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Just Cause 2 PC Review
You're falling. The ground is approaching rapidly. Air is rushing through your hair. What do you do? Panic? Pray? Pull a shoot, pull out a rocket launcher, and rain down wanton destruction on the unsuspecting military of a third world country?
If you picked the last option, Just Cause 2 has probably caught your eye before. The dramatic sky-diving sessions pulled by the Game's protagonist, Rico, are the stuff of legends. Just Cause 2 is an shameless action game, completely devoid of any connection with reality. This isn't a bad thing, in fact, it can be very rewarding. Sandbox games like the Just Cause, Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto franchises are partially god games. They're about doing things without any real concern about mortality or punishment. But they still need to be backed up by good mechanics. So does Just Cause 2 dive gracefully, or did it forget its parachute?
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Gameplay - Sandbox
The sandbox game genre is actually not a very well defined one. Grand Theft Auto, for example, is technically a sandbox. But it is also a linear game because large portions of the sandbox are closed off until you progress through specified points in the story. Just Cause 2 is completely different. From the moment you set foot on Panau you can go anywhere you like and do anything you please. This is how a sandbox game should be, and it is refreshing to play a sandbox game which doesn't tie you down with pointless restrictions.
This is a huge sandbox, as well. It isn't clear how big Panau is, but it feels far larger than any other sandbox game in recent memory. GTA IV would be only a fraction of it, and Oblivion would probably be only half as large. While Just Cause 2 may be a fluffy action game, the island of Panau itself is a work of art. The sense of vertical space is particularly good. For the first time ever, mountains are mountains, rather than mere foothills. Helicopters and planes have to climb significantly to cross them, and jumping from the top of a mountain will earn you a minute or two of air before you have to pull your 'chute. Panau is, without a doubt, a masterpiece. No other sandbox game can come close to the beauty, scope and size of this fictional island.
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Just Cause 2 is a third person action game, and as is typical with third person action games the actual shooting is not quite as important as the way you move Rico through battles. In fact, the auto-aim feature which is present even in the PC version makes attacking Panau's many policemen and soldiers all about spray-and-pray. You success in failure will depend on how well you duck and weave through terrain and make creative use of objects to destroy Panau military jeeps and helicopters.
That would be fine if Rico moved fluidly. But he doesn't. Despite his special agent credentials, Rico moves with all the grace of a Robosapien. There is no cover mechanic, there are few acrobatics, and there is no way to block incoming fire. Rico is essentially a huge target, ripe and ready to be shot by Panau soldiers. Even the grappling hook, which is essential to the gameplay, feels vague and clumsy. Combat in Just Cause 2 is far more frustrating than fun, and it is an incredible shame that it ruins such a great sandbox.
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Gameplay - Modding
Modding Just Cause 2 is fortunately very easy, and it is the game's saving grace. Even downloading and installing the Bolopatch, a simple trainer which provides immortality, limitless ammo, and limitless use of the grappling hook, is a godsend. With the frustrating mechanics out of the way, Just Cause 2 becomes what it should be - a god game. A game where you can relax in your own little world, devoid of all the consequences of reality. If you like to download mods for games, or make them, Just Cause 2 will become your playground.
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The story of Just Cause 2 is hardly worth mentioning. In fact, I completed the story a week before writing this review and I honestly can't remember what it was all about. The summary is simple - Panau had a dictator who has Americans and must be killed, there are also some foreigners from Japan, Russia and China who must be killed, and then Rico nukes something. And that's about it.
Don't take this to mean that the story missions in the game aren't fun. Some of them are surprisingly amusing despite the game's bad combat mechanics. There is a strange logic of insanity which plays throughout them and results in some unique situations. However, this is simply not a game you play for the story. If you're looking a game with a great narrative you should look somewhere else.
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Just Cause 2 is a beautiful but flawed game. It is an incredible sandbox saddled with a terrible method of interacting with it. It is only mod which saved the game for me - without them, I would never have bothered to finish it. Panau is a beautiful island, and it is well worth your time to simply tour it and see the sights which the game's level designers left for you.
Remember, this is the PC review, so modding is no problem. If you are considering this for the 360, reconsider. Lacking the ability to mod the game you'll have to settle for it in stock from, and that is an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone.