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Wot I Think: Just Cause 2

Apologies that this is a few days late. The review code we received had a big old crazy bug in it, completely fixed in the released version. But never mind, because finally you can find out Wot I Think about Just Cause 2 - a game that I've been unquestionably looking forward to thanks to one of the best trailer campaigns we've seen. But can it live up to that hype? Will it have heeded my constant plea: "please don't let the game get in the way of the fun"?

“How was your day?” someone asked me on Sunday evening. “I found a hot-air balloon in the mountains, landed it on top of a skyscraper where there was a helicopter, which I used to pull over a statue. Then I stole a passenger plane from an airport and flew it into the ground,” I replied. Just Cause 2 gives you conversation topics.

There’s a purpose here. You, Rico, are trying to find out of a colleague has gone rogue, then to attempt to overthrow a fascist dictator, and to do so your task is to cause as much Chaos as possible. Which is a great premise. You’re just there to cause trouble, make a mess, and it’s rarely more sophisticated than that. There’s the odd escort mission, perhaps you’ll have to get a car to a destination. But it’s primarily about blowing stuff up. There’s then lots of story wormed in to attempt to dignify this, but it’s completely superfluous. And the voice acting is so atrocious (and occasionally downright offensive) that it becomes laughable. Ignore all that. It’s about blowing shit up. That’s enough.

What else have I done of late? There was that time I drove a car off a cliff, free-fell then parachuted, grappled my way onto a boat, threw the driver into the sea, and then rammed the boat into building. Oh, I liberated about 15 towns yesterday afternoon by the radical process of blowing everything up, and stealing all their supplies. It was helping! I helped some militant factions take territory from the despotic leader of the group of islands, Panau, mostly by blowing other stuff up. I shot helicopters out of the sky with a rocket launcher, and then amused myself enormously by tying an enemy to a gas canister, then shot the canister sending the man flying through the air like a deflating balloon. And I stood on top of a plane taking off from an airport to find out where it went, then when I got bored, threw the pilot out at about 20,000 feet and flew it into a mountain. (A quick pro-tip: Don't discuss playing Just Cause 2 in public places within earshot of authorities. This is especially true for airports.)

The grapple/tether deserves attention here. Forget the one from the first game – this is something else entirely. The grapple can attach to almost anything, from the ground to mountain-sides, walls to vehicles. Combined with the infinite parachutes that mark both Just Cause games as so bloody brilliant in their attitude, this means you can now fly yourself around at decent speeds, grappling the ground beneath you to tug yourself forward. It takes a while to get used to, then becomes magnificent. In battle situations it becomes so common to grapple a distant roof, pull yourself in, then launch your chute to fly over the roof and attack from above. Or grapple an enemy to tug him off a rooftop to fall to his death. And it’s no longer a separate weapon. Mounted on Rico’s wrist, it can be used at any time. Also, now you can fire the other end of the grapple out to tether two items together. Anything you fancy. Go crazy, see what works, see what hurts others. That car that’s chasing you? Jump on the roof of the car you’re driving, tether the car behind you to that tree. Bye, car!

This is Just Cause 2 at its best. A playground of idiocy, with astonishing capacity for letting you have maniac fun. It is so enormous, so densely packed with minute detail, littered with hidden surprises, and just there to be played with. If you see a vehicle you can drive/sail/fly it. The most work involved will be hitting a few number keys in time to remove the current occupant, then it’s yours to do with as you will. In a way familiar to those who have fallen for Burnout: Paradise or Red Faction: Guerrilla, it’s almost impossible to travel any distance to a particular target without getting distracted along the way. Perhaps you’ll be flying a chopper over a mountain to reach a faction quest on the other side, but what’s that nestled in the peak? A military base? With some sort of rocket deep into the mountain? Well that will surely need blowing up.

That’s Just Cause 2 at its best. Tethering cars to helicopters, using triggered explosives to take out half a town at once, firing a rocket at a vast radio mast to watch it collapse.

But Just Cause 2 has some worst as well. If you were to play this game for ten hours – a generous length for your average mainstream game – then the resulting review would be jubilant. The achievement is absolutely extraordinary. The scale is mind-blowing. As you liberate yet another town, 100%ing it by destroying every destructible and collecting every collectable, it tells you, “34/368”. Three hundred and sixty-eight?! The number of unique vehicles, the fun of so many of the weapons, the inventive ways you can use your grappling hook and tether. All of it is utterly remarkable. And then it gets carried away.

I was playing on Casual. When reviewing a game it’s normal to play on Normal. That’s the setting by which a game should usually be judged. But almost immediately on Normal I was finding the game was curtailing my opportunities for fun by killing me. As troops were dispatched to deal with my naughty ways, I found that I was all too easily taken out. I restarted in Casual and found everything a great deal more fun. This isn’t a stealth game, this isn’t a survival action, this is a lunatic’s playground. To have to play cautiously feels like a bastardisation of the point.

