400 Square miles of chaotic playground
Open world games are big business and they all try and offer something new and interesting. I remember being pretty enthralled by Mercenaries 1 way back, having fun with that and then finding Just Cause...a game that boasted a really big but empty game-space with very little to do even though it had a nice grapple and parachute mechanic, you could hi-jack things mid air and do all kinds of crazy stunts. Mercenaries 2 tried to ape this a little and as all things go, the evolution from one title mirroring or borrowing from the other continues - now it's the turn of Just Cause 2 to return to the sandbox play-space and offer literally 400 square miles of chaotic playground for you to do what you want in, read on, because this is literally one of the most fun open world titles to be released to date, and one of the most over the top.
Rico's back, fresh from his island-hopping exploits and he's now on a new island chain, the Panau Island chain to be exact. The old Pres is dead and the son controls the government, he's making all kinds of sweeping reforms that the US of A doesn't like and in comes Rico, the gun for hire, agent of chaos to sort things out, all whilst looking for his former mentor Tom Sheldon...to find out why he's gone dark. It's gloriously James Bond and completely silly, over the top stuff, it fits the game perfectly and it's great.
Did someone say open world with no vertical limits?
To get the idea of the kind of gameplay you're looking at, just have a peek at the videos that I uploaded onto the Youtube Channel using the PS3 version. Wolf's Just Cause 2 videos where you can see a variety of gameplay mechanics in progress. You can seamlessly jump from a motorbike into the air, deploying the re-useable parachute numerous times to get around, sling-shot via the grapple hook and whip yourself higher and higher. This chute is a far cry from the old Just Cause, this is a fully controllable stunt chute that is almost as fun as the numerous 100 or so vehicles that you can drive, fly or pilot in the game.
You can put Rico into a stunt position on most large vehicles, some of them he can clamber around and it's vital to learn how to do this effectively when taking over a large jeep or helicopter since you have to kill the armed guards before you can hi-jack it via a very simple and effective Quick-Time-Event style button tap system. One that is easier and a lot more fun than Mercenaries 2. Once in control of the vehicle it is up to you what you do with it, drive it off a cliff, smash it into another vehicle or use it as a mobile platform to get to the next vehicle in a convoy. Rico can stunt-jump from one vehicle to the next, on the ground, at sea or even in the air. The control system takes a little getting used to, but once you get it, you can use a variety of tactics to make things more fun.
For example, say you have to destroy a small convoy but keep the driver of the first vehicle alive so a friend can interrogate him. You can approach this from numerous ways, perhaps you need to get into the air, using a bike at high speed off a cliff, sail over with the chute and land on the rear vehicle. Disabling the guards with some bullets you hi-jack it and ram it into the back of the second vehicle, smashing the car and leaping back up with the parachute before the moment of impact, two down.
Or you can deploy the best toy in a game ever, the grapple gun...which is now an arm mounted device that Batman would be proud of. The grapple can attach to any object with collision and reel Rico in where he sits smugly and armed to the teeth, or it can be used to pull an enemy whilst yelling 'GET OVER HERE' in a Scorpion-like manner over the edge of a cliff to his doom. Or you can use the dual-hook function and link any two objects with collision together. A guy to a propane tank, shoot the tank and watch him get dragged away.
Or a guy to an airplane and drag him a thousand feet up before you release the hook and listen to his screams as he falls.
Or in the case of our example hi-jack above, how about hooking a jeep to a wall and watch as it spins out of control? Just Cause 2 usually lets you try what you're thinking and get away it with, it's a glorious sense of the absurd that works perfectly in a game like this that isn't about realism, it's about having FUN and tonnes of it at that. You could simply use the grapple to get to each car in the chain and plant some triggered c4 and blow them all sky high, hi-jacking the lead vehicle and completing the mission that way.
Everything that you do on Panau literally nets you Chaos and Chaos is the game's currency for progressing new missions, faction missions, stronghold takeovers and Agency (story) missions. Think of it like an RPG where you're earning experience for being a complete and total git to everyone and anything on the island. Military targets are marked with the Panauan Star, a white star on a red background and net you lots of Chaos when you blow them sky high. There are literally hundreds of small settlements, based, airports and secrets to find on the island and they all net you some kind of reward. It's not like Just Cause where there's nothing to do, even the various races are fun.
You also get rewarded with that all important resource - money, money lets you buy things from the Black Market, new weapons and new vehicles. It is a pity that there's no ammo drop or a way to replenish a special gun like Rico's signature weapon, since it costs a fortune to do that. Of course that only matters if you actually own the Limited Edition of the game in the first place, most of the standard guns can be stolen from dead enemies or picked up from the plentiful ammo caches around the map.
You can carry two one-handed weapons of the same type, or different types, grenades and c4 along with a single heavier weapon like a sniper rifle or rocket launcher. You can also dual wield two smaller weapons of any type, so you could have a pistol and an smg combo for instance. You can also find upgrades scattered around Panau, thanks to a handy signal meter on the top left of your mini-map, it shows your rough location to an item you're after and gets weaker/stronger the further/closer you move to it, flashing once you're in range. A handy GUI arrow pops up to show you where the item is. Once you have enough of these you can upgrade your weapons or vehicles.
