Have you ever been playing Grand Theft Auto IV and thought, “Man this game would be better if you were free to explore a little more”? Square/Enix has taken that idea with Just Cause 2 and ran with it. Eidos tried to “open up” the open-world genre with the original Just Cause, but it was hampered with glitches and the grappling mechanic was underutilized, to say the least. This time around however, Eidos has taken tips from both Microsoft’s Crackdown and TakeTwo’s GTA series to create a legitimate heir to the throne.
While JC2 does have a storyline, it really doesn’t seem to play a large role in the game at all. Your first two missions serve as nothing more than a tutorial, although both are technically part of the storyline. Once you have the two opening missions out of the way and you’re given your very open directive, you can start raising hell all over the island and experiment with the greatly improved grappling mechanic. Unlike the first Just Cause where your hook only latched onto select objects, JC2 allows for a limitless amount of experimentation and fun, courtesy of your arm-mounted extend-hook.
The grappling is the star of the show in Just Cause 2, but not without some awkwardness at first. The buttons do take a little getting used to. While everything works great after a little practice, the layout is initially cumbersome and results in more than a couple instances of wasting grenades by hitting the wrong trigger. However once you get the hang of the controls, the game will reward you with hours of fun traversing miles and miles (kilometers in-game) of forests, jungles, cityscapes, and more. You can travel the island by parachute while using your grappling hook for momentum or you can call for extraction via helicopter. If you want to take the scenic route though, you have your choice of over one hundred different vehicles to choose from. Gamers will no doubt opt to spend countless hours racing boats across seas and flying planes all over the islands of Panau.
The amount of exploration to be had in this game is on a level beyond anything I had seen before. Surely Grand theft Auto purists will scoff at the idea of another game doing open-world better, but this is open-world done right. For example, instead of gradually unlocking areas like you do in GTA, everything is open if you can get to it. Instead of completing missions to open up a bridge, you can just cross it with a stolen vehicle or glide across open waters using your parachute. Stumble upon a fighter jet and it’s yours if you can take off fast enough. Unlike other “open-world” games, JC2 is really open. Where games like True Crime: New York failed, Just Cause 2 hands you the keys to a vast world and lets you go Spiderman all over it. I mean swinging around using the grappling hook, not shooting messy webbing all over the place of course.
Much like Crackdown for the Xbox 360, there’s an element of grinding involved. Scattered around each village and stronghold you discover there are weapon and vehicle upgrades. Collecting these will allow you to purchase better equipment on the black market. And it’s with these tools of destruction that you’ll be able to cause “Chaos” all over the island. Once you get the hang of throwing a wrench in the gears of Panau, you’ll spend hours trying to discover new ways of causing Chaos on the island. Every time you succeed, you’re rewarded with XP towards a new mission and unlockables for purchase with the money you’ve acquired at the same time.
Graphically, JC2 looks good. Nothing in the game will win an award for breaking new ground or being breathtaking, but at the same time the visuals are quite impressive when you factor in exactly what’s in this game. On the surface Just Cause 2 simply looks like a slightly above average game, but when you get into a fire fight in the middle of the sea and dive under water to discover well mapped coral and fish, you have to be a little impressed. There are some issues here and there. For example, there are some instances where you’re gliding along and vehicles will pop up out of nowhere on the roads. It’s nothing that will ruin the game, but it did happen more than once. The limited story also features some very out of synch voice acting. Since the story itself plays second fiddle to creating chaos, you won’t see a lot of bad lip synching.
The game’s audio could be called almost comical. Since the dialog is often done tongue-in-cheek, the voice acting works. Scorpio, the game’s star, is apparently voiced by the love child of Erik Estrada and Homestar Runner’s Strong Bad. The one-liners are totally cheesy, but fit the character. Just Cause 2’s music is limited to say the least, but kicks in at the appropriate times and gets the job done. The atmosphere is set for an island dictatorship when you arrive in a camp and hear propaganda blaring over radios and intercoms.
Just Cause 2 offers a lot of things. Most importantly, the game delivers instant access to everything on the island, if you can find it. Unlike other sandbox titles, you don’t need to have any focus on the thin story to get a ton of enjoyment out of it. Completionists, aka those obsessed with acquiring and finding everything, might take months to quench their obsessive thirst. The amount of hidden objects is insane. As mentioned before, the island of Panau is absolutely huge. Unlike Grand Theft Auto IV, where you could memorize the roads and locations, Just Cause 2 has an immense infrastructure of hidden roads. The lack of multiplayer makes sense because of the sheer scope of the game. Tacking on multiplayer would only be an insult to the accomplishment of Avalanche, Eidos, and Square/Enix’s hard work. In today’s world of games, you’ll have a hard time finding more bang for your buck. I’d suggest at least renting JC2, but you’ll just end up buying it afterwards.