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Just Cause 2

(Square Enix; US: 23 Mar 2010)

I’m a sucker for a revolution. Give me something to rise up against and overthrow, especially in a game, where I don’t have to take any real risks, and I’m all over that action. This idea of fomenting popular revolt (which I enjoyed so much in Red Faction: Guerilla) is what first drew me to Just Cause 2. The weird parachute nonsense and the grappling hook thingie seemed extraneous and distracting. I wanted to stick it to some third world dictator, bring power to the people, and all that jazz. Boy, is Just Cause 2 the wrong game for scratching that itch. It’s got a confused, hackneyed story with no heart or soul or inspiration to it. The chaos mechanic for putting pressure on the powers that be is dirt simple and really just a basic score mechanic. The revolutionaries on the fictional island nation of Panau are self-serving crooks that never earn an ounce of sympathy. And none of that matters the tiniest bit because this game is awesome. It’s awesome not for the Revolution, but precisely for those aspects that I’d ignored at first: the parachute, the grapple, and, yes, oh yes, the big explosions.


Just Cause 2 is a delightful playground of casual destruction and violence. That’s kind of all there is to it, but it’s a really big playground with lots of nifty jungle gyms for clambering on. Your character, Scorpio, has a Spider-Man style grappling ability and an instantly deployable parachute that together mean that you can scale up or fall from any height without fear. The grapple also lets you latch onto any of the game’s 100+ air, land, and sea vehicles to hijack them. It also lets you just pull yourself along much faster than running. But wait, there’s more! You can attach each end to a different object, connecting attacking helicopters to cars or hapless soldiers to rapidly ascending elevators (to name just two of my favorites). All the while, Scorpio’s packing three kinds of firearm and two kinds of explosives at all times, blasting away with a generous auto-targeting system against enemies who mostly go down easily in your hail of gunfire.


Panau itself is really an archipelago, which runs the geological gamut from Alpine-like snowy mountains to dense jungles to arid deserts, so there’s plenty of variety. It also has the densest concentration of military bases, airports, and strong holds ever assembled, which is perfect because you’ll be spending a lot of time blowing these up to earn chaos points. With its low penalty for dying, its panoply of vehicles and guns, and the amazingly fun mobility afforded by the hook and parachute combo, Just Cause 2 actively encourages experimentation and play. Wonder what will happen if you steal a jet fighter and try and dive bomb that oil rig? Or would it be better to come in by sea in a speed boat? Maybe parachuting from on high and grappling onto the anti-air missile launcher at the last second will work better? Let’s find out!


The open world playground is great and all, but occasionally the game does sort of stall out. Usually there are missions for each of the various factions, none of them notice or care that you’re playing for every team in the island revolution league. These missions range from simple escort or assassination tasks (fun but not innovative or even clever) to some pretty far out there mini-stories. I particularly enjoyed a mission that took me to a mysterious island where strange forces related to World War 2 were at work. I won’t give away any more than that, as it was probably my favorite sequence in the game. They aren’t all gems, but the bad ones are usually short, so it balances out.


However, to keep the story going you have to unlock new Agency Missions, which requires causing the requisite amount of chaos on the island. Missions earn the most chaos points, but a few times in the game I hit points where there were no more missions unlocked. That left the free form, “assault as you will” attacks on various military bases. Those are fun enough, but they also seem to provide meager chaos points. I spent a couple of hours at one point blowing up everything in sight in order to unlock the next main story mission. They were pleasant hours, but they also killed what little momentum that the plot had developed. Who even remembered what the cliched, story was about anymore?


Just Cause 2 is a game best enjoyed at a tropical pace. I played it in relaxed, hour long orgies of explosions and parachuting. The difficulty ratchets up at the very end, which came as a sort of annoying surprise, since I’d had little trouble until then. But the game makes retrying a level easy peasy, no worries and some of the final set pieces are spectacular. Just Cause 2 offers a fun-filled break from your endless Final Fantasy XIII slog or the dead-eyed seriousness of Sam Fisher’s latest adventure. More relaxation than revolution, think of this game as explosion therapy for the troubled gamer’s mind.

Rating:

Rick Dakan is a novelist and former game designer whose books include the Geek Mafia trilogy from PM Press. For more of his prose and musings, go to www.rickdakan.com.


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