Impressions: Just Cause 2 Multiplayer Mod

By Graham Smith on January 13th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Flying boats are one of the mod's best features.

Just Cause 2‘s weapons felt weedy and its missions were mostly repetitive and forgettable. It doesn’t matter. I’ve spent fifty hours floating across the tropical islands of Panau with an infinite supply of parachutes, watching the sun set behind snowy mountains. I’ve flown hot air balloons to mysterious, stormy islands, crashed airliners into the ocean just because I could, and tethered more hapless guards to speeding boats than I can remember.

I’ve just spent the last few days doing all those things in the Just Cause 2 Multiplayer mod, which is now downloadable via a standalone executable in Steam. Let me tell you what (but not wot) I think.

Need more context? Check out John’s Wot I Think of the main game. Particularly, look at those screenshots. Every one of them is stunning even four years later.

Don’t like reading? I made you a video of highlights from my play experience.

JC2MP spent a lot of last year in beta, playable only during occasional weekends when the development team would throw up a server or two to collect feedback. These weekends provided some of my favourite moments of 2013. Just Cause 2′s greatest strength was in its slapstick action: tying one thing to another, punting the whole lot off a mountain, and marvelling at Avalanche’s unbeatably pretty explosions. It was the kind of game to which you brought your own fun, eventually turning to the modding community to remove its limitations.

Now imagine the same slapstick chaos on a server with 800 other people. Imagine planes crashing upon planes crashing upon planes. Imagine 300 people swarming an airport, every one of them attempting to get their own plane and take off before a stray grenade, rocket, tank, or helicopter smashed into them, forcing them to burn in the sea. Imagine all of those things smashing into them simultaneously moments after they finally take off.

For much of its beta, JC2MP wasn’t a game. It was a glorious spectacle. Just like everyone else, I want games with smarter writing and games that are about more than just explosions. But sometimes explosions – thousands of explosions – are still enough to make me coo.

That's not my plane! That's just cool.

Now that the mod is out of beta – although still in development – there’s a little more game to JC2MP. These come via different modes, which can be activated and joined through in-game chat commands – /derby to take part in a destruction derby inside an enormous satellite dish, /race to speed around parts of Panau in competition.

In all the servers I’ve joined, these events were frequent but poorly populated. Destruction derbies aren’t much fun when it’s just you and a few other cars, and certainly not in a world which is effectively one giant destruction derby already. If players do try these modes at all, they learn quickly not to return.

Instead my time in JC2MP has been mostly spent making my own fun. Every server I’ve played on also comes with a kind of cheat mode enabled, where the game’s normal ‘buy menu’ has had all the prices set to zero, and any vehicle can be purchased and spawned from anywhere. This has some interesting consequences.

For example, spawning causes you to appear hundreds of feet in the air. As you skydive towards the surface, you can pop up the buy menu and spawn a plane or helicopter or boat in which to fly away.

Pile on!

Yes, boat. It turns out Just Cause 2′s boat physics work in such a way that you can propel them through the air just by pushing the throttle down. You can’t steer, but by skimming the tips of mountains, or springing down and back out of the ocean, I’ve spent happy half hours travelling aimlessly around Panau this way.

The rest of my time was spent trying to start something with the other players. Mostly by bothering them: shooting down their helicopters, crashing my planes into their cars and so on. Death has no consequence and any vehicle I destroyed could be instantly respawned, but there was still satisfaction to be found in picking a specific person, chasing them down and hitting them with a well-timed rocket.

But it’s short-term satisfaction, and it’s a lot less spectacular than in those earlier beta tests.

Skydiving is still thrilling, no matter how slowly you fall.

Partly it’s that the scale isn’t what it once was. JC2MP’s full release means that there’s now hundreds of servers to choose from and players are spread across them. The most people I found on a single server was a little over 400, less than half the maximum I’d played with previously. That sounds like a lot of people when compared to most other multiplayer games, but Panau is large enough that it no longer feels crowded.

It’s also that there’s no longer anything in the game to draw players together in the same place. In the beta, the airport served that purpose because it was the easiest place to find planes. Now that any vehicle can be spawned instantly, people only go there – and the Mile High Club, the other major landmark – because there’s nothing else to do.

There are a lot of open world games in development right now that have a loose set of systems guiding players through them. DayZ is the obvious example. It’s a huge world dotted with cities and towns, but mostly populated by empty forests and barren houses. Its relative emptiness doesn’t matter, because the mechanics imbue elements of that environment with meaning. You don’t care that this house looks the same as the last one when this one has a screwdriver inside. Forests might be empty, but their emptiness makes them a safe haven and a hiding place from threats.

The airport isn't as chaotic as it used to be, believe it or not.

Stripped of their missions and NPCs, with no need to go anywhere to get anything, Just Cause 2′s empty forests are just empty forests. The structured fun it aims to provide – those races and derbies and so on – feel like poor use for a world as big and beautiful as Panau.

