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Postcards From Panau

Road/River/Desert/Mountain Trip! After spending seventeen hours with Just Cause 2 completing the single player and doing everything and anything stupid enough to enter my skull, I'd discovered about a third of all the settlements in the game, and had only found one or two interesting locations that aren't on the map. Obviously, this had to be rectified. The best way to do this is a tour of the Island State, allowing my curiosity free reign to take my anywhere that looked even remotely interesting. It took Jim eight hours to drive around the world of Fuel, a world more than ten times the size of Just Cause 2, so I didn't think this would take me less than an hour. But how long? And what was out there?

I had a few rules first, of course. I couldn't use any airborne vehicles, as that would completely defeat the point. Similarly, I wouldn't be using any Agency drops, meaning that if I got stranded in the middle of a desert (or on top of a mountain) without a vehicle, I'd only be able to use my grapple and good old jogging power. Basically, once I was dropped at my starting location, that was it for outside help.

The plan was to do a rough horseshoe around the islands, starting on the uppermost right island, and swinging down through the mountains, marshes and desert before coming up through Panau City and landing on the uppermost left island.

Outside my window the sky is that nothing grey that clouds do when they're not in the mood to be sporting, and the rain is making everything a depressing blur. Good thing I've got a tropical paradise to explore. I've spent enough time waking up and drinking coffee, so I begin.

Swimming, first, because for some reason the residents of Panau don't spend a lot of time circling some remote island off their coast in speedboats, the bastards.

I don't mind though, because for some reason Avalanche has made a startlingly pretty underwaterscape for you to swim through, if you want. There are even tropical fish that look at you with vacant suspicion as you invade their realm.

A boat is found, and I'm on my way, heading towards the mainland. Except there's something that looks bloody odd in my peripheral vision, which turns out to be this.

It's some sort of sunken temple on a sand bank. And really, I'm not sure what else I expected. From all those sharp thrusts skyward, I guess it might have been a wrecked ship, but somehow this is more pleasant.

The original plan was to stick to land as much as possible, where all the interesting things are, but there's a convenient river running through the island I'm headed towards, so I take it.

Turns out this leads me right next to a pleasant little shrine. Which is basically a photo opportunity waiting to happen. Click!

There's a juxtaposition between the frenetic nature of what Just Cause 2 wants you to do, and what it is. I should be blowing stuff up all the time, killing Panau guards and jet-setting from place to place that makes this meandering pace feel both wrong and wonderfully refreshing. After spending so long doing stupid things with the tether and playing the game at a hundred miles an hour, suddenly slowing things down and taking in the scenery allows me to actually appreciate just how pretty everything is.

Which makes the sudden gunfight and car chase as soon as I make landfall a little hypocritical, I guess.

But that's the nature of the game, so I'm going to use it as a scape-goat. And besides, I ended up with this spiffy motorbike, and a bee-line for a valley between two of the country's biggest mountains. A valley which contains first one, and then a dozen, ruined temples.

I suppose they're trying to evoke a sort of Hong Kong Islands/Indonesia feel with the game, with Tibet and Mexico thrown in for good measure with some of the other regions, but out of this hodge-podge mix of cultures it seems to sort of shrug them off and present something altogether unique. I mean sure, these might be very similar temples to the ones I found on the sand bank, but here, in the middle of a rain forest, they take on an entirely different characteristic. Out of the harsh sunlight, they're much more reverent and seemingly ancient, shaded as they are.

As ever, I move on. And up.

This is the last time I can see the island from where I started. After a good ten minutes of mountain climbing and ziplining, I've reached the top of one of Panau's largest peaks. It's taken me a good half hour to get here, but the view makes it worth it. But I don't have time for looking back, for I am a man of action! I look forward!

And see Photo Opportunity!

If Avalanche had had more mountainspace, perhaps if they hadn't set the whole thing on a chain of islands, but rather one large landmass, we'd have seen them riff off the Great Wall of China. I like to think this string of forts that litter the snowy terrain are their homage to the original Can-Be-Seen-From-Space structure.

Despite Rico's refusal to smile, this is a happy time for me! Finally, after a good twenty minutes of climbing and jogging through mountains and valleys, I've reached a road. And roads mean cars. And cars mean speed.

The town where this huge fort lies is called Bandar Kayu Manis, in case you were wondering. But I don't care, for it is in my dust trail!

From one harsh environment to the next; as soon as I make it out of the mountains I land, at night, right in the middle of the largest thunderstorm I've seen in the game so far. I tried to get a shot of the lightning illuminating the landscape, I honestly did, but it required a precognitive prowess I don't possess.

It's funny, the next fifteen minutes have me moving through some of the most populated areas of Panau, but nothing interesting happened, really. I moved past a dozen towns, but as soon as I hit the motorway it was just a matter of reaching the next coastline I could fling my vehicle off.

So I submerged my car, and swam a little before finding a junker, which allowed me to get Action Moving Shot With Mountainous Background!

I'm moving into an area called the Selatan Archipelago now, which is a series of small islands that slowly give way to marshland. From the amount of little points of light on my map, and the lack of concrete information, this is a place where I haven't spent much time. Better rectify this.

I make landfall and find a vehicle.

Oh the humanity!

