Developer: Avalanche Studios / Publisher: Square Enix / ESRB: Mature (Blood, Drug Reference, Language, Sexual Themes, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $39.99
Hello and welcome to the video game review, my name is Turtle and today I am talking about Just Cause 2 on the Xbox 360.
While three violent gangs wage war on the semi-tropical island of Panau, Pandak “Baby” Panay sits back as the ruthless dictator of the island. It is up to Rico Rodriguez to not only take him down but to locate Tom Sheldon, a U.S. Government agent who has gone rogue after stealing millions in dollars along with some of the government’s best kept secrets. Base jumping, vehicle hijacking, and all around destruction is encouraged in order to gain the attention of those who have the information you are looking for. Do you have cojones to take down a dictator and a rogue agent or will you fall flat on your face?
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Just Cause 2 is a sandbox style game built with the open-world Avalanche 2.0 engine. Sequels always need to raise the bar from their previous iteration, and Just Cause 2 has added several notable new features. The standout is the dual-grappling hook that not only provides swift (if limited range) movement around the hills and buildings of this island, but is also the source of the game’s finest action sequences. You can attach one end of the grapple to a car or gas canister and the other end to a person. Hilarity ensues. A second feature is the reusable parachute. At any point when you are skydiving or hooking your way onto a car or building, you can deploy your parachute at any moment to time attacks or avoid danger. The PlayStation 3 version includes video capture capabilities that allow you to upload your spectacular death-defying leaps or crazy car heists straight to YouTube.
New features aside, the story in Just Cause is quite similar to the first one. Track down an evil dictator and take him down, and locate the rogue agent. Nothing special. Bold, Lost-like locations breathe fresh life into a format that showed promise in the original game but takes more formulated shape here. A 400-mile wide island with over 300 locations to discover, and 100-plus vehicles all open for hijacking forms the playing field for acts of great bravado. The problem with the vast scale is when you’re learning the fairly complex controls it’s easy to parachute into the middle of the jungle, miles from your destination, and have to trek large distances to your next objective. That gets old really fast. While the vehicles accelerate your progress, such a slog, even through the impressive jungle undergrowth, is not much fun. Sure, hijacking a plane or purchasing aerial transport through the black market provides a fast-track option across these vast distances, but it’s still a lot to learn. Not that the story will compel your journey, but the action at each new location lets you use these skills in original ways.
It’s typical that the cutscenes in a game are slicker and better looking than the in-game graphics, but not in the case of Just Cause 2. The in-game graphics powered by the Avalanche 2.0 engine render huge distances in decent detail. Fields of green and mountains of snow look beautiful and the in-game clock system and weather helps keep you grounded in your tropical environment. The depth of field is also noteworthy. Seeing islands and locations far in the distance is quite pleasing to the eye. A few texture pop-ins do occur, primarily with shadows, but it’s a small and forgivable item in such a large setting.
I’m really not a fan of the sound The voice acting in particular is very stiff and generic. Every character is a caricature of a stereotype. Every Asian accent is voiced by the same two, maybe three voices. Rico himself is over the top and funnier than I feel the developers intended him to be. Some of the secondary characters lose their style; you don’t know if a character is Hispanic, Russian, or from the South, and each accent varies between scenes. I don’t have a problem with characters having an accent, but not knowing where the character is from can be distracting. I expected a dramatic musical score to enliven such a broad, stylized island environment. It is not. It lacks the heart and soul that the soundtrack really needed to reinforce the character of the location and the challenge all around, and frankly it’s a tad bit sad. Borderline offensive accents and poor voice acting are unforgivable elements in the sound department.
Adding additional controls (in this case, the grapple) to those required for traditional weapon use can be plain confusing. Just Cause 2 isn’t as complicated as the original, but multitasking in a controller schematic still takes tons of trial and a lot of error before you’ll be comfortable. If you’re trying to shoot an enemy and then grapple to get out of the way while making sure the camera angle keeps all potential threats on-screen makes for a less-than-enjoyable playing experience. Get your head around the controls and the blend of cliff-diving, parachuting, grappling onto towers, trees, and buildings makes you think Rico has a Spider-Man complex, and could probably take the webbed wonder in a showdown. Come prepared, however, you won’t be executing the coolest moves right off the bat, but if you put in the time and practice you’ll uncover stylish ways to tackle most explosive scenarios.
The idea of taking down a dictator and blowing stuff up is fundamentally a fun premise. Don’t take the whole experience seriously and you’ll enjoy this vast island and its many challenges. If you can get around the dogpile of control commands (try out the demo to get a taster), by all means go for it. If you are casual about your gaming or just want to let off some steam, this works. If you‘re looking for a compelling, just shy of realism story, Just Cause 2 may not be for you. Bad voice acting, complicated controls, and a throwaway story are enough for many hardened action gamers to skip this one. The graphics and fun factor will be enough to convince most, however, and if you remember to not take the whole experience too seriously, you should enjoy some memorable moments with Rico.