While its insane stunts and action-packed firefights ooze their own brand of explosive charm, Just Cause 2 falls victim to an unwieldy mission structure and unfortunate lack of variety.
The term "open-world" is used far too liberally these days. It's used to describe almost any game that allows players to decide their own progression path within a wide-open area. Just Cause 2 is ostensibly an "open-world" game but that's an incredibly ill-fitting description for what is a very linear experience.
Yes, you can explore any part of the multi-islanded region that comprises the game world, but the missions in Just Cause 2 are so rigidly structured that the "sandbox" nature of the campaign comes across as nothing more than an obvious attempt to artificially lengthen the heavy-handed storyline.
In order to unlock missions, players must create chaos throughout the military controlled region of Panau; once a set amount of chaos has been created, CIA operative Rico Rodriguez, who returns from the first title, can take on missions for any of the game's three rebel factions or the Agency itself (the latter progresses the game's story while the former act as mandatory experience missions).
This is fairly standard practice in these types of games - Red Faction Guerrilla, for example, forced you to lower the "control" that the enemy EDF had over a region before you could unlock specific missions-but it doesn't work the way it should in Just Cause 2: there's plenty of fun to be had when you're out sewing dissent but the gameplay in-between missions gets extremely tiresome.
More than a few times throughout the campaign I came just shy of maxing out Just Cause 2's "Chaos meters", which unlock new missions. The only way to progress the campaign was to randomly destroy military areas until the game deemed me worthy to continue on with the main story. Just Cause 2 has some fantastic moments of chaos, but forcing you to engage in random attacks is an unnecessary chore. And once the main campaign is over-it took me about eighteen hours from start to finish - there isn't much else to do other than explore the world for hidden collectibles.
Also exasperating is the fact that you face off against the same handful of enemy types throughout the game; these range from lightly armoured soldiers to Colonels padded out in armor like the Michelin Man. Sadly, every enemy is capable of soaking up bullets like a sponge; the only reliable way to kill them off is with a well-placed headshot.
While the game makes plenty of weaponry available, none of the guns in Rico's arsenal does any real damage. Some of the guns are so weak that the message isn't "Die!" but rather, "If it isn't too much trouble, could you lie down and expire at your earliest convenience?" There is also a "Heat Level" which rises depending on how much havoc you cause - as it increases, enemies grow stronger and become tougher to dispatch - but the system doesn't do a good job of dynamically scaling the overall difficulty; the game also features the outmoded "monster closet" meaning enemies will literally appear out of thin air. Worse, the game doesn't try very hard to disguise this fact, which makes it all the more glaring.
Flaws aside, the combat in Just Cause 2 can be intense and fun. Explosions beautifully paint the sky with the proper force and vigor you'd expect, even if enemy installations all consist of the same destroyable objects. Utilizing Rico's grappling hook I was able to tether enemies to moving vehicles in the land, sea, and air; you can also attach baddies to propane tanks and send them flying through the sky or pin speeding cars to the ground. Playing with the grappling hook is the best part of Just Cause 2 because it unlocks a slew of creative ways to devastate enemy forces.
There is also a Black Market in the game run by a shady character named the Sloth Demon. You can purchase new weaponry and vehicles from the arms dealer, or you can shell out cash to be quickly transported around the islands when you don't feel like taking the long way.
But the Black Market isn't a particularly useful feature because ammo and vehicles are so plentiful that spending cash on new gear and upgrades is wholly unnecessary. Rico also begins each mission with the gear best suited for the upcoming task anyway, so it's a little confusing as to why you would even bother to go shopping; you can purchase special (and much better) weapons from the Black Market but once you expend the ammo, your only recourse is to purchase each weapon again for the full purchase price.
It's an expensive and unnecessary limitation, especially for a game that revels in ridiculous antics; you'd think they'd want to encourage the use of such armaments rather than make it so prohibitive.
The Black Market sells high-powered weaponry but there's no need to shell out the cash.
I also experienced a handful of glitches during my time with Just Cause 2. In one faction mission, I was told to attack an oil tanker until a damage meter had maxed out; however, the game failed to register some of the destruction and it was only after I reloaded a previous save that the issue was resolved. Later, during the last boss battle I passed through a solid wall and "fell out" of the world geometry, which necessitated a restart. None of these bugs are deal breakers and I was playing a review build, but it was annoying to say the least.
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Just Cause 2: Specs
- 2GB RAM
- 9.8GB hard disk
- Windows Vista, Windows 7
- 2GB RAM
- 9.8GB hard disk
- Windows Vista, Windows 7
Rico's relentless over-the-top approach to creating chaos and destroying enemy morale does keep the game from getting stale, even in the wake of flaws and glitches, but the linear storyline and some flawed game design choices keep it from being anything more than a mildly interesting diversion that won't fully fill the void left behind by superior titles like Red Faction Guerrilla and Grand Theft Auto IV. Just Cause 2 does have its moments, and it has enough swagger to entertain for short stretches, but there isn't a grappling hook long enough to elevate it to the heights reserved for the best titles in the genre.