Not only do scooters ruin any respect your guerilla buddies had for you, but they move at about 20mph. And you really can't pull off riding one if you're wearing a leather waistcoat.

So I do the only thing I possibly can to redeem myself.

I create the biggest explosion I can, and I run away from it. Cool guys don't look at explosions, after all.

Even though I went into this wanting to avoid unnecessary violence and just soak up the scenery, a pipeline is always too much of a tempting target. They create the biggest explosions, and if you're lucky, you get to hear Rico spit out a line like "Try to transport fuel now, you pipeline jerks!", which I think are reason enough.

Besides, it was on my way to an undiscovered settlement. Which turned out to be a lighthouse.


Indeed, Rico's deadpan expression can only be saying one thing: Basejump. And so I do. And I glide, and glide, and end up in a pleasant little fishing village, tucked into a lagoon, or a cove, or whatever the hell this is.

There's so much incidental detail in Just Cause 2 that it blows my mind. Who the hell is going to find this village? It's got no intrinsic worth, and I've never seen another like it while playing. It's just here, sitting, like an unused set for a film, cozy in its idyllic setting.

I move on, again, heading towards the marshland that serves as buffer between the Archipelago and the Lautan Lama Desert. By the side of the road I find this, which is even more unique, if a little more boring, than the fishing village.

It's just a run down, broken building. But I've not seen another like it, so it was worthy of a photo. Also, I like how the sunset is filtering down through the forest canope. Ok, I'll put amateur photography to one side.

The marshlands pass by without event, and as I move into the desert night is truly upon me. But still, the game refuses to stop being visually gorgeous.

I had planned on heading directly through the desert, but I figured that a) deserts are boring and b) there was something much more worthwhile to be found by taking a detour through the southern mountain range. SO I found myself an ATV and I headed up. And up.

And then I found this.

And you thought the desert was pretty at night. Avalanche seem to have spent approximately 80% of their resources getting sunsets and sunrises perfect. First you get the half light of dawn, painting everything in a cool purple or blue, all dual tones and haze. It's gorgeous, in its own right. But then it's as though some divine power opens the floodgates, and you get...


What actually happened, because I'm an impatient bastard, is that as soon as I got the pre-dawn shot, I turned and headed back to the quadbike, only to audibly swear as the mountain face in front of my suddenly lit up with orange. I turn, and see that. Man.

And I continue. Gotta get to the top of the mountain after all? I mean, where else am I going to base jump from?

There ain't no better way to climb a mountain than to drive up it.

And of course, at the top of the mountain, someone's made a little house. I think it's probably something like how Richard Branson has a toilet on the edge of a cliff, so he can feel alive when he evacuates his innards. With a shack on the top of a mountain, reading the paper would feel incredible.

I mean hell, this place is almost as high as the clouds.

I can't stay though, I've got places to be.

There's a particular Easter Egg in Just Cause 2 that perfectly sums up the game as a whole. It's utter hilarious stupidity in the middle of stunning beauty. I'll not put the particular time on the next picture, so if you want to keep it a surprise for yourself, you don't have to correspond the time to the map. But hey, it's there if you want it.

I needed a real weapon, so I went here.

Down there, in that blossoming grove, is a tower. In the tower is the ultimate weapon.

The Happy Bubble Blaster does no damage. You can't even hit anything with it. But it shoots bubbles. I don't think even the most hardened army veteran could fight a man shooting bubbles at him. It's just too.. sweet.

And so it's northward, towards Panau City, the last major landmark on my trip. The rest of the desert passed almost without incident, proving to be just as empty as I had feared. Or, to be fair, empty enough not to detour me from my mountain path.

Panau City is a mess of tiny islands and huge sky-scrapers thrusting up at the sky like accusing fingers while smaller buildings clamour for attention around their bases. I can't help but think of some new metropolis like Dubai when seeing it, where national wealth has translated into huge hubristic structures that cost vast amounts of money, while leaving all around them in the same squalor. But hey, what do I know?

Of course, that building behind me being tall, I have to climb it, and then fling myself off it.

Just for some perspective; that bridge below me has struts that are easily fifty feet tall. Maybe a hundred. What I'm saying is that I'm bloody high up. High enough that I can rack up a cool three hundred metre free fall on my basejump.

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! I disregard gravity, recklessly.

This is basically it. One more stop, and my journey is over. It's taken me nearly three hours so far, which is at least three times longer than it should have, but then I've been on foot a good chunk of that time, or in some slow junker that barely moves faster than a jog.

This is the Final Destination.

It's one of Panau's more eccentric mysteries, and I shan't ruin it for you. But it serves as an good finish line, so I'm going to get there regardless.

Even if it means braving the mother of all storms. And they actually make a difference to how the vehicles handle; it won't capsize me, but it'll make getting to my destination more than a little difficult. But hey, I make it, and that's just fine.

So that's it. The final view towards the mountains that so dominate the Panau skyline. Pretty much exactly three hours later, and the trip is done. I could easily have delayed it by any number of hours by getting completely lost at any point, just investigating undiscovered area after mystery spot, but I tried to keep some sort of handle on things, which is just fine. I doubt you'd want to leaf through three hundred holiday snaps.

The route, if you're so inclined:

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Just Cause 2

PS3, Xbox 360, PC

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Phill Cameron