Friday, May 28, 2010

Just Cause 2 : For The Glory of Panau

I'm still very busy, but I've got to take a few minutes to write about Just Cause 2, a game that I've been playing so much of for the last two months, logging over 120 hours of in-game time and still only reaching a mere 75% completion mark on my main playthrough.

Last year I thoroughly enjoyed the first Just Cause game on my XBox 360, in spite of some repetetive gameplay and a short story mode. Just Cause 2 is a much improved sequel, sporting amazing graphics, tight gameplay, and unquestionably the largest and most amazing open world I've ever seen. The island nation of Panau is truly a gamer's paradise and the greatest electronic playground I've had the joy to explore.

The islands sport beaches, cities, villages, airports, and military bases, and terrain that varies from snowy mountain peaks to dusty deserts. There's a major highway around the main island with exit ramps and gorgeous bridges spanning long stretches between islands. There are dusty roads leading to old ruins, immense fortresses and frozen lakes, and so much more overall variety in sights to see compared to the first game.

The action on the ground is amazing, too, with main character Rico returning with an improved grapple hook. The combination of the grapple hook and parachute are so well integrated that once the player masters their use, it almost feels like one is playing a superhero game. Gunplay is tight and not too hard even on the hardcore setting, but there is no cover button, so cover must be found and utilized naturally.

Different this time in combat is the lack of enemy tanks firing upon the player as they try to take a military base, which was quite a challenge in the first game. Helicopter gunships will fly in and blast the player, but it's really easy most of the time to just grapple up and take over the chopper. There are enemies with rocket launchers and sniper rifles that can do some damage, but I found myself actually missing the one-shot-insta-kill tanks of the first Just Cause. Guess I'm weird.

The vehicles range from scooters to passenger jets, and each of them control so well that it made me a little embarrassed for the designers of other such games I've played (I'm looking at you Rockstar Games). The aforementioned grapple hook can now be used to grapple things two things, so towing a giant statue head with a tank is just another day in Panau for Rico.

Once again, the main story is painfully short, and the cinematics are nowhere near the standards of most other games out today. There are really only seven "Agency", or main story missions, and the first and last two are concurrent. Players must "cause" a lot of chaos to unlock the progression of these missions and finish the game, which in both of my playthroughs I did with only 28% of the whole game being completed. That means that over two-thirds of the game can be ignored to just beat it if that's what one wants.

I don't recommend just skimming it that way, though. There are 49 faction missions which offer some great variety as well as funny mission names (my favorite was "River Runs Red", a reference to a great Midnight Oil song). There are also scores of racing challenges for planes, cars, boats, and even skydiving, all checkpoint-based and fun to try.

More importantly, Panau is in the humble opinion of this gamer, the greatest videogame playground ever crafted. Each time one tries to take control of a small town can end up being an unpredictably wild adventure, so the best thing I can really say about Just Cause 2 is that the action is done so well that the designers didn't really need to put a thick layer of story on it just to motivate the player to enjoy it. I find myself returning to Panau again and again - "just cause" it's still fun.