Just Cause 2 PS3 Review

The original Just Cause quickly became one of the major titles I was looking forward to in 2006, although when it was released I wasn’t as positive in my review as I would have hoped to have been, eventually coming to the conclusion that it was one of 2006’s minor disappointments. Avalanche Studios have now had over three years to improve on where they went wrong in the original game, delivering a hopefully vastly improved sequel.

Just Cause 2 once again stars Rico Rodriguez, a Latino Bond-like action man who possesses both a parachute and a grappling hook. This time Rodriguez is tasked with ridding the tropical paradise of Panau of its evil ruler and giving the island back to its people. Sadly, Avalanche has yet to give us a plot that is worth caring about, although it’s the over the top action that tells the real story.

First things first though, sunny Panau is the place where all this action takes centre stage, and this fictional, southeast Asian island sandbox is quite simply one of gaming’s greatest and most varied of environments. Like such a grand, sizeable island should do, Panau makes you feel small – seeing it from land, air and sea really does make you feel like a mere dust speck in this gigantic 400 mile world. The island of San Esperito in the original game may have been more green than anything else, although whilst Panau does have much greenery to be admired there’s also snow covered and desert land to explore. It really is such a beautiful, warm and welcoming environment that it would surely sell a few plane tickets and take pride of place on many postcards if it was based in reality.

Much has to be said about the visuals in giving you such a real sense of place: the blue skies, the fluffy white clouds, the clear ocean and the sandy beaches all collectively merge to make Panau a real gaming holiday. The explosions are perhaps less holiday-like, though they do look great in all their fiery orange glory and are constantly reminding you that this is no vacation.

Right, let’s get down to the action. Like I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Rico has both a parachute and a grappling hook, though it’s the latter that has seen the most improvement. Once a separate tool that had to be selected before it could be used, Just Cause 2’s is brought into play with a single button press and is always readily available. This time, though, the grappling hook can be connected to the environment to quickly zip yourself forward or for ascending parts of the island, it can also be used to hook two objects together (for example, if you get a vehicle stuck you could always resourcefully use another to tow it out), and, like before, it can still be connected to individual vehicles and used in tandem with the parachute. It’s like Bionic Commando in a true open world, and using the hook to pull enemies from a body breaking height, to hook them to vehicles and then drag them along at speed, lashing it like a whip, and hastily zipping from the ground to an airborne helicopter are just a few of its action film-like delights. All this may very well be enough to make Bond himself green with envy.

The game gives you a true sense of freedom given that you can plunge from the skies and survive without the smallest of scratches. The freefalling is exhilarating (seeing the contents of the ground grow in size as you get closer to it, really gives you a sense of scale) and opening the parachute or utilising the grappling hook to break your fall goes some way to making sure that Rico is one of gaming’s best action men.

And, like before, Rico can assume a stunt position on top of vehicles, in which you can shoot from and jump or grapple hook your way to another vehicle if you so wish. When you’re speeding along in a vehicle it’s also possible to leap out of it and open your parachute, all achieved through a single button press, now how’s that for user friendly action? Remaining with the action, the improvements to the shooting (superior death animations, upgradeable weapons and the dual wielding of any one handed guns) and the driving (certainly much more fun than GTA IV’s overly heavy driving mechanics) does immense good for this sequel. Firing guns and getting behind the wheel both felt rather average in the original game.

The structure is also something that makes or breaks a sandbox game, and here Just Cause 2 does things in a way that keeps things interesting. You have your Agency and your Faction missions (they’re largely uninspired, but to be fair it’ll be pretty difficult to come up with any truly fresh missions these days), the former being the tasks that sweep the story along and the latter are side tasks, of which completing them will provide you with chaos, a contribution to unlocking the next Agency mission. Chaos isn’t only earned from completing the faction missions, but also by other means: taking over enemy strongholds, sabotaging government property and finding health, weapon and vehicle upgrades. Nor is chaos exclusively there to unlock Agency missions, it’ll also unlock enemy strongholds that you can forcibly win (obviously not in a sweepstakes) for other factions, fresh faction missions, and new vehicles and weapons to purchase on the black market (done so by calling in the right man, who can also quickly whisk you from one location to another, as long as you have visited it before, which takes away the tedium of repeated long drives).

Panau is certainly more interesting than San Esperito in the amount of things that are possible; such a large playing area should not feel like empty and wasted space, and whilst Just Cause 2 has tons to do (perfectionists could be playing for a long time to come), perhaps the game would have benefitted from a few more entertaining real world activities other than racing – we have the land, sea and air that could have accommodated such things as skiing, skydiving and water sports. Let’s face it, even a super spy needs some time off from being shot at every now and again.

But in no way does this stop me from giving Just Cause 2 the thumbs up; it joins the likes of Bayonetta and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 as one of the classics of the first quarter of 2010. As a sequel, I can’t tell you how much improved it is over the disappointing original game – it’s superior in almost every possible way imaginable and was certainly well worth the lengthy wait. The end results are a very memorable and varied island sandbox alongside some slick, over the top action.