Have You Played… Just Cause 2?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Just Cause 2 [official site] doesn’t have a great mission in its entire running length, although it has some pretty OK ones. What it does have is a beautiful, diverse open world in which to wreak havoc of the most over the top kind, with land, sea and air vehicles, a re-usable parachute and a grappling hook.

Just Cause 2’s pleasures lie in two areas: one, mucking about. Call in a plane and fly under some bridges. Head to the snowy region and try to slide atop a petrol truck from its tallest peak. Tether your own plane to the Mile High Club, which is suspended in the air from hot air balloons, and see how many rotations you can perform before you crash and explode. Surf upon the roof of some moving vehicles, tying enemies to lampposts as they speed after you.

Two, in how pretty it all is. Just Cause 2 never made a big deal of its engine and no one ever applauded its textures as they did Crysis, but it is achingly beautiful when the sun is setting and sky is cast in red and oranges or when you’re crashing to the ground above a permanently stormy island inspired by Lost.

It’s easy to criticise the dull plot, weak shooting and the unfortunate restrictions which only allow you to apply a fragile tether to two people using your grappling hook, but it’s hard to begrudge a game whose small limitations are easily lifted by mods or cheats. Especially when those mods also include JC2MP, which lets you wreak the same havoc – and much more – in huge multiplayer servers.

Fingers crossed for Just Cause 3, which is just days away.

35 Comments

  1. Jakkar says:

    Has there ever been another game that looks like it should be so much fun, but feels so utterly hollow?

    It needed the multiplayer – Mercenaries 2 showed how much fun that could be, even with a woefully out of date game holding it back. The mod was a fascinating bit of strangeness, but it arrived too late. The party was already dying down.

    I’ve no interest in the third, as it looks like nothing but a mild visual upgrade. The destructive physics apply only to setpieces and appear utterly inferior to the Red Faction: Guerrilla system (when are we going to get more real destruction? :< Even that medieval siege engineer game's physics look primitive).

    Yet

    They made Mad Max. Somehow, they made Mad Max. And now I don’t know what to think. So many little bits of soul and sadness and beauty, such thoughtful, stimulating world design. Even the characters had a surprising amount of subtlety.

    How in the hell did the Just Cause crew do that, and how do I make them do more of it?

    • Bull0 says:

      Not sure if you’re being serious or not but “the destruction applies only to the setpieces” is demonstrably untrue. There’s all manner of stuff to blow up in just cause 2. Hasn’t the reception to Mad Max been pretty lukewarm?

      • Jakkar says:

        As in, it applies only to demolition targets, like many action games over many years – crumbling into debris and responding to physics as it fragments and/or collapses, and does so without much real correspondence to physical laws, combining animation, performance-saving deletion and occlusion, a lot of obscuring smoke and fire to achieve something momentarily satisfying as a cover for a binary ‘object has been destroyed, here are your Boom Points’.

        I’m contrasting this with a world in which every single synthetic structure can be dynamically demolished from tiny fragments chipped away by flying debris to a crashing aircraft cutting right through the ceiling and one supporting pillar, leaving the rest of the structure half open and creaking under its own weight, slowly shedding pieces as the world is shaken by tank shells and the AI guerrillas and military forces pick through the rubble using the physics-dropped debris as dynamic cover. A mis-fired rocket hits another beam and the whole structure screams, begins to teeter, then cracks and buries the few remaining inside. And that applying as much to an abandoned old garage or house as it does to a military base or a power plant.

        In terms of the technological complexity of the simulation and the richness of gameplay emerging from it these are completely different things. One is a visual effect that occasionally pokes at gameplay, the other IS the gameplay, but also provides superior visual effect and audio.

        • Bull0 says:

          So basically “setpieces” means particular bits of levels, the kind of thing you might do in a normal shooter without general destructible terrain like blowing up a bridge in a call of duty level. It’s not an appropriate description, since Just Cause 2 has loads of destructible terrain, some of which awards points/progression for destroying as you say, and some of which is destructible primarily for enjoyment (like trees, power lines, all the various small fuel tanks and canisters that blow up and kill enemies, that sort of thing).

          You’re really heroically misrepresenting the scope of what Just Cause 2 does with destruction. But yeah, you could smash things apart bit by bit in Red Faction Armageddon, and that was neat.

          • dangrak says:

            There isn’t any destructible terrain in JC2. I don’t know what you’re referring to that you experienced, but I remember the other poster’s recollection that the only real destructible items in that game were those marked with huge red insignia, and a few buildings that you blew up over the course of the story.

    • Spuzzell says:

      How you can possibly claim Mad Max as the example of good game design compared to Just Cause 2 is so far beyond my powers of understanding that we might as well be different species.

      Honestly.

      Get in the sea.

      • Jakkar says:

        Behave yourself. Play a game with your bloody eyes open.

