Avalanche Studios are back with another serving of Rico Rodriguez and this time he parachutes and blows shit up in the island nation of Panau.
The explosive charge has just been set and blinks discretely on top of the rocket. This launch is about to get cancelled. Enemy bullets are flying around my hard and I make a death defying leap straight into the air. The parachute opens up and pull the trigger and hear a satisfyingly loud explosion behind me (remember, cool guys don't look). Mission... not accomplished? The Ular Boys have another hidden rocket, that has just taken off. I hijack a nearby fighter and blow up the rocket just before it leaves the atmosphere. I smile triumphantly as I hear the cheers on the radio. I notice the hovering night club "Mile High Club" and with my grappling hook I tie up a male stripper and a security guard. The smile widens.
Out of chaos comes order. The Swedish developer Avalanche Studios, where hit by the harsh realities of the financial situation just over a year ago and had to trim down their organisation. Other projects were cancelled and all effort was put into their remaining project - the sequel to Just Cause. The project was delayed, and finally time has come for Rico to touch down and it was certainly worth the wait.
Rico Rodriguez, a parachuting, gun loving, stunt expert is back and in terrific shape for the sequel. He has an enormous new island to explore, the island nation of Panau, a fictive state somewhere in Southeast Asia. The dictator Baby Panay needs to be ejected from his seat, and your old handler Tom Sheldon has to be confronted. Three factions need pampering, and chaos must reign.
What Avalanche aimed for, and achieved with Just Cause 2 is the well-worn phrase that PR people in the gaming industry love to talk about: freedom. Freedom to do what you want, freedom to do it any way you want to and the freedom to kamikaze a tour bus in a petrol station just cause you feel like it! In action games of this nature, I tend to skip to the main missions and ignore the side tracks, but Just Cause 2 is different in this regard. It is actually fun and satisfying to stop and smell the roses, and then blow them to hell.
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On several occasions, just when I started to feel bored of running around Panau with Rico, new opportunities emerge. When I find the island of Pulau Berapi which is crammed with silos and pipelines I set explosive charges just about everywhere. I love to blow stuff up and I set off explosive chain reactions, but after a while I grow a bit bored and the poor after spending way too much cash on explosives. I'm thinking about pulling out when shots from a helicopter starts to close in on me. I make a dash towards the sea in order to escape. But wait just a second I though to myself. Problem or opportunity? I turn around and rush towards the attacking helicopter, grapple on to it. One pilot thrown out later, I'm equipped with rockets and a minigun and start to blow up the rest of the island. Sweet chaos.
After an intense mission it is a beautiful contrast to just parachute away and only hear the wind, fluttering from the screen and a few notes quiet guitar music. In those moments you're only concern is the mesmerising view and you're not in a hurry to do the next mission. And this is when Just Cause 2 is at its best.
Blown up silos, and other acts of destruction is measured in Chaos, that comes with its own meter in Just Cause 2. Blow up an exploding barrel and gain 10 Chaos points. A military base, a few thousand points. When the Chaos meter climbs high enough, several things happen; the influence of the three factions increase, the government grows weaker, and new agent missions open up. This system encourages you to explore Panau and blow things up in order to advance. You can also create civil disobedience by ripping off the heads of statues. All of this helps promoting the sense that you're reckless trouble maker who happened upon the ultimate playground.
Panau is enormous with its 600 square kilometres, and I long to find out how long it would take to walk across the entire game surface with Rico. I don't really have the patience to do it myself, but I'm sure someone will. The world is way more populated and denser than in the first game and in between the major missions there is always lots to keep you occupied. Radio towers to blow up, generals to take care of, and vehicular challenges where you for instance take on check point races with fighter planes.
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Your grappling hook, has deservingly been given a lot of attention in the build up towards the release of the game. It is absolutely vital for simple transportation or acrobatic stunts. When used in combat it provides lots of laughs. One example is that you can shoot a propane tank, hook on to it, and reel in to go on a short rocket ride. You can also use your grappling hook on two objects, such as two enemies for a hilarious rubber band effect, or an enemy on to a helicopter for an even more entertaining sight. This experimentation can take up a lot of your time and I tend to believe the developers when they say that they have been playing around a lot with the grappling hook during development.
When weapon supplies are short Rico can call upon a representative of the black market, who arrives within moments. An explosive version of the ice cream truck if you will, that allows you to buy and upgrade weapons, acquire new vehicles, and it can also give you a ride to locations you have already visited on Panau. Practical, even if shopping for basic essentials such as hand grenades is a bit time consuming, as a box of the items you purchase has to be thrown out of the helicopter with a bit of loading time for good measure. It is only a slight minus that is compensated by the accessibility.
There are several new weapons in Just Cause 2, including a mounted mini gun you can grab, grenade launchers, and the timed explosives I mentioned in the opening paragraph. I miss a certain sense of weight to the guns and the foot soldiers do come across as nothing more than cannon fodder, but it is merely an after effect of just having flown helicopters and jets a minute ago and the constant explosions.
Panau is a rather pretty, but graphically it has its highs and lows, and Just Cause 2 does not come across as the crispest of action titles. The reason for this is of course the expansive game world that you can traverse without loading times. Rico is surrounded by a lot of motion blur, and some rather extreme lighting effects have been added to cover it up. The cut scenes are also rather dull at times. However, the drawing distance is just as in the first game top notch and you are going to enjoy a spectacular view whenever you make a base jump.
I truly enjoyed my time with Just Cause 2. It does not have a moving story, frenetic online mode, and the prettiest graphics. But it comes packed with entertaining gameplay. As far as I'm concerned Rico's exploring, and roof jumping is up there with Ezio, Nathan Spencer and any Crackdown agent. Panau is the perfect playground and Avalanche have closed the circle: out of order comes chaos. Enjoyable chaos.
8 / 10
Lots to do, great variation, awesome stunts, wonderful sense of freedom, charming world, nice explosions.
At times ugly graphics, mediocre story, some boring missions.