If you were looking for a job in tourism then the island nation of Panau would be a dream place to work. It has it all - remote beaches, lush forests, sprawling deserts and majestic mountains. Panau is simply gorgeous. The perfect job... if it wasn't for the attack helicopters, revolutionary guerrillas, crime lords and United States covert operatives constantly blowing the crap out of everything. But that's the world of Just Cause 2, a game all about base jumping, black ops and blowing stuff up.
As in the original Just Cause, you take the part of Rico Rodriguez. Not only does Rico have the looks and the accent of Scarface's Tony Montana, he has no trouble with building up a body count to match him. The game begins with Rico jumping out of a helicopter over Panau to retrieve some sensitive US intel. As an introduction it sets up the game perfectly. The parachute drops (and there are a lot of them) look great. As Rico passes through the clouds you start to appreciate the scale of the island. First the individual mountains and lakes and beaches begin to appear, then you can pick out towns, roads, waterfalls and rivers. It's strange but the drops are done so well, and so often, that after a few hours of play you sometimes forget how good it looks.
Taking Rico through his first couple of missions serve not only as a taste of the visuals but also as a short training exercise. While the shooter aspect of the game is simple and serviceable, there are a number of additional gameplay elements that keep the experience interesting. The game has a very friendly lock-on system where pointing in an enemy's general direction will mean a hit. The D-pad switches between your one-handed and two-handed weapons, as well as your explosives and PDA. When you are not fighting or on a mission you can buy weapons and vehicles through your PDA. You can also upgrade them making your weapons more accurate and the vehicles faster and much easier to control. The PDA also lets you get a quick airlift to any of the many different locations on the island.
The training missions take you to a towering Casino in the middle of Panau's thick forest. It's here you get your first taste of Rico's grappling hook. The hook is fired with R1 and can pretty much lock on to anything including concrete, metal, trees, cliff faces, cars and people. Getting to the top of the Casino is simply a matter of aiming and firing. By holding down the R1 button your hook will automatically reel you in. But the hook isn't just for going up. If you run out of ammo it will grab and throw enemies or drag them behind your bike or car. If you need a ride it will get you a passing car, bike or copter. If you fall it'll certainly help with that, and if you're stuck in the forest two kilometres from civilisation, you can do a George of the Jungle, and get there a little bit quicker. In the middle of a fight the hook's quick dash ability is very useful. Hitting a target will drag you in, but if you hit the X button, the hook will release, throwing you in the air. Not only does it look cool but it's an invaluable trick when you're trying to outflank a pesky enemy with a rocket launcher.
Talking of invaluable tricks, your infinitely deployable stunt parachute definitely comes into this category. Of course you'll need it if you jump out of a plane or off a bridge. But if you open it too early you don't have to worry about being a sitting duck to ground troops on your long slow descent. Just drop the chute and open it again when you're closer to the ground. The only real problem with the whole hook and chute idea is that it takes all the risk out of flying and climbing. In Just Cause 2 there are plenty of extreme heights, but none of them pose the slightest threat. On the positive side it allows you to just relax and enjoy the view.
The training missions are fun and give you an accurate taste of the game. However, they are misleading in one important aspect. They are very linear and funnel you from mission to mission. In the game proper this is not the case, because if Just Cause 2 is anything, it's a sandbox game. As soon as the training missions are over the whole map opens up. And it's one whole lot of map. At more than 1000 square km the island of Panau is massive.
It's good the game is big and looks so good because the story is pretty bland and the voice acting is average. To move the story along you will have to push through three kinds of missions and while there are agency missions, stronghold missions and faction missions, as missions go they are all rather familiar. The different kinds of missions are opened up by accumulating Chaos points. As you might have guessed, you get Chaos points by dealing out chaos.
As you get into the story proper you become aware that Rico's prime target is Baby Panay. Panay is Panau's corrupt and violent dictator and only through civil unrest can his regime be brought down. So Rico, on his own and with the help of the US government, criminals and freedom fighters, sets out to cause as much unrest as possible. This means that anything with a government logo on it gets blown up. It also means that gas stations, radio transmitters, and cranes also get blown up. But Rico doesn't just concern himself with small and easy targets; heavily defended airstrips, fuel storages depots and military bases are just as likely to end up smouldering wreckage.
Just Cause 2 has almost three hundred different locations and every location has its individual completion percentage. Knocking out generators, pulling down statues of Baby Panay, finding all the hidden ammo, weapons, health and armour, while fighting off the corrupt police, will get you closer to 100 percent. Complete locations will net you chaos points and move you closer to opening up missions. However, sometimes it can take a while to get to the main missions and although there is a great variety, like any RPG or sandbox game, it can sometimes feel repetitive and a chore.
But a bit of grinding never hurt anyone, and when you are rewarded with the spectacular locations and set pieces that Just Cause 2 offers, there is little to complain about. With your grappling hook you'll be grabbing rides on jet fighters. You'll be setting charges on the top of impossibly tall buildings and jumping to safety as they explode. You'll be base jumping from helipads overhanging hundred metre cliffs and simply blowing the crap out of everything else.
Although it has no online or multiplayer modes, the game offers a feature where you can automatically record sections of your gameplay and these can be uploaded to the Just Cause YouTube channel. But, online and multiplayer or not, the scale of the game offers plenty to do. There are hundreds of vehicles to choose from, everything from scooters to commercial passenger planes, all jackable and drivable. There is also a nice mix of upgradeable weapons, and the environments offer plenty of variety and heaps that's destructible.
Although it's not an original game, Just Cause 2 takes standard ideas and pushes them to the extreme. While it might be lacking in originality and flair, there is no doubt that it's fun and at times thrilling, in a violent and destructive kind of way.
And it's very big.
Disclaimer: This game was not reviewed alongside the Xbox 360 version, rather, we had two independent and quite stylistically different journos tackle each one. There's bound to be similarities, but likewise there'll be certain differences of opinion.