Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just Cause 2

If the first Just Cause was a dry run for testing out ideas on what an open world game about causing a revolution in a small exotic country might be, its sequel is definitely the full realization of those concepts. It's also sort of the game Mercenaries 2: World in Flames should have been; it doesn't have some of that game's best assets, like its co-op, its arsenal of hugely explosive airstrikes, and its strong motivation for the lead character, but it does execute on its central premise a lot better. It's a huge game, one that will still have things you haven't done long after you've lost interesting in doing them, but well worth the many hours it will take to reach the point.

Just Cause 2 is all about destruction and creating chaos. In fact, the main currency in the game is actually called "chaos". Building up your chaos meter can be done in several ways, mostly involving making various objects in the world explore. The simplest way to increase chaos is to complete side missions for three different armed factions that inhabit the country of Panau, which range from fairly simple tasks like assassinating a certain official to more elaborate jobs involving a lot more firepower. The game missed an opportunity by never having the factions interact, despite a lot of your actions generally working to expand their various territories. Their beefs all seem to be with Panau's government though and not each other, so you can do whatever you like without worrying that it will bother them. Gaining chaos unlocks further missions for the factions, weapons and vehicles that you can buy and upgrade from the black market, and most importantly, gives you access to agency missions, which progress the story.

If course, that "importantly" is up for debate. The story itself is mostly inconsequential, consisting of a lot of national stereotypes yelling at each other and trying to take over the country. You're really only the good guys because the player is usually the good guy in games like this. I didn't even realize that you were playing the same character as in the first game until I met another character that I recognized, which shows of how little significance the plot is. I think you can ignore the story completely if you want, as the entire archipelago that the country consists of is unlocked from the start, and there's nothing really blocking you from doing what you want. Most things you do will earn you money as well as chaos, but it's kind of a laughable commodity, as there was almost never a situation where I felt the need to pay for a specific weapon or vehicle when so many are just there for the taking.

You can run, jump shoot, throw explosives, and control a huge variety of vehicles, all of which are pretty fun. The key to the gameplay is the grappling hook, though, which lets you winch two objects together for whatever reason you can dream up, as well as zip yourself quickly across the world, cling to walls and ceilings, and even fall from any distance without taking damage. Combine it with your backpack which has an infinite supply of parachutes, and the freedom of movement you have in the game is immense. It helps make up for the fact that your arsenal never gets much more impressive than it is in the beginning. It's fun just to use the two items to fling yourself around the country, stumble upon a military base you've never seen before, and just lay waste to the delicate equipment and soldiers inside with the agility of an Hispanic Batman. It does seem a bit limiting when you can only blow up things the game wants you to blow up, like tanks full of gas, water towers, oil pipelines, and construction cranes. But there's just so many of them that it's rare to go too long without seeing something you can destroy. The problem with the game's scope is that it might actually be too vast, as I found myself frequently skipping to new locations using the extraction feature rather than traveling myself, because unless you have a plane or a helicopter, the distance between significant locations can be prohibitive.

The game is very impressive technically, never stopping to load an area, and having a nice level of detail on all the objects despite their being hundreds of them in any direction you look. The geographical diversity of this small cluster of islands is pretty incredible, and all the different environments look really nice. I starting having some slowdown and hangups with the frame rate when I was getting closer to the end of my time with the game, but they never seriously affected gameplay. Reflecting on some aspects of the game, there were definitely issues. Voice acting was generally bad and repetitive, too much of the optional content like the race challenges and tracking down hundreds of meaningless collectibles just wasn't interesting, and fighting off enemy guards and soldiers never felt like more than a distraction from blowing up everything in sight. The game really took a dive in quality whenever you were tasked with fighting a particularly tough bad guy rather than something that played to its strengths. Still, it featured over fifty unique missions that ranged from decent to pretty damn fun, which is a lot more than the first game can say, and experimenting with the grappling hook and your other gear never stopped being enjoyable. The good parts are definitely worth the small design issues.

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