First Impressions: Just Cause 2

(A bit of a stretch to call these first impressions, I suppose.)

As you may recall from one of my earlier posts, I was singing Just Cause 2’s praises.  I also mentioned that it’s some of the best video game fun I’ve had in a while.  I’ve played it a bunch more, and my opinion of the game has only changed slightly, if even at all.  If you’ll allow me to clarify though, you’ll be hard pressed to find a game that has more pure, visceral fun than Just Cause 2.

Admittedly, I’ve never played the first Just Cause.  I’m not sure why, but I don’t have very easy access to it.  Though it’s a title from this generation, it comes from earlier this generation.  In terms of availability, I’d only be able to find it on the 360 and the PC.  Granted, it’s not terribly hard to find.  It is rather incomparable when taking into account the second game’s PS Plus free offer.  So I suppose it’s not something I can easily get around to.

Nor is it something I really want to get around to.  The plots aren’t very heavily related, and characters aren’t deep enough to make it much of an issue, since they’re all pretty stereotypical.  The main character is probably the most “unique”, even though he’s just a rough mercenary who occasionally likes to say dickish things.  The other characters are literally all sorts of cultural stereotypes.  Your mentor’s pretty much the typical murikan, your pilot’s the chick in the military type, and everyone else is some sort of Asian stereotype.  The plots are pretty fucking stupid in both games, too.  In fact, I’d seriously consider calling you dumb if you tried playing Just Cause 2 for the plot or characters.

But really, in the case of this game, I don’t give a shit, and I normally do give a shit about plot.  However, in a game’s purest form, how the game presents itself should give context to your actions.  And as silly as Just Cause 2’s presentation is, it ultimately does just that.  The game has several main story missions, and several faction missions alongside them.  However, mission progression isn’t strictly linear.  Instead, you unlock new missions by causing chaos throughout the island.

How does one go about causing chaos on the very large South East Asian nation of Panau?  Very simply.  Chaos can be accrued in a myriad of ways, but they generally boil down to blowing shit up.  And really, who doesn’t love blowing shit up in a sandbox?  Especially in a large sandbox like Just Cause 2’s (385 square kilometers large, in fact).  I don’t think calling it a sandbox at this point is appropriate, it’s relatively like a fucking beach, at that size.

Unlike many games, Just Cause 2 is rather open about wanting you to have stupid fun.

Of course, this wouldn’t mean a thing if Just Cause 2 didn’t have good gameplay.  Well, good thing that’s not the case.  Just Cause 2 is really damned fun.  It plays like a third person shooter, but with some very important gimmicks that make things very refreshing.

What set Just Cause 2 apart from any normal third person shooter, or even any sandbox game, are a grappling hook, and parachutes.  The grappling hook is a pretty magical item that pretty much ignores the concept of momentum in favor of being able to fuck around.  You can even survive fatal falls with it.  Parachutes are rather straightforward, yet they’re not as restrictive as they are in real life, and you have an unlimited supply of them.  Combining the parachute and the grappling hook presents an interesting and novel way of getting around.

The grappling hook can be used in a really ridiculous number of ways.  You can latch on to all sorts of vehicles and hijack them while they’re in motion, such as helicopters.  You can grab enemies with them, or attach them to objects.  One example of this is attaching enemies to a low ceiling and beating them like a pinata.  Or you could attach them to oil barrels, or propane tanks (which humorously take off like rockets).  You can even attach enemies to vehicles, where they’ll follow you around.  Not willingly, of course.  You can even do the same with objects, like attaching a truck to a helicopter, and throw the truck like you would with a rock in a sling.

That sure is one way of beating airport lines, I suppose.

In addition to story missions and faction missions, there are also numerous “races” (read: time trials) one can participate in.  These races are probably the most challenging parts of Just Cause 2.  Specifically the plane ones that take place in cities, since they force you to do shit like weave between skyscrapers and crap.  However, by allowing to use any land/sea/air vehicle for these races, Just Cause 2 presents scenarios where some of the game’s killer variety can shine in a normally very closed event.  Wrecking your expensive sports car and having to hijack some crappy sedan on the highway, hoping you have enough remaining time to complete the race with the sedan’s rather low top speed is a pretty common occurrence, and one that feels pretty great.

Unfortunately for our fun seeking selves, Just Cause 2 isn’t a perfect game.  The AI is pretty crappy, as enemies are quite eager to send themselves to their deaths at your very versatile hands.  Controls can feel quite awkward, such as with free falling (which is really hard and finicky) and vehicle handling.  Climbing up a very steep slope is literally the opposite definition of fun.   Mission checkpoints are few and far between.  The main story missions are rather cut and dry for a wacky game like Just Cause 2, though the faction missions (save for the ones asking you to capture new bases, those are ridiculously formulaic and annoying) are pretty varied.  Hijacking vehicles forces you into a rather boring QTE sequence.  Still, these complaints cannot tarnish the sheer fun of everything else.

Just Cause 2 actually looks reasonably pretty.  It doesn’t have any unique sort of visual style.  I’m not a big fan of the character models or textures, either.  However, Just Cause 2 gets the backgrounds just right, in my opinion.  Every background shot in the game looks fantastic.  I can throw adjectives around like pristine, picturesque, and serene, but words don’t do Just Cause 2’s shots justice.  Granted, there’s a terrible amount of pop-in, but that’s only really noticeable when flying (I sure hope you don’t look directly down when you do).  Besides, with the crazy amount of draw distance in the game, who’s to blame some pop-in?

I'm not kidding about the draw distance. See that city to the right? It's about 20 kilometers away.

The sound in Just Cause 2 is… well, better than average.  There’s one song that’s pretty memorable, though that’s more because they play it for every damned race, but this song sets the mood quite well.  Alas, I can’t even remember if there were any other songs, save for that song and the title music.  Ah well.  The voice acting is bad, but a self-aware bad, since I’m sure nobody can make a game with accents so ridiculous and over the top and be completely serious about it.  I can’t exactly tell what the main character’s accent is supposed to be like (he is hispanic, but he doesn’t exactly sound like the stereotypical hispanic).  Stereotypical accents and everyone else get along together quite well, and fit everything I said about the characters above to a T.  I’m sure it fits the game’s over the top nature, though.

Simply put, Just Cause 2 is ridiculously fun.  Actually, it’s also plain old ridiculous, but that’s great, too.  It’s probably the pinnacle of the sandbox genre.  I really don’t see myself going back to any other sandbox game quite easily.  Just Cause 2 is just so damned viscerally exciting.  Sure, it has its flaws, but it never stops being highly engaging.

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A mad scientist who's so cool!

Laevatein

A mad scientist who's so cool!

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