You have never played a game this big. In terms of scale, everything out there falls easily to the wayside when compared to Just Cause 2. The setting here is Panau – a series of sprawling islands under a strict dictatorship. Tom Sheldon – a secret service guy with a penchant for barbecue - has gone rogue and it’s up to his former colleague, Rico Rodriguez (you), to track him down in this ridiculously over the top shooter.
Tracking one guy down in an area this size is no small feat. The islands of Panau are big, the official blurb puts it at 400 square miles (about the size of Hong Kong and just a bit bigger than Just Cause 1). Fortunately you can enlist some help. There are three rival gangs on the island – each fighting for control against each other and the state. They have information on Sheldon and are more than willing to share it with you, so long as you help them out of course.
Missions for each gang are dotted around the islands and you can spend as much time travelling to start them as you will actually doing them. The area of Panau is vast but most importantly it’s both varied and filled; half an hour of play can see you on top of staggering, snow topped and vertigo inducing mountains; barren, dune filled deserts; thick jungle, too densely populated with trees to even consider getting a car though; and cities with huge sky scrapers, only dwarfed by those mountains in the distance. There are fishing villages, power plants, airports, military installations, casinos, everything.
And while each mission is different (mostly anyway) they all lead to a common goal: Explode everything. Your overall target is to simply cause chaos in order to flush Sheldon out, and in this instance Chaos a tangible value – you literally collect Chaos Points as you blow stuff up and complete missions. It makes perfect sense really; why have an open world full of stuff to explode and prone to causing wanton chaos in, then not make a game about doing just that? Just Cause revels in it with missions offering huge structures to massively vandalise for the common good. But it’s not the missions that make this experience so compelling.
Rico has four main features: he can take some serious punishment before actually dying; he has an infinitely re-deployable parachute; he can balance on top of any moving vehicle indefinitely; and he has a grappling hook. Mix this in with a huge open world and you get the most possible fun travelling from A to B. Once I drove a car off a cliff only to jump out, deploy my parachute and head towards an airfield. When I was above it I grappled onto a Jet that was taking off and surfed it into the sky before taking it over, then used it to bomb around the islands.
I’ve base jumped from the top of Casinos. I’ve surfed a Jumbo Jet downwards from the highest altitude it could reach before throwing myself off seconds before it crashed into the sea. I’ve jumped out of helicopters only to grapple onto and hijack a different attacking helicopter. It’s ridiculous and it’s constant. Opportunity for these Bond-esque stunts are rarely more than a minute away, and all the encouragement you ever need is seeing something big in the distance. Your imagination lights up.
That Grappling hook, I might have glossed over it a bit. It speeds up the entire game. You can grapple onto pretty much anything solid and Rico will be catapulted towards it then cling on when he gets there. It means you can easily scale buildings. It means you can launch yourself onto passing cars, helicopters, jets. It means you can yank guards from behind cover. It’s instant acceleration enabling you to hop over what would be impossible obstacles for lesser, Grappling Hookless, beings. Also, you can use it to tether two things together. If you hold the ‘grapple’ button after firing at one thing, you can fire it at another target and they are attached.
Pressurised gas canisters to Guards. Guards to Cars. Cars to Helicopters. Helicopters to Jets. Jets to Jumbo Jets. Endless ‘what about x to y’ scenarios present themselves and it’s a complete joy to experiment with. Just now, writing that list, ‘what about petrol station to speeding car’ has popped into being and it’s taking everything I have to not go and try it. It’s just one more thing that’s adding pure, ridiculous fun to Just Cause and for the most part it’s an incidental detail – you very rarely need to attach things to each other to do what you need to do, you just can. And you should.
Any complaints with Just Cause 2 come when it abandons what it is and tries to be a shooter, which is something it does far too often. Too many missions fall into the trap of ‘infiltrate this base’ which means using guns, and they are boring. They lack feedback, noise, originality. The biggest machinegun (apart from the special miniguns you find from time to time) feels no different to the sub-machine gun you start off with. And aiming is shoddy at best – there is some sort of auto-aim built in and on a few occasions it will have you locked onto a guards torso when you are trying to aim for his head or that enticing explosive barrel behind him. And mindlessly working through a base isn’t what you want to be doing anyway – not when you can be ripping through roads, stealing helicopters and diving off buildings.
If you go into Just Cause expecting an emotional involvement, a twisting narrative, characterisation, or you know – any of that plot stuff, you are going to be grossly disappointed. But it’s a non-issue. Just cause 2 is what it is – ridiculous, and by no means is this a bad thing. It’s a game with infinite parachutes, grappling hooks, and explosives. It’s Bond, Mission Impossible, and Die Hard, all mashed together then sprinkled with even more explosions and far fetched action; and if that doesn’t appeal to some side of you then I put to you this: I don’t think you have a soul or like games.