      • malkav11 says:

        It’s pretty easy. Just Cause 2 is huge, but desperately shallow, with hardly any locations that are meaningfully distinct, almost no narrative to speak of, and essentially no variety of action at any point. It is monomaniacally focused on blowing things up (with a light side of shooting things), but desperately stingy about giving you ways to blow things up (or shoot them in interesting ways), and it has a ludicrously frustrating and overaggressive enemy alert system that makes pursuing said destruction a slog. The grappling hook/parachute movement stuff is fun for a bit, but absent anything much worth doing with it it doesn’t really do much to redeem the game.

        Mad Max, by contrast, makes every tiny landmark and source of scrap its own little unique tableau. It regularly switches between car combat and on-foot brawling, with gun violence and explosives as limited but potent resources, and mixes both sides of the action up with expanded movesets, more equipment options and an increasing array of dangerous foes. Neither system ranks among the best such ever offered, I’ll admit, but they’re satisfying enough and have consistently been much more rewarding than my combats in JC2. The narrative is sparse, but surprisingly competent, and certainly Mad Maxian. I can only chalk up the general critical indifference to its position coming out alongside MGS V (a much more ambitious sandbox game) and in the wake of The Witcher 3, but I still feel it deserves much more praise than JC2 ever did.

    • fuggles says:

      Avalanche also made renegade ops and then couldn’t be arsed to support it so that numerous people just couldnt run it, sadly pre refund days. Renegade ops is a Great game, but not going tobuy just cause from those jackanapes.

    • nimbulan says:

      This is one game that I will always maintain is terrible. They focused quite severely on quantity over quality – so we get a game with I believe the largest fully explorable map of any open world game, but all of the content is dull, repetitive, and uninspired. The story and voice acting are some of the worst I’ve ever experienced. So what you’re left with is “shoot the red things for points” and the grappling hook gimmick, which gets old in about 5 minutes. I will never understand why people enjoy this game.

      Also I’m not sure why you’re asking for more Red Faction Guerilla destruction. This is the game where you can cut out the bottom of every wall in a big warehouse and it refuses to collapse because there’s one single support beam on one side that won’t break. Red Faction Armageddon did destruction 10x better and had more interesting weapons (with a usable amount of ammo!) to do it with.

  2. mukuste says:

    “…doesn’t have a great mission in its entire running length…”

    Sorry, but which part of “disable these nuclear ICBMs WHILE YOU ARE RIDING THEM THROUGH THE AIR” did you miss?

  3. Veles says:

    I have and unfortunately didn’t really enjoy it all that much. Couldn’t see what the fuss was all about.

  4. NelsonMinar says:

    I loved the writing and particularly the voice acting in Just Cause 2. A lot of people looked briefly at it and said “this is bad”. And it is bad, but it’s deliberately bad, over-the-top bad-action-movie bad. It’s hilarious. And it’s just enough story to string together the real brilliance of the game, the mayhem and flying around with your infinite parachute and magical rope.

    Big respect particularly to Liz Sutherland for her voice acting as Bolo Santosi. She knew exactly what she was doing in that performance.

    • ikehaiku says:

      You mean bo-LO san-TOH-ZEEE?
      I agree, all of the voice acting is perfect (as in, on-par with the tone of the game), from the main characters to the minions/civilians (Get away! Get away!Or you gonna get kill!)

      • Muzman says:

        The cool thing about it is the accents aren’t just “Asian” or “Chinese” aka bad impressions like say Deus Ex. They’re pretty diverse and true to the origins of the characters, but also over dramatic and cartoony. That’s a pretty subtle thing to pull off. Most games would not go to anything like that kind of bother. Not even close. They got the Japanese mooks to sound Japanese!
        Rico’s husky Antonio Banderas alike suits really well too (and I’m bummed it’s not coming back for the next one. Never thought I’d care until I heard the wrong voice in the trailer)

        • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

          I will never understand why Deus Ex (1) gets such shit for its Chinese voices. They are almost entirely real Chinese people, look them up.

          Now GTAIV, THAT’S a game with shit pretend impersonations from almost all the main cast.

          • Muzman says:

            I guess the acting being bad as well makes sure it grates the ears in a fake sounding way.

      • anHorse says:

        Leader of the faction known as the REAPUHHHS

    • Sin Vega says:

      Try to transport oil now, you pipeline jerks!

    • Kollega says:

      Here’s a newspaper interview with Liz Sutherland, and she says herself that a serious performance wouldn’t work. And what’s important, Avalanche have confirmed that the hilariously bad, cheesy voice acting is going to come back in JC3. Here’s hoping to Di Ravello hamming it up like no tomorrow in the final boss fight.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      So at it’s best it’s still just one of those “bad” Scy-Fy channel monster movies where they are deliberately trying to make a so-bad-it’s-good movie. In order to be genuinely good-bad you HAVE to think what you are doing is legitimate. If you try to do good-bad you just end up with bland-bad.

