Inside Pulse 12

Review: Just Cause 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Just Cause 2
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Eidos Square Enix
Release Date: 03/23/10

Seldom has a demo for a game convinced me to purchase that game faster than the one Avalanche Studios recently released for Just Cause 2. You were given 30 minutes, after learning the basics, to do anything and everything you could possibly think of within it’s sandbox structure. I had to force myself to be wary though. I’ve been bitten by the awesome demo demon before. Shall we see if I was right to be wary?

Story:

Rico Rodriguez, better known as The Scorpion, is the main character who makes a return from the events in the original Just Cause. He is a CIA (or Agency) agent who operates in the James Bond tradition of destroying everything until the bad guy appears. This time he is sent to the Island nation of Panau to find his mentor Tom Sheldon, and then to discover what else is going on. Along the way you are forced to work for various and sundry gangs as you piece together what has been happening. These gangs consist of Marxist revolutionaries, Tribal terrorists and an actual criminal organization. These groups all have axes to grind and nobody to grind them. At least not until you conveniently come along and offer your services in exchange for information.

The story is well built considering it’s a sandbox game, and comes to a satisfying conclusion despite not being all that original, but in all honesty the plot just exists to give you new places to go and people to explode.

Graphics:

The islands which make up nation of Panau are a fictional place. They consist of many diverse ecologies, including desert, jungle, tropical shorelines and even snow covered mountain regions. This offers the developers at Avalanche a chance to show off what they are capable of. And what they are capable of isn’t too shabby at all. While the whole country seems to have a glossy sheen to it, the game runs at a fairly decent clip, with slowdown and dropped frames occurring only when the action on screen turns to the absurd, when there enemies everywhere, all firing at you and doing damage.

Sound:

Holy cow, a game that knows there’s a sub-woofer attached to most people’s home stereos! So very few games these days take advantage of that. Right from the introductory screen, this game established itself as the one I will pull out when testing my stereo in future. Explosions, car engines, everything is nice and deep.

On the other hand the voice work borders on the atrocious. I had actually been thinking to myself maybe I should just stop grading games for their voice work, as it’s always at least pretty good. Here though I have the reason to keep on doing it. Some of the voice actors sound professional, but the rest, including at least 2 of the faction leaders and half of your support team sound..well, how do I say it? Did they get drunk before doing their lines? Ingest mind-altering substances somehow? I don’t know. I have never run into a situation like this before. I’ve seen games where the voice work was blatantly racist, I’ve seen games where the voice work was stellar, never before have I seen voice work from a professional studio where the cast sounded like they just didn’t care and were out to sound as horrible as possible. I refuse to believe they were just trying to be campy.

Gameplay:

You know what every game needs? A main character with a grappling hook and infinite parachutes. You know how I know this? Because I played Just Cause 2 to it’s completion, and never once tired of the ability to create havoc using just those two simple tools. You can even avoid the typical hassle of finding a car or whatever to get where you are going simply by grappling along until you get enough speed to deploy the parachute, then creating your own momentum by grappling anything below you to drag yourself along, like some bizarre one man flying gondola. You can gain some pretty decent speed, too. In fact you can actually go faster than some of the helicopters in game are capable of.

Anyway, the gameplay in JC2 is, in a lot of ways, the sequel to Mercenaries that I was hoping Mercenaries 2 would be. Crazy action, stunts, explosions, and a vast, VAST game map which sets you down somewhere at the start and allows you to roam wherever you feel.

The gameplay has flaws, or rather it is limited in some ways. Your primary objective in the game is to cause Chaos. In order to do this you must destroy government property and kill government agents, sometimes for the 3 factions, sometimes for the Agency, and sometimes just for yourself. Nothing exactly new there. The ones you are supposed to destroy are marked with a Red and White star, which is the logo of the government. So far so good. Sadly only these buildings are destructible, and this disappoints me. Flying a helicopter over a military base laying waste to enemies and destroying SAM sites is great, but when you then turn your weapons onto a different building and find it indestructible, it loses some of the mystique. It’s almost as if the developers at Avalanche saw what happened to Mercs 2 and decided it would be best just to make a game that was limited but worked, rather than trying to do too much.

I mentioned above that the game world is huge. I’m not kidding. You will often find yourself setting a waypoint on the map see it appear on your screen and then see the distance be something like 20 kilometers. You can take off in a helicopter or plane, fly straight up and bail out, and then float to the ground for 10 minutes, if you so choose.

