Avalanche, 2010
Video game review
Just Cause 2
Amazing graphics. Diverse environments. Thrilling gameplay. Campy storyline. Ninjas. The grappling hook. Asshole physics.
Frustrating camera controls.
No multiplayer.


It's a shame that this even has to be said, but this game is fun. Above all else, this game is an absolute blast—which is what we thought games were supposed to be about anyway. Regardless of the graphics, the storytelling, or anything else, this game is just an amazing good time.
Excellent graphicsExcellent graphics:

Who says there's nothing to be said for eye candy? Although the standards of graphic excellence are always moving forward, something about this game's graphical presentation really stands out. At the time this review was written, the graphics were top-notch, either in their class or in gaming altogether.

Something new is truly being brought to the table here. Although others may have had aspects of it before, this game is raising the bar by presenting an experience that is fundamentally novel in some way. In playing it, you should find yourself exposed to something you've never done before.

This game will be responsible for the "lost time" abductees are always going on about. It's the kind of thing where you start playing, and the next thing you know it's 5 in the morning and you have an important meeting in two hours. And yet... another few minutes couldn't hurt, could it?
Astronomical scopeAstronomical scope:

Nobody was thinking small when they designed this game. The attention to detail or the vast range of possibilities afforded when you're playing it will cause you at least once to step back and utter a Keanu-inspired "whoa". Somebody shot for the moon here, and more importantly they hit it.
One of the best games in its classOne of the best games in its class:

If you're looking for the acme of the genre, you need look no further. Even if the game isn't perfect, it's still the pinnacle of the style it represents. This is the Raymond Chandler of crime stories, the John Williams of musical composers, the Shakespeare of plays, the Collie.SU of reviewing websites.

In some way, this game is unique, and in this case it's a positive trait. It may be that the game is a real-time strategy game set in Viet Nam, or perhaps a first-person shooter based on the Roman Empire, or an absolutely detailed simulation of the shuttle orbiter. Whatever the case, something about this game is different from others in the genre.
Conspicuously absent multiplayerConspicuously absent multiplayer:

Not every game needs multiplayer (look at Galactic Civilizations) but this is one that probably should've done much better than it has in this regard. Either this is a game where multiplayer is completely absent, or one in which it should have been much better--either way, this mark signifies a case where the multiplayer failings substantially detract from the game.

Just Cause 2 is a game where you jump out of a helicopter and surf down on some dude's body, and then you grapple onto a different helicopter, throw the pilot out, cut down a bunch of bad guys with the helicopter's gatling guns, jump out of the helicopter to rescue someone, perch on a car roof, shoot pursuers with a machine gun, and grapple their vehicles to a bridge so that their own momentum flings them out into the ocean.

It is a game where you do this in the tutorial.

Less a game than an interactive 1980s action movie, Just Cause 2 is one of the greatest first person shooters of all time, with so few niggles they might reasonably be said not to exist at all. You play the part of a CIA (sorry, "Agency") operative sent to destabilise a corrupt south-east Asian country by blowing shit up. In case you missed that, this means your only job is to blow shit up. You get "chaos" points for doing this, and the plot progresses based on how many chaos points you have acquired.

Theoretically, you can pick up firearms, grenades, rocket launchers, and explosives to help you do this, but your character ("Rico") is really armed with two things:

A grappling hook
An unlimited supply of parachutes

There are a lot of vehicles that you can steal, of course, but you'll find that your primary way of getting around involves firing your grappling hook, pulling yourself towards something, and then inflating your parachute to pull yourself off the ground, repeating this process to stay aloft through the magic of your insanely powerful grappling hook.

The grappling hook also features strongly in the game's well-developed "asshole physics" platform. You can use it to pull yourself along or to reach tall buildings, but that's only the start of it. You can also use it to grab enemy soldiers and, say, pull them to you, shooting them out of the air. Or you can use it to pin them to a wall. Or to each other. You can grapple vehicles, too, such as in my earlier example of grappling a moving car to the pavement so that, when the line goes taut, it flips itself over. Or off a bridge. Once, being pursued by a helicopter I didn't have the firepower to take on, I grappled the helicopter to a building and then ran around the corner, so that when the helicopter came to pursue me it swung itself into a skyscraper. Another time, in a similar situation, I grappled the helicopter to a garbage truck, and then drove the truck off a cliff, pulling the helicopter down with it.

