• Bugs, we hate ‘em right? Getting in your egg salad at picnics, crawling into your spick and span lines of PHP code, or causing the most spectacular moments of fail in games.

    Bugs need love too though, and the bugs in Just Cause 2 are piffling compared to the acres of fun you can have with the game.

    Avalanche Studios have taken their original Just Cause concept, and spent years asking themselves “What if?” – For instance, what if you could chain an exploding gas cylinder to someone and watch as the thing slowly wrapped itself around them before exploding spectacularly? What if you could drive a jeep off a cliff, leaping out of it at the last minute to parachute to safety while the stricken vehicle continued its downward descent before exploding all over a military installation you’re trying to sneak into? What if…ahh we could be here all night.

    Just Cause 2 tacks an incredibly feature rich open world game around the paper thin premise of a hired gun, Rico Rodriguez, heading into a political hot spot to hunt down and execute his old Agency boss. Before long, he’s drawn into the machinations of the various gangs and rebels trying to carve themselves a slice of the luscious Asian paradise of Panaua.

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    At first, it’s extremely easy to compare Just Cause 2 to EA’s Mercenaries 2. The same random acts of chaos are punctuated by a seemingly ever-present legion of dunderhead minions trying to put bullets in you. Amidst the bullet ballet there are faction missions to undertake, and main Agency missions that bring you ever closer to the ultimate goal, putting down the nefarious Dictator that ultimately controls the country.

    After a while though, you realise that Avalanche got one thing absolutely right. They produced a sandbox game that had plenty of toys in the sand to keep you occupied. One of the biggest failings of the rise and rise of open world games is the way developers neglect to populate their worlds with anything to do besides repetitive side missions and a fairly lacklustre main quest. Just Cause is packed to the gills with interesting locations, fantastic vehicles to drive (currently I’ve driven over 60 unique vehicles and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface), and tons of things to destroy.

    Working for any of the factions brings you into direct contact with shady characters who each have their own agendas, and reasons for wanting the balance of power in Panau to shift their way. Usually it’s because they’re greedy individuals who want to strip mine the place for its riches, but now and again you’ll get a glimmer of hope as some of the factions do seem to be fighting for the greater good. Naturally, you remain detached from all this as you’re an Agency man, and you’re there to do a job.

    Rico, AKA The Scorpion / Scorpio can turn his hand to anything. Heavy weapons deployment, mass destruction and popping a bullet through someone’s head from 2 miles away are his bread and butter, but the most interesting elements in his arsenal are his grapple arm and his parachute. Using the former as the swiss army knife of combat tools, the grapple arm can latch onto moving vehicles, grab enemies and pull them off their feet and can help you leap tall buildings in a single bound (well, a couple anyway).

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    The grapple arm can also be attached to objects, and then re-attached to something completely different. Fire it at a pursuing vehicle and latch on, then fire the other end at the road and watch as comedy ensues, the vehicle reaches the end of its tether and flips end over end in typical A-Team style. Very handy when you run out of ammo (as you will, more often than not, as the one thing that Scorpio seems incapable of doing is carrying more than a couple of clips at a time).

    Playing around with the grapple arm and the game’s physics almost becomes a game in itself. Various YouTube videos have surfaced of people doing absolutely daft things in Just Cause 2, and it’s quite involving working out the various ways you can tackle each mission, from an all out frontal assault to a sneaky covert operation taking down enemies one by one. The latter is harder to achieve than the former, but timely use of the grapple arm will save your butt more times than you can count.

    In conjunction with Scorpio’s other useful asset, the parachute, the grapple arm can help you parasail across wide open spaces if you’re stuck without a vehicle and end up having to hot-foot it between locations. Firing the grapple arm at the ground, then triggering the parachute as you winch in, will propel you into the air. Likewise, deploying the parachute after leaping off a tall building or cliff top will let you gently sail around on the breeze, scoping out the landscape and working out where your chaotic skills will be required next.

    …And chaos is the buzzword here. The more you cause, the more main missions and faction quests you unlock – each one slightly more difficult than the last. Missions can get a little repetitive from time to time (particularly when you’re tasked with escorting technicians or science personnel into a base to bring it down from the inside) but you can pick and choose how you achieve each one, and there’s a ton of mileage to be had in completely clearing an enemy base of all its collectables and government assets.

    Just Cause 2 is a huge sprawling game, and it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and a bit lost at times. Auto saves and checkpoints tend to favour dropping you at the gates of the last base you liberated, or dumping you at any of the Agency bases nearby, and from time to time you feel like you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully you can call in equipment and vehicle drops, and get useful stuff choppered out to you wherever you are (as long as you’ve got cash to spend).

    There’s so much to see and do that it’s quite easy to overlook Just Cause’s faults and foibles. The aforementioned bugs raise their ugly heads in many forms, from getting you impossibly stuck in the scenery (getting stuck inside an aircraft hangar with no doors or windows was a particular favourite) to having you drop through the bottom of the gameworld into blank space. These instances are few and far between but you get the impression that the game could’ve done with a few more months of playtesting and Quality Control to work out the niggles.

    Art direction is pretty robust, and character design feels a little disjointed (Rico looks suitably kick-ass but some of the supporting character models look a bit like an animation student’s first year project). Voice acting is hilarious, ranging from Bolo Santosi’s bizarre lilting Mystic Meg linguals to Rico’s superb impression of Puss in Boots from Shrek. Oddly though, the voice work suits the game perfectly, and you’ll pay it no heed really.

    Various criticisms have been levelled at the clunky control system in the game and the only real complaint I’ve got on that score is that ascending a tall building can be a pain in the posterior if you come up against a lip or balcony and have to try and rappel your way around it. Scorpio also has a tendency to over-compensate in his movements from time to time, so when you’re balancing on a tall building’s radar installation a couple of thousand feet in the air, things get a little tricky.

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    The other control mechanic that didn’t work very well for me was the cross-pad weapon selection, and the fact that once you’re out of ammo the game doesn’t auto-switch to whatever your sidearm is. Swapping weapons mid-gunfight and fumbling with the crosspad got me killed more than once, but it’s something you can work around. The whole thing could’ve been done better though.

    Lastly there are no rudders on any of the flying vehicles so when you’re completing aerial races and challenges, you’ll need an extremely deft touch on the controls if you don’t want to end up burying your plane or chopper in the dirt.

    The rest of the controls work well enough though, and the key component of the game – the wonderful grapple arm – really is a joy to use, and ends up becoming a major source of fun.

    In conclusion, anyone who played the demo of Just Cause 2 to death won’t find the full disappointing. Panau is massive and densely populated with opportunities for you to get into lots of trouble, and as trouble is your middle name, there’s never a dull moment. The few bugs and annoyances you’ll encounter are vastly outweighed by the amount of fun you can have with this, so strap on your grapple arm and get busy!

    Score 8/10

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