Just Cause 2 gameplay wise, is a physics toybox of crazy stunts and moments that are too awesome at times to describe. It is literally a world where there's no vertical limit and if you can see it, you can fly, skydive, drive or sail to it. You can even swim underwater, keep an eye on your breath meter though...if you run out of it, you'll die. The game has a decent checkpoint system and lets you save anywhere; you'll always spawn in at a friendly faction base or location even when you load the game back up. If you're on a mission, you'll go back to a checkpoint if you die, if you're free roaming, you'll respawn at the above mentioned locations.
Health regenerates over time, but not fully, certain wounds will deplete the bar and you'll need a health kit to restore it, again, they are pretty plentiful and you should be able to find one easily enough. Lastly your PDA map is great, it has an X-Y coordinate system to let you make a note of cool locations and finds, you can share these on forums or keep them for personal reference, if you find a cool vehicle, location or weapon drop.
Just Cause 2 is a blisteringly great gameplay sandbox with numerous tactical choices and fun to be had, you can't fully describe every feature - so the best thing to do is play it.
The PS3 version has an awesome video recorder built in that lets you capture the output from your game, upload directly to YouTube or save it off onto your PS3 HDD for later perusal and upload. You can capture up to 10m or set it to automatically capture 30 seconds of footage, saving this 30 seconds manually when you feel like it.
There are a few pop-in issues and some FoV issues with the game, but on the whole it's a gorgeous looking game when you stand atop a wind-swept, snow covered mountain and watch a thunderstorm raging in the distance over a nearby city. The snow collects on Rico's clothes and he literally gets covered in frost as you watch. When it rains, Rico gets wet, he gets dusty in the desert and the vehicles get covered with dust/dirt and snow. The sunrises, sunsets and environment graphics as a whole are gorgeous and on the PC version the water is tied to the physics system, so it looks even better.
The weather system is also dynamic, rain clouds form based on environmental conditions and none of it is scripted.
There's a decent level of detail to everything in the game and whilst there are a few issues with textures here and there, none of it truly spoils Just Cause 2. Explosions are spectacular and often pretty breathtaking with huge balls of fire and smoke shooting into the air. The lighting effects are gorgeous and underwater looks especially nice. At night all the villages and cities light up in a great way and you can see Panau City for miles.
Ragdoll physics abound and they're gloriously over the top, Rico tumbles and rolls when he is knocked off his feet and enemies are tossed around like crazy from a big explosion. You can see the effects of bullets as you shoot them in different body parts and they are struck hard by the impact of Rico's grapple. You laugh as the poor guard is tethered to the back of a speeding car and gets dragged across the road. You can't help it. There's a lovely weight to everything and the vehicles have different handling characteristics, definitely improved over Just Cause. I did encounter some odd physics things on the PS3 where Rico ended up part of the scenery or fell into a building and couldn't get out from the inside dimension where everything was all transparent, where the Doctor when you need him? The same location was fine numerous times on the 360, these glitches happen and it's highly unlikely you'll hit one.
There's a layered damage system on the cars and other vehicles, so that they become deformed and wrecked over time and impacts. You can also shoot out tires on the cars to make them spin and flip out Hollywood style.
The animations in the game are good, there are definitely great moments where you tether a guard and leave him hanging as a bullet piñata, he struggles to get the grapple loose before you end his life with a couple of shotgun or pistol shots to the face. Rico's running, fighting, shooting, diving and vehicle operation animations are great. Some of the stunt jump animations defy belief and are gloriously ridiculous to watch, which just adds to the appeal of the game for me. The rest of the animations are good, there's nothing I can truly grumble about here, since I'm often having too much fun to notice if something has gone wrong animation wise.
The AI in the game isn't too bad, it will take cover, it will try and free itself from your hook line and it will generally offer a good challenge when chasing you down on foot, or in a vehicle. There are times the pilot AI makes awesome mistakes, those just add to the chaos of the game - two helicopters meet in a spectacular fireball in the sky, AI glitch or just awesome action, you decide.
Panau is brought to life through a variety of sounds; there are fantastic wind-swept mountains where the snow flurries and wind howls across the slopes. In the dense jungle there are the cries of birds and other animals, replaced by the chattering of creatures at night. The whole thing is a fantastic audio package and there are some nice audio moments all around, especially when base-jumping down the side of a particularly windy mountain.
It's a rousing secret-agent style theme that kicks in now and then, the music can be understated or action-y as befits the on screen action. When you're up in the sky and sailing around on your chute, you get a nice relaxing theme that billows with you on the wind. Great stuff.
There are some good performances and some bad ones, it's a mixed bag, but you forgive it because you're in the middle of the A-Team meets 007. The script is cheesy at times and thoroughly over the top, rife with awesome clichés and great campy writing. I loved it personally.
None, though a 2 player coop would have been awesome to see implemented, perhaps for Just Cause 3 eh guys?
Just Cause 2 is a game that blows Just Cause out of the water, fixes what was wrong with the original and offers almost TOO MUCH to do. Its wonderful dip into the future of action-packed sandbox/open world games and one of the better entries into the genre, I can truly say that is a game that I have had the most fun with for a long time and continue to do so. Once I'm done with the day I'm going to sit down and see if I can capture any more crazy stunts and madcap moments on the PS3 version.
To give you a recap, the 360 is slightly better frame-rate and graphically it has motion-blur and some nicer textures. The PS3 lacks the motion-blur but gains the video recorder; the PC has awesome water and the best graphics.
Although it never happened to me, apparently there's a bug where traffic and civs just vanish and never respawn. To fix this, go into a race and everything should be fine after. I am reliably informed that this works.