(as an aside: the game, already exceptional, becomes unbeatably fun with the "Bolopatch" mod, which gives you an unlimited supply of grapples (normally you can only have one active at a time) and makes them much stronger)

To clarify. In Just Cause 2, you can:

Grapple a 737 to the runway, so that it takes off, and then is anchored to the ground on a long leash, spinning in an endless circle
Grapple a tank to a 737, flying behind it and shooting wildly at things on the ground
Leap from a speeding sports car onto an adjacent motorcycle
Fight ninjas
Hijack a military helicopter by punching the pilot out of it
Take off from a brothel suspended from two blimps several kilometres off the ground
Shoot the blades off a wind turbine
BASE jump off the world's tallest skyscraper
Jump between ICBMs in flight so that you can save the free world

It's based around a central gimmick: causing chaos and having a grappling hook. I was worried at first that this would get old, but after playing the game for about twenty hours over the last couple of months, and completing the campaign, I'm happy to say that it doesn't. So the gameplay is pretty solid—a kind of open-ended, do-what-you-want playing style that Far Cry 2 and Grand Theft Auto circled around without ever being able to hit. But what about the rest of it?

To begin with, the graphics are absolutely astonishing. The nation of Panau is spread across several islands, incorporating everything from high, snow-capped peaks to deserts to insanely lush jungles. The water is beautifully tropical. The cities are bright, almost Mirror's Edge in their clean, white lines. Even without considering its scope, Just Cause 2 is one of the prettiest games I've ever seen. It's less showy than Crysis, but worlds more compelling.

The artificial intelligence is nothing special, and because all you ever really see are civilians and random mooks (setting aside the ninjas, of course) perhaps it doesn't have to be. They never come across as glaringly stupid, but they don't really put up an especially good fight. I'm not sure they're meant to; really, they're mostly scenery—there to cause a rocket trail to fly towards you so that you can do a quick dodge away, or for a laser beam to sweep across the sky from a sniper rifle somewhere.

People have mixed opinions on the voice acting, which is not to say the acting itself is mixed. The acting is terrible, overwrought and delicious. It chows down on the scenery like no tomorrow, and like your favourite campy movies, you have to imagine the voice talent had at least a wry grin on their face throughout. Your mileage may vary, of course.

What I like best about Just Cause 2 is that it is a sandbox game with all of the good things about sandboxes and none of the bad. In my review of Far Cry 2, I talked about some of the problems with sandboxes, with their insane focus on completion and their uneasy relationship between "being wide open" and "making you traipse through all this wide open bullshit". Just Cause 2 handily averts this.

For instance, there are boxes scattered around that you can collect and use to upgrade your weapons, vehicles, and body armour. The game makes it relatively easy to find these, with a GPS locator like Far Cry 2 that nonetheless works much better. However, since there's no idiotic weapons degradation system, and ammo is easy to come by, you don't really need to collect these things, and they tend to come up naturally, without you having to track them down. This averts the Far Cry problem of needing to range far and wide in order to get enough diamonds to keep your sniper rifle from suddenly decaying: in Just Cause 2, you find them more or less organically, so that as you go through the game your weapons and body armour just slowly become more powerful. It's a logical progression.

Similarly, although Just Cause 2 has one of the largest video game worlds ever, you don't spend hours driving around between locations like you do in Far Cry 2. For one, mission objectives tend to be fairly close to one another. For two, though, between missions you can call in a helicopter to extract you within a few seconds to anywhere else on the island. It's a wonderful system, and Far Cry should've had it.

There are side quests, but you don't have to do all of them. There are things to find, but you don't have to if you don't want (apparently, the most strenuous achievement only requires 75% completion). There are races, but if you find them frustrating, you don't have to do them at all. There are new things to discover (I was still coming across new towns even as I finished the game) but you're never forced into scrutinising the map to discover them. It is, in effect, a game that makes itself as in-depth, as challenging, and as fun as you happen to want it to be at that time.

There are only two real downsides, and in the interest of fairness I'll point them out.

One, Just Cause 2, although it cries out for the ability to just dick around with your friends, has no multiplayer. There are community efforts to try to jerry-rig something together, but the buzz around those is from April, so maybe that never really went anywhere.

Two, the camera controls can be somewhat frustrating. In particular, they can seem extremely sensitive, and they rock back and forth with your own movement, so trying to grapple your next target as you're wobbling in your parachute can be a maddening exercise in precision. Granted, this only really applies when you're, for instance, trying to grapple a motorcycle to a passing airliner, but in fairness this is something I do often, and I feel compelled to note that it can be irritating as all hell.

This being said, Just Cause 2 is, simply, one of the best video games I've ever played, on any system, at any time. It is amazing and you should buy it. If you're on the PC, get bolopatch (if you get the game through Steam this can be awkward because it no longer works with the most recent patch, but there are googlable options available to you for fixing that). Bolopatch makes the game much better. If you're on a console, you're SOL, but I think the game is so good enough on its own merits as to make its purchase a no-brainer.

And now, off to grapple a sampan to a Harrier.
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