    • ffordesoon says:

      The problem is that many similar games have VO work and writing that is just as bad, but they’re entirely serious, and JC2 doesn’t do enough to present itself as deliberately campy/over-the-top. Well, I’ve heard it gets pretty bonkers as you get closer to the end, but it’s such a huge game that many players never got to the end, myself included. The beginning, meanwhile, doesn’t feel meaningfully more ridiculous than the beginning of your average open-world shooter, which makes the dialogue and acting feel like plain old bad dialogue and acting. If you’re being deliberately silly, the audience needs to know they’re supposed to be laughing ASAP. Otherwise, they’ll assume you’re being serious and cringe when you fail at that.

      If the “first hour of JC3” video is any indication, Avalanche learned their lesson in the intervening years. It’s bombastic and campy from the word go, and the characters are all clearly deranged pisstakes of action-movie archetypes who delight remorselessly in creative ultraviolence right along with Rico.

      • NelsonMinar says:

        So in other words; videogame writing is so bad in general that it’s hard to recognize the parody? I’ll sort of agree with that. Definitely agree it could have used some more over-the-top badness early on to set the tone.

      • malkav11 says:

        I think it’s pretty clearly not serious from the opening onwards. Not as full on wacky as, say, Saints Row IV, but definitely over the top. I just don’t think it’s very good at it.

  5. ikehaiku says:

    I’m a big fan-boy of the Avalanche Engine. That thing is just beauty.
    Graphic-wise, JC2 can still (mostly) holds up to this day on the PC. And was probably the best multi-plateform release of its day.
    And I sometimes re-sub the theHunter, just to have a walk there.

  6. Kollega says:

    Yes. Yes I did. And it was awesome.

    Seriously, I can’t even count how many great moments Just Cause 2 gave me. What’s better than a game that allows me to feel like a classic Hollywood action hero or an explorer in an exotic land where the new beautiful sights are just around the corner? Great times, great times.

  7. Fnord73 says:

    Its a shame they didnt really bother to put a game in there. Because it sure looked nice.

    • ikehaiku says:

      Some people (myself included, and if I recall correctly, RPS too) would say “It’s a shame they did try to put a game in there”

  8. Laurentius says:

    I tried many times to gey into this game as on paper it has everything I want from sandbox open world game. In reality though everything felt wrong to me, driving is super bland, combat is meh, being killed and respowning miles away is frustrating. Gliding is fun though but it alone couldn’t save this game for me.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I swear for the short while I played the game I spawned next to the same busted up 2-door hatchback 100 times.

  9. oceanclub says:

    “Just Cause 2 never made a big deal of its engine”

    It’s bizarre they didn’t manage to flog this engine to others; it was amazingly optimised and ran like butter even on older hardware.

  10. Dezmiatu says:

    This is the game I play with my 6 year old niece. This is right up her alley, all I have to do is listen to all her impulsive directions. She likes to hold down the forward key when driving, forcing me to frantically weave through traffic. If I am too successful, she demands we drive off a ramp into the water and swim for a while, eventually stealing a boat and seeing how long we can beach the boat and skim the shorelines before we explode.

    By myself, I grow real bored real fast. I blame myself.

  11. Marclev says:

    Say what?? Missions not great!?

    There were loads of great missions! It was all in how you approached them. The game pretty much encourages you to think of the most over the top solution you could to a given problem and then well… typically blow the place up!

    For example if you had a mission to assassinate someone, yes you could chase after then on a bike, open a parachute to get airborne, grapple onto their car, then hijack the car and drive it off a cliff (pretty normal for JC2), but if you felt like it, you could equally well just drive over to a nearby airfield, kill a few guards, steal a gunship (none of which is in any w way connected to your mission), and blow your target and the rest of the traffic away with an air strike.

    The thing is unlike more boring sandbox games, the game doesn’t tell you these possibilities exist, you’re left to put two and two together yourself.

    And while yes a lot of the side quests weren’t much to write home about if you didn’t use your imagination (although some were), the story missions were often great in their own right!

    The entire thing takes itself about a serious as Commando, as long as you make sure to adopt that mindset you can’t go wrong.

    • malkav11 says:

      There’s only seven story missions, though, and to get to them you have to play a whole lot of the ones that aren’t great. And the game didn’t bother to make explosives readily accessible and actively punished you for going after things like gunships by ramping up enemy spawning to ludicrous degrees, so the fun, over the top solutions were actively contraindicated by the design.

      (By definition, anything you had to source by buying it from the black market airplane was a pain in the ass because even if you had a mod that skipped the cutscenes it was still slow, awkward, and expensive.)

  12. Sin Vega says:

    This prompted me to get back into it, and then finally to try the multiplayer. At first it was of course Twats Online, but then I found a server which was only Mostly Twats Online, and oh lord, this is fun. Panau really, really needs to be the setting for like 20 other games, it’s such a waste to have just one there :(