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Wednesday | September 19, 2018
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Just Cause 2 (PC)

Just Cause 2 (PC)

Just Cause 2
The first Just Cause required more suspension of disbelief than your average Hollywood blockbuster and this turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. Some lauded it’s over the top non-stop action and stunts while others labeled it as simply trying too hard, all brawn and no brains. Flying round a huge island in a stolen plane, only to jump out at will with a parachute and kill some bad guys before the character has even hit the ground… This sort of high octane absurdity was what Just Cause was all about, a Jerry Bruckheimer style game that didn’t care about the trend for hyper-realism that was going on around it.

A sequel to a game of this nature has to be bigger, faster, louder and even more implausible than the original and Just Cause 2 conforms to this. The protagonist Rico Rodriguez, who survived countless near death experiences in the first game, is out of retirement and hot on the heels of a former boss who has stolen a bundle of cash and headed out to a tropical island. The main obstacle to the chase is the island’s dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay who will have to be dealt with en route. With the hackneyed storyline out the way Rico is left to get into the thick of things and that doesn’t take too long at all.

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After being air-dropped on the more barren part of the island the objective for Rico is a simple one: chaos, cause as much as he can. Blowing up specifically marked targets generates “Chaos Points” and a new objective won’t reveal itself until a certain number is reached. If it sounds innovative or interesting, don’t be deceived, it isn’t. But that doesn’t matter as it is simply a pretext to do as much damage as possible in a short a space as time as possible. There are plenty of ways to do it too. Within moments of the level beginning our hero has thrown himself off a cliff, parachuted down to a main road and hijacked a motorcycle, speeding off towards the targets in the distance…

Now, if this already sounds a little bit like Grand Theft Auto then that’s probably because it is. The interface is almost the same – the radar in the top left, indicators pointing out the objectives, third person viewpoint and relatively little consequences for massive killing sprees are all here. But this is GTA on steroids. Lots of them. And a Red Bull chaser. The key differences between this and the father of this particular genre become immediately apparent after just a few minutes. OK, so it’s possible to hijack a vehicle but careless driving doesn’t leave them as dented wrecks fit for the scrapyard, it destroys them utterly. While getting to grips with the handling the bike that we’d hijacked simply exploded leaving small pieces of flaming wreckage and a tyre rolling down the street like something out of a cartoon. Crash into a building, guess what – the building will collapse, usually with an explosion as well. Everything is fragile, except for Rico.

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The other major similarity between this and GTA is the way that committing crimes – not that this game labels them as such – will bring authorities after our hero. In Just Cause 2 this is called the “Heat” Level and it brings jeeps full of gun toting goons, dispatched by a dictator that sounds like Kim Jong Il from Team America, from nowhere. Again the difference is in their attitude. The goons don’t try to gently ram things off the road, nor do they stop shooting. It is a full on assault from the moment they are on the screen and it is usually to the death.

Not that there aren’t ridiculous ways to get away from them. The game’s defining feature, the stunt parachute and grappling hook combination, ensure that even the most mundane car chase can become something completely spectacular. At any time it is possible to launch out of the vehicle and be immediately sixty feet in the air, drifting away at speed from the trouble. A few tugs on the old grappling hook and Rico can be in another postcode before his vehicle has ground to a halt. Then exploded. Probably.

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This is where the game’s key strength lies, the complete lack of limitations to the stunts that the player can perform. With any surface capable of collision being a potential target for weapon, vehicle or grappling hook, the possibilities for combination moves are close to endless. Once in the air on the parachute it is possible to stay there for a ridiculously long time, evading enemy fire with ease, while gunning people down with frightening accuracy. Rico can hang off the front of cars while they travel at high speeds ducking and dodging bullets while returning fire, then clamber round to the side and pull out the driver after a little bit of wrestling. Vehicles can be driven off cliffs and used as makeshift missles, causing distractions and damage while Rico floats down from on high un-noticed. Thinking up new ways to attack the enemy is a large part of the fun.

The controls are surprisingly simple for a game that could easily have moved towards being needlessly complex. By choosing to reuse buttons to perform different functions depending on what is happening on screen it never becomes too confusing. The game also brings up prompts on screen for the first few times an action is performed as well, meaning there is no requirement to plow through a lengthy tutorial or manual which is exactly right for such shameless and brainless action.