The game uses the Havok physics engine, and to good effect too. Driving feels quite good, and driving off road can be a lot of fun. Helicopters on the other hand suffer from poor controls, as yet another game falls to the belief that an attack helicopter must be fly like some huge ponderous cruise ship, where turns must be thought out well in advance.

The flying controls are actually kept quite basic, taking the you point it where to go we’ll take care of the details approach. This is fine for the jets, because even with the limited controls you can still maneuver yourself fairly well, but the helicopters can prove to be a chore to fly if you have to cross a mountain chain for example. You must first climb high enough to get over the mountain, and then drop thousands of feet to get back down to ground level. That sounds fairly obvious, but losing altitude in a heli in this game just feels more difficult than it should.

Replayability:

This is a game that is crying out for co-operative gameplay. You can grapple onto a motorboat or a car and get towed along, for example, but the CPU always follows a speed limit, and you will often overtake them.

Either way, even without co-op or multiplayer, there is a huge amount of game world to be explored, with missions and races and various little things to do all over the game world. The best game to compare it to in my mind would be Oblivion, only there is no trickery to the size of this world like there was there (forcing you to walk everywhere can make Liechtenstein seem huge). I finished the game after completing all the storyline missions and doing a few races, and got 32% of the game completed. That’s before any DLC which might come down the pipe.

While there are factions in the game there is no reason to play the game again to see a different story line, as you cannot anger a faction by doing missions for any other faction, unlike Mercenaries. In fact I can think of only one mission where you actually operate against one of the factions, and they don’t even know you are involved.

Balance:

A lot of the game feels easier than it should at times. Part of this is the developers deciding to make the game more arcade like by including weapons like the mounted chaingun which you can unmount and carry around….with unlimited ammo. It’s perhaps the most powerful weapon in the game and they are liberally scattered around the game world for you to take advantage of should you care to.

As well as making the game one big 80s action movie, Avalanche decided to let you complete most missions however you wish, making it a true sandbox game. This includes some boat missions which you can choose to finish by ordering an attack helicopter and then chasing down your foes from the sky rather than on the sea.

To offset the inclusion of all those wonderful toys you get to use, Rico will heal himself when wounded in combat only to a certain point. After that he must seek out a medpack and apply a bandaid. This does force you to sometimes do things like seek cover, or to do the typical run away and hide while you wait for your vision to hide. The enemy is very gracious in this regard too, as it will often wait for you to return instead of hunting you down while you are wounded.

Originality:

Where this game shines is what it allows you to do. There are oxygen tanks in the game, any number of them. They seem to exist for the sole purpose of you discovering that once you shoot them they will fire off like a rocket. You can grapple the ones that are standing. And like anything else you can grapple, you can use the grapple to mount the oxygen tank and fire a bullet into it, thus launching yourself into the air using your very own home made rocket. It will eventually explode, but something that awesome deserves to be experienced.

Addictiveness:

You know you are hooked on a game when you finally stop playing it and start another, and wonder why your grapple isn’t firing when you want to get somewhere in the new game.

I wound up putting 20 hours into this game (I know thanks to the handy timer which appears everytime an hour passes on your save) and I could keep playing it quite easily.

Appeal Factor:

Open World Sandbox game fans should all see this game and purchase it. If you can, you should probably get the PS3 version, as it contains the ability to record footage and post it to Youtube, so if you pull off some insane stunt, you can share it with the world. The 360 version is nothing to sneeze at, but it suffers without that functionality.

Miscellaneous:

The game offers it’s own take on the Merchant of Menace, which premiered in Mercenaries. It’s not called that, obviously, but the idea is similar. It would be nice if Avalanche hadn’t forced a CG movie on me everytime I wanted to access it. It would have also been nice if I could order more than one item at a time. Lastly the selection is limited, and even though you can upgrade the weapons and vehicles you can purchase, more would have been nice.

I would like it if I could use the grapple for more things. More accurately I wish there had been the ability to upgrade the grapple to fire at more than 2 things at a time. Even more precisely, I wish you could fire your grapple at 3 or 4 enemy soldiers and have them all dragged away by some unsuspecting car, all at once, instead of one at a time. If you think I’m being down on the game for suggesting this, look at what I wrote and think about it for a second.

The Scores:
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: ҬVery Good
Sound: ҬDecent
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: ҬGood
Miscellaneous: ҬVery Good

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:

Everything about this game (except the voice work) is enjoyable in some way or another, and I am hopeful that the game gets the recognition it deserves. A true sandbox game that lacks only the complete and total destruction of environments offered in other titles. If you’ve ever looked at a plane taking off and wondered what would happen if I lassoed that to a tree, this is your game.

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