Whether you’re wandering by foot across the mountainous terrains of the South East Asian island of Panau with peaks that overlook miles of lush jungle-lands and white sandy beaches, or sky-diving through the air landing in the crystal clear waters 10,000 feet below before swimming under the sun-drenched sky to a remote tropical island, playing Just Cause 2 feels a little like you’ve struck lucky and won an adventure holiday of a life-time.
A quick search on YouTube for gameplay footage uploaded by gamers taking advantage of the excellent PS3 exclusive video capture feature will show you that some are even treating the various terrains of Panau Island as if they were on an extreme sports vacation. You’ll see daredevil motorbike stunts over canyons with riders jumping off their vehicles and releasing their parachutes at the very last moment, alongside speedboat stunts, helicopter hijacking and all sorts of crazy stuff that isn’t actually anything to do with missions and side objectives. The freedom and sheer variety in Just Cause 2 gives you that flexibility to be creative; and it would be rude not to take advantage of one of the biggest open-world action adventures of all time and stray off the beaten path to enjoy some of the remarkable scenery and secrets that the island holds.
The sheer volume of missions, side objectives and unlockables is incredible, compounded by the fact that the huge area is full of hidden Easter Eggs to discover, such as a fake shark that you can ride across the water, or a hot air balloon that you can commandeer. Stray away from the main narrative and you’ll find a wealth of other stuff to enjoy, simply searching for the island that has been modelled on the one from LOST is an entertaining and time-consuming diversion. In terms of value for money, Just Cause 2 certainly gives you bang for your buck, not least from the impressively large game world that benefits immensely from huge draw distances and beautifully crafted scenery that really makes you feel at home on the island.
With 1,000 sq km to explore it’s easy to go off the beaten track and forget totally about the storyline and what you’re supposed to be doing. That isn’t always a bad thing. The story in Just Cause 2 gets totally swallowed up by the explosive action and the million and one other things you’ll get involved in besides carrying out your primary mission. Playing as Rico Rodriguez from the last game, you’re sent to the island in the midst of a civil war where warring factions and the government are fighting for control of the island. All you need to know, however, is that you’ll be carrying out all kinds of explosive tasks from wading into enemy strongholds Rambo-style to cause utter carnage and chaos, to blowing stuff up for the pure hell of it. This is where the new ‘Chaos meter’ comes into play.
The ‘Chaos’ meter does a great job at enticing you into being creative with your weaponry and liberal with your ammunition. Throughout the game, before you even get stuck right into the missions and side objectives, you’re awarded with points for destroying anything in your path. The more destruction you cause, the more points you get which then gives you access to more vehicles, weapons and side missions. The beauty and serenity that you find on the island is in stark contrast to the chaos and destruction that you can cause; and it’s a balance that really works. There’s something completely addictive about sending a row of gas cylinders snaking into the clear blue skies or jumping into a vehicle and sending it careering toward a petrol station before leaping out at the last minute, standing back, and watching it all go up in flames.
With all of this freedom given to you to just go out and blow stuff up, or explore the masses of well-filled space out there, taking part in the missions can feel suffocating in comparison. Nevertheless, Avalanche Studios hasn’t let its foot of the gas in terms of providing plenty of variety, excitement and over-the-top action. You’ll skip from timed events, such as having to diffuse bombs before they explode by stunt jumping from one vehicle to the next, to attacking a government stronghold killing any enemies that stand in your way. You also get the opportunity to side with one of the three factions on the island (Reapers, Ular Boys and the Roaches) against the government to carry out missions on their behalf. It’s a great way to grow your influence on the island and rack up a lot of chaos points in the process. It does feel like the developer has deliberately tried to blend a wide variety of vehicle and combat-based missions to give you an all-round experience, but if you do stick rigidly to the main missions you’ll only experience a tiny part of what Just Cause 2 is really all about.
Combat obviously plays a large part in the campaign and it switches from being extremely entertaining to dreadfully dull. The targeting system is all over the place at times. One minute you’ll be effortlessly spraying bullets into dozens of enemies and the next you’ll be missing simple headshots with a pistol even though you know that your target should definitely be dead. Though there are a lot of weapons to find and unlock, we found that being creative with your killing methods is the most enjoyable way to fight the enemy. Using the grappling hook is great fun, specifically the dual hook, and bringing two enemies flying toward you never gets boring. Similarly, using rocket launchers, grenades or the explosive environment around you to create chaos is very entertaining. The beauty of combat is that you’re free to tackle the enemy in a dozen different ways and are really only limited to your own creativity. Instead of just piling in run and gun, for example, you might want to hijack a helicopter, fly over an enemy stronghold, jump out with your parachute and give them a nice surprise from above by firing a rocket launcher toward a group of explosive barrels. Kaboom!
The grapple hook isn’t just a useful gadget in combat but it’s also fantastic for exploring and creating stunts. It’s been brilliantly implemented and you’ll soon be moving effortlessly from one vehicle to the next, grabbing enemies off passing motorbikes, latching onto helicopters, and generally moving the environment in a free-flowing manner and pulling off some amazing stunts. Using vehicles is fun but if you were to compare their handling to the likes of those in GTA IV you’ll soon realise that things could have been better. Still, flying a helicopter to a remote island, or taking a motorbike ride across a snowy peak is an absolute joy due to the stunning scenery. The beautiful locations actually serve as a great distraction to the fact that vehicle handling could have been a little more refined.
When a game world is this big there’s bound to be imperfections, and Just Cause 2 does have them. Technically glitches that see Rico disappear half-way through a rock or the occasional frame-rate issue causes a temporary hiccup, but in the grand scheme of things it hardly matters. The size of the island can also be frustrating if you’re following the main missions. You often have to trek for miles to reach an objective and when you get there the reward for completing it often doesn’t match the effort that it took just to get there, never mind the frenetic battle it takes to dispatch some tough A.I.
We don’t think Just Cause 2 is really about the main campaign though, it’s not what people are going to be talking about. In our experience it’s about being in the world, doing our own thing and blowing stuff up – simple as that. It’s a game to lose yourself in, forget about what you’re supposed to be doing and just to explore and experiment. The Avalanche Engine 2.0 is a remarkable beast and Panau Island is a place that deserves to be explored by the masses.