Just Cause 2 PC Review
Open-world action games seem to go through cycles just like game consoles themselves do. Rockstar Games comes out with a new Grand Theft Auto that sort of resets the genre and raises the bar, and then other developers spend the next several years working on how to match it and expand on it. Some go the route of Saints Row and deliver a game in a very similar style but with a different focus (like a sheer number of silly activities instead of atmosphere and attention to detail), while others - like the recently-released Just Cause 2 - take it into an entirely different setting and focus on travel and wide-open environments, but keep much of that same open-world gameplay.
The new adventures of our friend Rico Rodriguez, also known as Scorpio, take him to an island nation in Southeast Asia called Panau (not to be confused with the real nation of Palau, also in the Pacific). The islands are somewhere near Malaysia but have a very wide range of terrain, from snowy mountains to a desert plain, on to lush jungles and beaches. Rural and urban areas are represented as well, and Rico will be traversing them with cars, bikes, boats, planes, helicopters, and by his own special means of transport to take on the corrupt regime for the United States government. And all of it is open and accessible after only a couple of introductory missions, too.
Now, all of this makes it seem like a pretty regular and boring knockoff of Far Cry meets GTA, but the difference here comes in several ways, the biggest of which is the little grappling hook that Rico has attached to his left arm and the endless number of parachutes he can produce out of his back. Essentially, Rico is a modern-day winged menace, as he can use the hook to pull enemies off their feet, attach moving cars to stationary objects to cause a sudden deceleration, and slingshot himself around the game's 35 square miles of islands, parasailing-style, with his parachute. And you'll need to be able to learn how the grapple works in many ways if you want to survive, too, as the game expects you to get creative and will throw a ton of enemies at you almost right from the start.
There are the missions for three factions on the island that you can go through; each of them wants to take down Panau's government and leader as the military tighten the screws to try and keep control. As you complete these goals, new Agency missions become available that continue the plot. And after you complete the game's story, all of the missions you didn't finish before the end (there can be quite a few) become available and you're allowed to do them at your leisure. And let me tell you, that can easily be the vast majority of the game; I completed more missions than I needed to start the endgame, and when I was done and the post-story Mercenary Mode started, I was only at 26% completion.
In many open-world games, this would probably be an issue, but Just Cause 2's story seems to only be there because people expect there to be one in a modern-day action game. This game relies much more on the charm of its world and the consistent fun of its missions. They're original, entertaining, and completing them was much more of a pleasure than a chore. And seeing the hundreds of locations, settlements, and towns was interesting, too, and the number of upgrade parts spread throughout them sits in the thousands - plus there's the Baby Panay statues to take down, the Radio masts to destroy, and the military officers to assassinate. All in all, I was over 14 hours into the game when I "finished" it, and that added up to about one-quarter completion.
The islands that make up Panau are huge and beautiful, and the developers at Avalanche Studios have done an excellent job in creating a picturesque world to explore with only a couple issues of texture repetition or "emptiness" here and there. From old ruins in the jungle to a local beach resort, the game doesn't have the fine attention to little details like GTAIV does, but its big picture is fantastic. And on PC, I found that performance was on par with most other major games that have been released on PC recently. You won't get away with playing at high res on an old 6600GT or anything, but a Radeon 4850 or GeForce 260 will serve you pretty well here.
The biggest issue Just Cause 2 has is its awful voice acting and plot. Rico is somewhere between a caricature of James Bond and a full-on superhero, and as long as you treat it like that when you play, it won't seem so completely ridiculous. Well, actually it still can, but at least it seems more acceptable. Frankly, you can skip just about every cutscene in the game and miss very little plot or interesting character development, so I highly recommend doing that; the only things you'll miss most of the time are bad accents, predictable mission setups (the interesting things usually happen mid-mission instead), and lame one-liners.
With weapons and vehicles you can buy and upgrade, you'll get that little RPG-style element - but frankly, it's not a massive addition to the game. Having the ability to get free "extractions" via instant helicopter ride to any location you've already visited is nice, though, and while I took advantage of it often, I also enjoyed just using the parachute-slingshot action to get around the island. Well, that and using my grappling hook to latch on to a helicopter and skyjack it. And since many of the bases and installations you come across are run by the Panau military, completing those (by taking out all the things that can go boom and collecting all the loot in the area) will often mean coming up with creative ways to destroy them, and that's where the non-linear focus on action comes in. I've had several instances where I had to go in on the ground to take out the SAM sites, then I was able to quickly snag a chopper from the helipad to rain down hell from above. Or you can fire a grenade launcher down on the enemy while slingshotting yourself around the base. Or just use an assault rifle from the ground like a "normal" shooter.
Coming into Just Cause 2 with a GTAIV frame of mind will probably lead you to instant disappointment at its horrible voice acting and shoddy plot, but I recommend that you come at it instead as a big stunt-driven sandbox where the missions are really just fun, new ways you can apply your tools of destruction. Just Cause 2 is an amazingly fun game, and while it's not the most well-rounded package, it delivers massive amounts of entertainment in ways that no one's really quite done before.