I don’t think JC2MP needs a bunch of survival mechanics added to it. But it’s an interesting design challenge: what system of reward would maintain the frivolity and invention of Just Cause 2′s madcap action, while honouring and rewarding the players who wish to invest in it? For all its merits, it feels like Avalance didn’t find an answer in the singleplayer’s mundane missions. The multiplayer is still too shapeless to find any meaning in the involvement of other players.

For now. The mod is still in development – technically this is only version 0.1.0, which suggests there’s a lot to come – and it has a support for LUA scripting so it should be relatively easy for people to build on top of what’s currently there.

In the meantime, the spectacle is still impressive, but you should be prepared to bring your own fun, and preferably some friends, to make the experience worthwhile.

Find out more about Just Cause 2 Multiplayer at its official site.

, , , , .

30 Comments »

  1. aliksy says:

    First thing that came to mind was ‘mm capture the flag would be silly with all that stuff going on’.

  2. The Random One says:

    I’ve had the most fun being horrible at races, and traveling around with /roadtrip. Once we got this crazy leader who would keep pressing on and didn’t let us stop to get cars. At one point someone shouted “let us get some cars, we look like a bunch of hobos!” Hobos with parachutes and grappling hooks!

    Has anyone played the “Faction Wars” mode that was supposed to be like a Battlefield game in a huge map?

    • BobbyFizz says:

      There is a server running it, the battle for panau. No one plays on it though, but it’s something I am very much looking forward to once the full mode is finished, and you can get a nice taste for how it works currently.

      Grapple hook is restricted, but I think for the mode to really take off it needs to be disabled altogether.

      edit: Also some sort of persistant stats I assume would draw in a bigger crowd, the meta-crowd likes nothing more than increasing a number from one to two.

  3. Jools says:

    The current state of JC2MP servers is pretty much a testament to the idea that players have no idea what they want. People constantly complain about games where stuff is locked behind whatever progression system, but an open world where you can spawn whatever you want with no direction and no consequence is boring as hell after a few hours. There’s not even any satisfaction in killing another player when you don’t gain anything from it and they respawn with nothing at all lost. Hell, you can blow up someone’s helicopter and they can spawn another one as they bail out (which is hilarious, but only the first twenty times).

    Here’s to hoping people start releasing mods some semblance of balance and direction, because the core is so ridiculously fun.

    • derbefrier says:

      different games require different approaches. Adding a 40 hour grind to unlock all the weapons in Counter Strike isn’t necessary for it to be fun but Just Cause multiplayer isn’t Counter Strike.

      Gamers know what we want. we are also not foolish enough to think one certain mechanic(in this case progression unlocks) is a one size fits all kind of thing.

      • Premium User Badge Wisq says:

        Counter-Strike has a progression system. It’s just that it’s a 5-minute one (with the chance of losing it all) instead of a 40-hour one.

        I would say that gamers know what they don’t want (and have no hesitation to vocalise that loudly), but tend to come up with poor suggestions on how to improve them. This is why companies that playtest and watch closely and then use their best judgement on what would’ve improved the player experience (e.g. Valve) tend to produce better games than companies that actually ask people what they want and end up with games that have been focus-grouped to death.

        • Premium User Badge FriendlyFire says:

          You nailed it. Gamers are very poor game designers, in general (surprising, I know!). Heck, people in general are pretty poor designers. We all know what we don’t like and we will harshly criticize something that contains that, but as soon as you start asking for actual constructive criticism, you tend to get either nothing at all or a ton of stuff in wildly different directions, none of which are actually workable.

          The difference between “knowing what we want” and “knowing what we don’t want” is crucial, yet often forgotten.

    • Premium User Badge darkChozo says:

      There’s a difference between not having progression mechanics (as in long-term character progression) and not having much direction at all. Even if you stripped out progression from your average modern FPS, you’d still have the individual matches to provide context and direction beyond just shooting dudes; even in something like Planetside you’d have goals to work towards in taking enemy bases and such. JC2MP, for the most part, lacks this.

      • Jools says:

        I never said that all games have to have progression mechanics, or even that JC2MP necessarily needs something like that. What most games do have (and need) is some sort of gating or resource management system. With Ye Olden Manshootes it was all about map control – the locations of powerups and weapon pick-ups, and the fact that you’d lose whatever you picked up (and your control of the map) on death. You need something to make a game interesting, and the pretty world and random collection of shooty bits isn’t nearly enough.

        The airport from beta is pretty much the perfect example. It was a clusterfuck, but it focused everyone’s attention because there was a resource there that most people wanted and you’d lose that resource if you died. That’s just way more interesting than having whatever you want and doing whatever you want with it.

    • Faxanadu says:

      I know exactly what this game needs.

      It needs DayZ style voice chat servers based on character distance, because you can’t keep typing shit in all the action.

      It also needs to NOT have Free Weapunz! -mod on every server, you need to earn money to earn stuff, not make it too hard, but so that getting that Fighter Chopper requires twenty minutes of doing something.

