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Mini-Review: Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2This article was originally published at Kombo.com on April 8, 2010.

Plenty of video games promise that players can do just about anything during the course of the adventure and then deliver mixed results, but Just Cause 2 from Avalanche Studios and Square-Enix for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC delivers the purest form of the action-sandbox genre to date. Cast as secret agent protagonist Rico Rodrigeuz, players have one basic ever-present objective: cause chaos. While there is a storyline involving a fellow agent who has gone native on the military dictatorship island of Panau and Rico's mission to find out just what has gone wrong, it's all window dressing to justify the ongoing chaos. With thousands of structures to destroy, dozens of vehicles to hijack, and an endless army of soldiers to kill, Just Cause 2 presents more to do than any other game in recent memory, and ultimately that freedom to do just about anything in the name of destruction provides a seldom seen side of the genre.

Rico has two primary goals on Panau: overthrow the regime of corrupt dictator "Baby" Panay who has recently cut all diplomatic ties to the United States, and then assassinate rogue agency agent Tom Sheldon who had been working undercover on Panau, but has "gone native" with the Panauans. The story slowly unfolds through a series of special Agency Missions, but in all honesty, the Just Cause 2 plot doesn't matter. Causing chaos by blowing up Panauan military equipment and structures causes civil unrest which, in turn, decreases Panay's popularity and makes him an easier target. There are plenty of things to do while on the loose in Panau. Explodable targets include fuel tanks, water towers, smokestacks, propaganda trailers, military vehicles, offshore oil rigs, and statues of Panau's "beloved" dictator, just to name a few. More than one thousand collectible upgrades for weapons, vehicles, money, and armor are scattered around the island. Bonus collectibles such as briefcases full of drugs, black boxes from crashed planes, and sacred native tribal skulls are also up for grabs. These are all just tools of the trade and end-result goals, however. The real fun comes in locating and acquiring or destroying them, and ultimately that is where the bulk of Rico's to-do list takes him. Players are free to roam Panau at their own paces in search of villages, military bases, airports, marinas, communication stations, oil refineries, and other such places. Each place is packed with the aforementioned target items and collectibles. Standard procedure is to discover a new location, clear it of pickups, destroy the government facilities, and escape before the military shoots Rico dead. Repeat.

Just Cause 2As Rico causes more and more chaos, new organized missions become available. Here the freeflowing open combat is restricted to definitive goals that change depending on the type of mission. The aforementioned Agency Missions send Rico on an errand for his employers and typically enlist him as a one-man army tasked with breaking into a secure location while taking heavy fire. In order to cause the most effective chaos, he must ally himself with the island's local factions: the Roaches, the Reapers, and the Ular Boys, all of which have their own vision for Panau (although those visions mostly involve them each running the government after the fall of Panay's regime). These factions offer Faction Missions that involve goals such as rescuing a kidnapped faction member, hacking a laptop in order to steal classified government information, or assassinating a key member of the Panay regime. Faction leaders also send Rico on Stronghold Missions that require leading a team of faction members into the heart of a secure facility with the goal of taking it for their own use. Finally, Race Challenges task Rico with driving, flying, or falling through hoops before time elapses. Each mission rewards Rico with additional chaos points for completion beyond the chaos earned during the course of the mission and connect the loose stories involving each faction.

Panau itself sports plenty of different environments for being a supposedly small island. Arid deserts, lush jungles, sunny tropical coastlines, snowy mountaintops, large modern cities, and little jungle villages make up the region. Weather changes from time to time, going from sunny to rainy to foggy as day turns to night and back again. Fortunately, getting around the area is easier than just plodding along on foot. Rico comes equipped with an endless supply of parachutes and a trusty arm-mounted grappling hook that allows him to zip from place to place. Long-range gliding is an imperative skill, while scaling a building in a blink is as easy as aiming the targeting reticule and tapping the appropriate button. Better yet, why not combine the two skills to rapidly ascend before opening the parachute to glide to far-away destinations? The grappling hook is somewhat reminiscent of the bionic arm from Bionic Commando, but with less finesse and more emphasis on simplified combat. Rico can use the hook to latch on to soldiers and yank them to the ground from great heights or tether them to nearby structures, then shoot or bludgeon them to death. As in Bionic Commando, the hook/arm is just as useful as the conventional weapons.

Just Cause 2Overall, the most fun that Just Cause 2 has to offer involves the many ways it is possible to destroy objects and perform amazing stunts. Want to tether a jeep to a statue of the dictator and drive away with the stone head attached to the back bumper? Go for it. Want to detonate a dead beached whale in order to snag the armor pick-up in its belly? It's possible. How does base jumping off the top of an ever-floating blimp-based strip club called the Mile High Club sound? Fans of the hit television series LOST will want to check out an island off Panau's coast modeled after the mysterious Island in which there is electromagnetic strangeness and a DHARMA Initiative-type Swan Station hatch. Then there's the Panauan space flight facility at Cape Carnival to explore (and blow up), hijackable aircraft both military and passenger to fly, oil pipelines to detonate with a controlled overload, and a ritzy casino to scale. If one objective or location becomes unexciting, then simply jet away to a different one. Anything goes on Panau.

Just Cause 2 isn't going to win any awards for its story, but it will pick up accolades for the astonishing amount of activities and collecting to do on the island of Panau. With thousands of structures to destroy and thousands of items to collect, blasting one's way across Panau will take quite a while. Personally, I only clocked 26% of the game complete in twenty-seven hours, so I have a long way to go to see it all (and then detonate it). It's a hell of a ride while it lasts, and fortunately it lasts for a very long time. Fans of the action-sandbox genre must not miss it.

Just Cause 2 Video Mayhem

For more on Just Cause 2, be sure to listen to Episode 6 of the Power Button podcast.