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Just Cause 2
Score: 88%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Avalanche Software
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Free-Roaming/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
It isn't often that I find myself speaking so definitively about games these days. I feel confident, though, when I say that Just Cause 2 is the best damn sandbox game in years. Although it isn't without faults, Just Cause 2 is a full throttle thrill ride.

The island paradise of Panau is absolutely gorgeous. With scenic vistas that range from frigid mountain tops to lush jungles, Just Cause 2 has enough new locations to keep things fresh at all times. While the world of Just Cause 2 is definitely a sight to behold, the inhabitants most definitely are not. Many of the character models, including the player's character, CIA Agent Rico Rodriguez, are bare bones and most of the enemies are repeated several times over, which is to be expected in a game of this scope. The most impressive feat that the developers have pulled off is the absence of load times while exploring Panau. It is all one seamless, enormous playground.

Unfortunately, the voice acting does not hold up as well as the visuals do. Honestly, the voice acting is terrible, but it doesn't help that the actors don't have a good script either. The only purpose the script serves is to establish a flimsy and loose explanation for each ridiculous set piece. For a story that involves one man armies, cannibalistic Imperial soldiers, the black market, ninjas, and every shady arms dealer in the world, Just Cause 2 tries to take itself a little too seriously in its delivery and presentation of the story via the amazingly ridiculous set pieces.

I did enjoy the music, though. The special agent theme fits the world well and during particularly amazing moments, it made me feel like James Bond making his daring escape. It is a little disappointing that the music doesn't fill more time because the missions are the only time it is played. Traveling the world is largely a silent, or ambient, experience. For a world as big as Just Cause 2, it would have benefited greatly from a custom soundtrack or licensed music.


Gameplay:
In Just Cause 2, you play CIA operative, Rico Rodriguez. Rico is the returning hero from the first Just Cause, so he is intimately familiar with destruction. Rico has the esteemed privilege of being the agent of chaos among the island of Panau. Panau has been overrun by a corrupt dictatorship and the CIA has a vested interest in ensuring the rebellious factions get the freedom they deserve.

Just Cause 2 has an enormous open-world paradise which Rico explores. At first, the experience is somewhat linear until three or four missions in when it unleashes you into the world. Right away, all the toys and weapons are available from the beginning. Helicopters and airplanes aren't hard to find and rocket launchers and heavy weapons are plentiful. Just Cause 2 checks off all the important points that make a great open world game.

There are several different ways to travel around the world in Just Cause 2. Of course there are land vehicles like jeeps, tanks, motorcycles, and sports cars. Speedboats and jet skis area also available, as well as jets and helicopters. The best way to get around, however, is to use Rico's most versatile tool: his grapple arm. When Rico launches his grapple arm at any object, he can be reeled in at alarming speeds, which when he opens his bag of infinite parachutes causes Rico to "slingshot" through the air and gains speed and altitude as he flies.

The most rewarding aspect of Just Cause 2 is the mission structure. There are three areas Rico needs to follow. There are "Agency" missions which keep the main story moving and offer the best set pieces like riding a satellite rocket into low-Earth orbit or battling machine gun-wielding ninjas on the side of a mountain. "Agency" missions are only unlocked after earning enough "Chaos." "Chaos" is a currency in Rico's world and "Chaos" is earned by completing rebel faction missions or liberating small towns from the oppressive regime of Panau. With "Chaos" comes cash and cash buys Rico better equipment from Black Market dealers and the tools the Black Market offers are an essential part of earning more "Chaos."


Difficulty:
There isn't any particular difficulty setting available in Just Cause 2. The situations and missions that you undertake vary wildly in terms of difficulty spikes, but at times, Just Cause 2 can be downright frustrating because it doesn't always offer warnings of particularly difficult missions. One mission may take less than five minutes, while the next takes upwards of an hour. The only real indicator of difficulty is how well equipped you are when you start each mission, so it is always a good idea to stock up on grenades and ammo beforehand to make it easier on yourself.

Game Mechanics:
As much fun as Just Cause 2 can be, there are still some small improvements that could be made to make the overall experience better. The two most important mechanics in any third person open world game are the shooting and driving. While the shooting works well enough, zooming in with the Right Analog Stick sometimes feels awkward and stiff during intense firefights.

The driving mechanic, although greatly improved over the previous Just Cause, stills feels a little squirrely. Once again, the mechanic works well enough but in a pinch, but it tends to work against you. Hijacking vehicles utilizes a really fun mini-game and the stunt jump system is immensely satisfying, but the consequence of not being behind the wheel in many of these situations means the targeted vehicle inevitably careens off a cliff or, more simply, crashes into a mountain while you are still riding it and kills you.

Just Cause 2 is easily the most fun I have had in a huge, open world in years. The design team has a keen understanding of how to give players what they want from big sandboxes. While the story and voice acting are definitely not the reason to pick this up, the unabashed joy you get while destroying a tropical paradise is compelling enough to bring a smile to anyone's face and, as the next step in open world games, Just Cause 2 should not be missed.


-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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