      The above two things alone would add HUGELY to the comfort and meaning of the game. After that you can start fixing faction wars etc.

      Anyway, I fear the JC2MP team is too small to ever make big gameplay changes.

      Oh well. I had fun inviting people to a boring 30minute boat ride through a river in the middle of nowhere. A SLOW boatride. No shooting no explosions, we all just rode a boat. Was awesome. Except that the engine doesn’t allow players to stick on boats instead slide off of them as they move. Another thing to fix for added fun.

  4. PopeRatzo says:

    God, if you’re reading this, could you please send us Just Cause 3 sometime in the next week or so?

    • The Random One says:

      My child, even I cannot do that if I don’t own the trademark.

      • keithzg says:

        Man, I knew the copyright lobby had gotten far too powerful, but this is ridiculous.

  5. derbefrier says:

    I think the biggest problem as mentioned is that there is more than 1 server for this game. This mod is at its best when there is thousands of people on the same server. 100 man destruction derbies were a thing of beauty but I haven’t seen that since release. The chaos at places like the airport or the race track equally fun but not as much when the server pop is half what it was in beta.

    I can sort of agree with the instant access to any vehicle or gun is kinda bad. The beta server had it to where you had to kill people or win events to get money to buy these things which helped encourage player interaction. something a lot of servers(if not all it seems) have turned off.

  6. DatonKallandor says:

    Wait so you can’t do the campaign in multiplayer? Because the only thing I wanted the finished JC2MP mod for was to host a personal server and do a 2-4 player run of the campaign. Shoot down giant missiles with a jet before they get into space? How about shoot down giant missiles with a jet while two people are tethered to your jet with missile launchers!

  7. Tom Walker says:

    I installed this after hearing the Giant Bomb former colonials mention it. Haven’t actually played it yet.

    Now that I know you can fly a boat at over half the speed of sound, I’ll start tomorrow.

  8. Premium User Badge LTK says:

    The custom races that the modders developed are a ton of fun. Some of them are pretty straightforward: you got your highway endurance race in sports cars, mountain climb in jeeps, or coast races in dune buggies, but they also have clusterfucking limousines (driving limousines around a cramped track around the airport with collisions enabled), motorbike hillclimb (try to get to the top of three mountains in the desert on a motorbike, no roads to help you), car versus helicopter, desert bus (it’s as fun as the real thing) and so on. Lately the regular game has just been a distraction while waiting for the races to start.

  9. Bugamn says:

    If anyone wants to try the multiplayer, I have an extra copy of JC2 to give (someone gifted me, but I already had the game). First to ask takes.

    • sillygav says:

      I will take just cause 2 off your hands

      • Bugamn says:

        Can you add me on Steam (Bugamn). I would add you, but I found two sillygav’s (althought I believe you aren’t the one that hasn’t logged for more than a year).

    • Beacon87 says:

      Considering you said first to “ask,” and sillygav didn’t exactly ask, per se, I would like to reply with:

      May I please have your extra copy of Just Cause 2?

      • Bugamn says:

        I’m sorry, I may have phrased that badly, but have a cookie for the clever comment.

  10. racccoon says:

    Chaos is what you see as it is what is going to happen. A mod of intelligence is needed with some kind of restrictions in place as it seems currently totally out of order, yes its fun for a while after which becomes sickly and too far fetched. GTA first multi mod had the same thing happening chaos always takes over in these types open mods.

  11. Sunjammer says:

    Haha strapping involved survival mechanics on top of this lunacy would honestly be very, very funny

  12. RiffRaff says:

    My goodness, has it really been nearly four years since this was released? nope, I don’t believe you, cant be that long ago.

    no seriously, I just went to wikipedia and even looked on [generic search engine] for it, I think I might be doing math wrong because I keep coming back to four years.

  13. Scatterbrainpaul says:

    I tried this with by brother at the weekend. We both really enjoyed the single player game so were really looking forward to the multiplayer mod. However our experience was pretty much the same as the above, massive beautiful world, weapons and vehicles at your fingertips, endless possibilities etc. blah blah blah.

    We got bored after 20 minutes of running around trying to find something fun to do, and went and played a proper multiplayer/co-op game instead

    Sometimes you just need a script

  14. SkittleDiddler says:

    JC2MP is a lot more boring than it has any right to be. Fun for a few minutes, than the reality of what the mod actually does sets in.

  15. Spazmok says:

    It certainly seems like many people are running thin in the imagination department. I suggest you grab a few friends (2-4), locate 4-lane highway, everyone spawn a Pell Siverbolt jet and start your own Red Bull Air Race. The rules we use are that you must stay below the tree canopy (about 50 feet max), must stay within 50 feet of either side of the road and thread the needle on every bridge. Three seconds outside of the 50/50/50 boundary or missing a bridge threading disqualifies you from that round. Winner is either the last alive or the one to make it to a chosen point first.

    For an extra challenge find a server with the extra boost (tab=boost to 700kmph), use a two lane road or allow high-jacking of each others planes.