But get to hour 15 and something starts to change. When you cause unrest you attract Heat. With this you might attract the attention of reinforcements, Jeeps and bikes showing up with extra soldiers. Increase the level of Heat and it will ramp up the response, until eventually you’ll have four Heat segments lighting up very quickly, being attacked from all sides. Now, if you were equally levelled up to match this would be just more opportunities for fun. As it is, you just die a lot more quickly. If you’re being attacked by sixteen men at once (a likely scenario), there’s a strong chance one of them will use their supernatural aiming skills to empty a few rounds in your back. At the start of the game, on Casual, this isn’t an issue. Rico’s a resilient fellow. But by this stage their weapons are far more powerful. Should someone in the near-invisible distance have a rocket launcher, then you’re dead in one unpredictable moment. If this happens halfway through an extended mission with only a checkpoint a significant drive away, it’s only tedious. Now throw in a couple of helicopters above you, both firing missiles. You may have the coolest grappling hook in the universe, you may be armed with a rocket launcher, but you simply aren’t going to be able to get on with collecting items in that situation. The game loses focus. And let me stress once more: this is on Casual.

So this creates an interesting situation. What is Just Cause 2 for? Is my criticism of it here simply because I want to play it differently than is intended? Am I supposed to be using a different set of tactics, managing things in a whole other way? Is this a challenge I’m simply unwilling to accept? If so, then Just Cause 2’s biggest mistake is to trick me into thinking I can play my way for its first 10 hours.

The other mistake is ammunition. There simply isn’t enough of it for the weapons that are the most fun to use. You end up stuck with the basic machine guns, which are effective, but not nearly as much fun as a rocket launcher. Again, it doesn’t make sense for a game with infinite parachutes to put such a restriction in place. To have as much fun as possible, you should have as many rockets as possible. Oddly, occasionally the game understands this. Get in a chopper with rockets and it has infinite ammo. Rip one of the mounted guns from its stand and stagger about with it, and again you’ve got infinite bullets that cause awesome destruction. So why not the rest?

There is, as it happens, a solution for all this. There’s a trainer, and for the first time in eleven years of doing this job I used a cheat when reviewing. I was having fun. I wanted to carry on having fun. I suspect you might too.

I got it to strengthen the tether – something I suspect Avalanche may do themselves in a patch soon enough. And then I saw the tick box for infinite ammo. And I ticked it. And oh my goodness, did I start having a lot more fun. Rocket launcher go! Most of the time such cheats will ruin a game. It ruins the balance, makes it too easy, lets you bypass the challenge. This one just makes JC2 a lot more entertaining, for me at least. If you run the cheat you’ll see there’s also a box for infinite health. That will ruin the game. Don’t tick that one.

The missions you’re given vary in quality. You can help out three key factions to create civil unrest, with the aim of eventually overthrowing the islands’ leader. Some of these have a decent amount of plot to them, multiple stages, various characters playing a part. Others are very ordinary assaults on bases, that you’ll have been doing anyway as you explore in your own time. There are escort missions, but thankfully they’re mostly reasonable – I only had to restart one once due to my escortee getting himself killed, and it was entirely my fault. Then there’s the major plot, the Agency missions. These are large-scale, plot heavy, and often involve massive destruction.

It also needs to be mentioned how incredibly beautiful this game is. Just gasp-inducingly stunning. Watching a sunrise, seeing the clouds roll in and the rain start falling, seeing the snow glistening on the mountains, it's breathtaking. Flying a small plane to any destination becomes enormously difficult, as I find myself just enjoying the journey, doing some loop-the-loops, flying upside down, soaking in the view. The weather patterns are like nothing I've seen before, the cloud layers modelled realistically, the weather not appearing from nowhere.

In so very many ways, Just Cause 2 is absolutely stunning. It’s incomprehensibly enormous. There’s so much to do, and so much fun to be had doing it. But then it gets too caught up in a need to be a Game, like other games are a Game. There’s no need for that. I said it every time I posted one of the stunning trailers – please, please don’t let the game get in the way. They do let the game get in the way. Not to the point that it ruins it. Not at all. I absolutely emphatically suggest you get this, because there is nothing like it, and the fun I’ve had in the last few days has been just bloody brilliant.

My concern is whether I’ll be able to continue having that much fun now that the moment I show up in a town it’s suddenly level 4 Heat and I’m being assaulted by an entire army. And there’s still literally hundreds of them for me to attack. My ideal cheat would be one that limits the Heat level to 3. Oh my goodness, the fun I’d be having if that were the case.

That’s the rub of it. Avalanche didn’t quite have the confidence to entirely embrace what they’d created. They came so astonishingly close, and the result is compelling and hilarious. But in the end it gets overwhelmed by a need to control you, stop you from being completely free. And yet there was no need.

Get it. Get it because it's Red Faction: Guerilla x 10 (a game that similarly became overwhelmed with difficulty in the face of fun). Get it because you can steal planes from airports and ditch them into the sea. Get it because you can fly a helicopter up to unimaginable heights and then freefall for minutes. Get it because you can tether an enemy to the back of your boat and then drag him behind you. Get it because you can watch the sun set behind the mountains, as you fire a rocket into a water tower and see it cascade over the town below.

PS. I strongly recommend reading Tom Francis's tips before playing the game.

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