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Graphically the game looks great too, although it stops short of spectacular. This makes sense as everything passes by in such a blur that anything being too overly detailed would be like someone polishing brass on The Titanic. The best parts relate to the destructible environments and explosions, which are seen so often that it makes sense that Avalanche and Eidos would go the extra yard on them. The first game was plagued with graphical glitches but none of that was evident here and the game had a real level of polish. The improved Avalanche Engine allows for fluid movement and glitch free collision detection that makes ordinary actions feel exhilarating and gives real physicality to the objects that the main character interacts with. Throw in some nicely detailed, although doomed to become repetitive, animated sequences and it’s looking the part. It is also worth noting that on more advanced graphics cards, such as Nvidias upcoming GTX 480 there are advanced graphics effects which add an extra level of sheen to the environments.

The sound effects are what anyone would expect from a game in this genre and not much more. Explosions are loud, the wind whistles past as Rico hurtles through mid-air, guns rat-a-tat-tat and rockets whoosh. The soundtrack is the cleverest part of the audio experience, playing like the action adventure movie genre the game apes with a twist. The fictitious island of Panau is divided into areas that resemble many different geographical locales. A blend of Thai, Asian and New Zealand, the different zones have music that suits the area’s theme. Overall the audio doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary, although it’s effective and improves on the first game which is a recurring theme throughout the package.

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The good news for fans is that the improvements that were called for have been made. In the first Just Cause the story mode was way too short and the sand-box environment was way too big. Combine those two elements and it made for a frustrating experience with many players left wanting to like the game a lot more than it allowed them to do. Here the island is smaller and more compact yet still of a large enough size to warrant exploring. The sand-box approach is still here and there are plenty of things to do while exploring, even if it is something as simple as try and set a new base-jumping record. There are more vehicles than before and all can be utilised for mayhem or just to see how far the envelope can be pushed. Doing a jump off a dockside ramp in a speedboat then grappling onto a passing helicopter is something we managed to come up with but we fully expect that to be trumped on one of the many gameplay videos that will doubtlessly surface.

Missions are varied enough, reasonably paced and allow for several approaches to completing them. Ultimately though it is down to the player to make them into something beyond the norm. Nothing can change the fact this genre is always going to be made up of missions that can be formulaic… Drive from Point A to Point B, murder NPC 34, Drive from Point B to Point C in under three minutes. This is the nature of the beast but what separates the great games in this genre from the wannabes is the packaging. Just Cause 2 provides the tools to make it more than interesting and the game becomes not about completing the missions but about completing them in style.

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If anything it is the non-stop action and breakneck pace that prevents the game from being considered a truly great experience. All the sound and fury quickly loses its impact when there are no quiet moments and the fact that what is initially exciting can be, and must be, replicated often eventually means that it becomes the norm. Like an adrenaline junky in the grips of withdrawal, new thrills have to be found and sometimes they’re just not there.

Additionally the sand-box environment is somewhat deceptive as the story mode remains essentially linear in nature. So while it is a welcome distraction to be able to take a holiday away from the struggle against tyranny, it’s something that will have to be returned to to. Whether the game will be able to offer enough in terms of replayability once it is completed is something that it is too early to pass judgement on.

To summarise, the game does emulate the action movie sequels of the eighties a little too well. It is bigger, faster, louder and more implausible than the first… Hell, it’s better too. Just Cause 2 definitely ticks all the boxes for great entertainment and is the perfect antidote to the raft of games being released at the moment which take themselves a little too seriously. Yet, like those movies, once the explosions have been seen, the stunts been witnessed and the bodycount has surpassed that of a Biblical disaster, how soon do people want to watch it again? How long can that be stretched out for before it becomes overwhelming? The answers will vary from person to person but most would recognise that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. This game deserves to be a Box Office smash but it’s not going to win any Oscars.

Gameplay 86/100 Great fun and scope for mischief coupled with a simple control system make it a winner. Derivative in parts for sure but brings enough of its own unique charms to the table to be recognised as something fresh.
Graphics 88/100 Polished to the point of practicality, everything here is smooth and fluid even at the pace the game runs by at. None of the graphical glitches from the previous game mar the presentation and the destructible environments are a welcome addition.
Sound 80/100 Above average without really being anything special, it features ropey voice acting and some hilarious accents. The saviour is the soundtrack that adds to the atmopshere nicely and is cleverly influenced by the fictitious setting’s geography.
Value 82/100 Although there are more bangs per buck (literally) on display here it remains to be seen what replayability value the game would have once the storyline is completed outside of wanting to top stunts in previous attempts.
(Not an Average)
84/100 Better than the first without a shadow of doubt this sequel comes highly recommended to fans of the original and aficionados of this genre in general.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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