Sometimes the best thing a game can do is to throw caution to the wind and let the player go rampaging through the world like a runaway rhino. When all the systems work together to let this destruction come about in an organic, grand, spectacular way, that’s when the game gets elevated to the top tier of cathartic experiences. Just Cause 2 happens to be one of those elite few that has achieved this.
Ok, here’s a little background, so the opening para doesn’t come off as the work of a desperate columnist who hasn’t finished a new game in a couple of weeks. Ahem. Just Cause was an enjoyable action title that was released in the mid-2000s by Swedish developers Avalanche, which earned a few plaudits but never really managed to crack into the big time. For the sequel Avalanche took to heart the adage ‘Go big or go home’ and attached an industrial-size pump to Just Cause’s carcass before turning the valve. Just Cause 2 was something of a juggernaut in comparison, a sprawling open-world boomfest set in Panau, a fictional island in South-East Asia. Panau plays to the classic banana republic trope, ruled by a dictator who’s so campy that he’s more clown glove than iron fist. Throw in all the other factions jostling for power, and the offshore oil deposits, which has the CIA moving in to get to a piece of the pie as well, and you can see all the traits of a powderkeg ready to go off, just waiting for you to come in and light the fuse.
‘You’ in this case being Rico Rodriguez, CIA operative extraordinaire. Where you go, explosions follow. There’s the small matter of your character actually being the worst possible choice for a spook, since you have the habit of frequently giving away your position with several towering pillars of fire. Plus, your preferred mode of transportation is a grappling hook and a backpack with an unlimited supply of parachutes — hardly a discreet way of getting around.
It’s gloriously silly, but the game knows it and plays it fully tongue in cheek. All the characters speak in campy accents, from the ploddingly deliberate oriental-flavoured English of the local faction leaders to the stretched-out drawls of your Bible-belt helicopter pilot. The story doesn’t bother following any logical order of progression, it just gives you an excuse to cause chaos in the craziest way possible. And chaos is what Just Cause 2 does best. In fact, your initial job is to destabilise the region so that it’s easier for Langley to stick their siphon into all the black gold lying around. To that end, there’s a chaos meter that increases whenever you go loco, taking out outposts or destroying pipelines. You’re basically encouraged to go out there and do as much damage as possible. And when you can pull off moves like tethering enemies to explosive barrels, and sending both of them skyrocketing into the stratosphere for some pretty impressive fireworks, chaos comes naturally.
It helps that they’ve really done a number with the graphics engine. Skimming in a speedboat over the emerald waters along the coastline, all the while laying waste to armed pursuers, is still a huge rush. It’s true that assets are reused in several places, so locations start feeling a little similar after playing the game for a while, but I find that a forgivable flaw, considering what the experience offers outside that.
Now that multiplayers been added on top, we can expect an exponential leap in craziness. Even if people want a more structured experience with other players, modes like races and demolition derbies are available, and even more exciting is that players will be allowed to run their own servers and create their own scripts using the interpreter language Lua, which could lead to a multitude of new game modes. You’ve got to love the benefits of an open platform, and a developer that lets its player base make use of it.
For now, let’s hang on and see if the new party vibe gives Just Cause 2 a second wind.