Just Cause 2 Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 23, 2010

Just Cause 2 gives you free reign over an insanely massive landscape and lets you engage in one outrageous action sequence after another as you attempt to overthrow a corrupt government. But does it overcome the issues of its predecessor and reach that upper echelon of truly great open-world games?

The Pros
  • An incomprehensibly expansive game world
  • Hundreds of varied missions and locations
  • Grapple + parachute = one of the coolest game mechanics ever
The Cons
  • Generic and forgettable story
  • Factions are indistinguishable
  • Poor vehicle handling

In Just Cause 2, Avalanche Studios has created one of the most expansive sandbox worlds seen thus far in a video game. Base-jumping from the top of a snowcapped mountain and gliding to rest on a sunny beach is something that truly needs to be seen to be believed. Sadly, the war-torn nation of Panau doesn’t receive the kind of narrative support that makes other open-world games like Grand Theft Auto more than just a giant tech demo. You’ll have fun for sure, but in the end, you’ll most likely be left wondering what it was all for.

Just Cause 2

Jumping Off Point

The story of Just Cause 2, like its predecessor, is as generic and forgettable as they come. Series protagonist Rico Rodriguez returns to action after his boss, Tom Sheldon, goes rogue somewhere on the fictional island nation of Panau in Southeast Asia. An evil dictator named Pandak Panay (think Kim Jong-ill without the style) has taken control of the country, and is being threatened by three warring factions: the Roaches, the Ular Boys and the Reapers. While each faction has its own reason for wanting to bring down Panay’s oppressive regime, in practice, all three adhere to the exact same strategies when it comes to putting those anti-government ideologies into practice.

Considering how much of the game is spent in the employ of these factions (there are only seven story missions, every other one is faction-related), it ’d be great if each one had a distinct mission type. While the missions themselves are somewhat varied, it’s easy to forget who you are working for at any given time, because after a while, it all starts blending together. Even something as simple as “Group X favors theft missions, Group Y likes to blow stuff up and Group Z likes to overthrown military bases” would work, because it would distinguish your assignments and give each group its own tactical identity.

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However, what the missions lack in uniqueness they make up for in quantity, as there are hundreds of them to undertake, and even more locations to discover, each one with various items and acts of chaos to complete. Chaos is what drives the story forward, so blowing up government installations (tankers, radar dishes, gas stations, etc.) raises the chaos meter, and once it’s high enough, an agency mission unlocks. There are only seven story missions in the game, but it takes around 90,000 chaos points or so to unlock them, so the majority of your time (in my case just over 15 hours) will be spent doing faction missions and wreaking generalized havoc. I played through it fairly linearly, and by the end of the game I had unlocked 28 percent of the overall game. So there’s no shortage of side content to take in.

The Truth is in the Grapple

Yes, unfortunately, the story and characters in Just Cause 2 are forgettable and bland. However, the game delivers in the one area that it matters most, the gameplay. The action is over-the-top and out of control in every way imaginable, and it makes for exceptional fun. And while you have access to all manner of weaponry and rocket mounted helicopters, the real stars of the show are the grapple hook and parachute. The grapple hook behaves much like what you might’ve seen in Batman: Arkham Asylum, only instead of attaching to gargoyles and specific ledges, you can attach to any surface in the game (airplanes, trees, boxes, etct.). It can also be used to tether enemies to combustible canisters, attach cars to the road, or pull yourself to helicopters, which you can then hijack. But in the heat of battle, it’s not the most practical weapon.

Just Cause 2

When used in tandem with your parachute, the grapple hook offers you a quick and effective vehicle for traversing the expansive game map. Why drive around a mountain when you can just grapple/parachute your way up and over it? In fact, the combination is so effective that once you get the hang of it, you’ll most likely avoid using terrestrial vehicles altogether. Helping with this decision is the fact that the vehicle handling is across-the-board terrible, thanks in large part to the slight delay between button input and onscreen action, which makes driving and flying one big exercise in overcompensation.

Thankfully, the grapple/parachute is one of the coolest game mechanics seen in some time, and it adds a wonderfully unique layer to the otherwise straightforward gunplay. There’s an adjustment period, but a good chunk of the beginning of the game is spent using it almost exclusively, since you don’t unlock the ability to fast travel to locations until a few hours into the game -- maybe longer, depending on how much time you spend off the beaten path. Fast travel is definitely necessary in a game this large, but you can only use it to travel to places you’ve already discovered. So even after you unlock the option to fast travel, you’ll still find yourself trekking for several minutes just to get to your desired destination.

Just Cause 2

I Wanna… I Wanna Big One!

At first glance, the grapple/parachute and the stunt-focused gameplay are the strongest points of Just Cause 2, but that’s doing a disservice to the real marquee act of this game, Panau itself. It’s easily the biggest game world I’ve ever encountered, and that’s not just longitudinally. Standing atop the game’s highest mountain peak and gazing down at the sprawling landscape beneath is jaw dropping. I actually timed it, and it took six and a half minutes in one of the game’s fastest planes to fly from one side of the map to the other (around 37 kilometers, or 23 miles). It’s a staggering achievement, and affords players with a virtually limitless playground for mayhem. From sunny beaches, to blistering hot deserts to frozen mountain peaks, Panau is an absolute stunner from top to bottom.

A Pretty Just Cause

Just Cause 2 manages to deliver high-octant thrills and spills on a mind-blowing scale. It won’t be remembered for its contributions to great storytelling, the vehicle controls are a bit unruly, and the factions tend to blend into each other, but in the balls-out action department, it does its job and does it well. It also introduces us to the real transportation method of the future: a grappling hook and parachute. What’s an electric car again?