more fun that it sounds, despite it being essentially repetitive. Unfortunately, that repetition will get the better of you eventually, and with nothing else to keep you in the game, you’ll probably want to get it over with quick.
Overall, it’s another marmite kind of game: some people may really love it, due to the fun game-play, whereas others may struggle to even get going, since if you don’t enjoy the core experience, you won’t want to play any further. It’s a game that you could either play for hours and hours, or only a few minutes, and never pick up again. Also, any replayability will probably be used up on the first run through.
Whatever kind of player you are, it’s at least worth a go if you see it ultra cheap, and if you get bored, you can always come back at any point later without worrying you might have forgotten the plot, since it doesn’t really matter!
Concluding this review, I would give the game the following arbitrary final score:
Would you play this game just 'cause it exists? Are these end of review puns getting tiresome? Let us know in the forum!