Just Cause Preview
At Quakecon 2006 I got the chance to play Just Cause, a new action game from Eidos and Avalanche Studios that feels like a mix of Grand Theft Auto, ATV Offroad Fury, and Far Cry. Now, you might ask, how can those games possibly go together? Let's first start with the story. You'll play as a standard tough guy character named Rico Rodriguez who is sent by the CIA to put a new regime in power on a small South American island named San Esperito. To do so, you'll need to use tons of vehicles, your trusty weapons, stunts - yes, stunts! - and some backup from the regime you're trying to put in power.
Just Cause has large, open tropical environments where you can carjack people, do missions in the order you choose, and do all kinds of crazy stunts with jetskis, cars, hang gliders, planes, and more - like helicopters, parachutes, and even motorcycles. There are over 1,200 square miles explore if you choose, all of which seem to be loaded seamlessly, and you can switch over to doing missions whenever you feel like it.
The action in Just Cause is pretty casual and fun, with some hilariously bad ragdoll physics (which is actually a good thing, depending on the game) and tons and tons of enemies to kill - most are dumb as a brick and go down quickly, but if you just fight them like the enemies in Serious Sam, it becomes much more fun than just a few guys with really bad AI. The game engine in use here is a proprietary one built by Avalanche Studios that has massive draw distances and seamless environments. I found that it's not quite up to par with some other huge, open outdoor game engines nowadays, but at the very least the frame rates are blazing-fast and very stable.
The most unique feature here has got to be the stunts you can do. From doing crazy stuff in the water to riding on the roof of a car, you can use these abilities for fun or to gain a (small) edge in combat. You can also use a wacky parachute that boosts you into the air as you jump off of a cliff, and then glide down for a very long distance. You can then do stuff like attach a grapple to a vehicle to parasail, freeing up your hands to shoot something if you like.
The mission I got to try out had me helping my buddies take over a village. After picking up some grenades, I had to storm the village's main street and blow up three barricades, killing enemy banditos all the while. I took out hundreds of them easily in less than ten minutes of gameplay, picking up ammo and health from the many bodies that were left behind. Taking over that village meant that a foothold was established for my faction, and it was time to move on with better weapons and more support from my buddies.
The biggest issue I saw here was that the game felt ridiculously easy. It could have been just set that way for the specific demo version I was playing, but the AI also was dumb as dirt for both sides in the village mission I tried. I was taking out droves of the enemies who could barely hurt me, even after sustained fire - I hope that challenge can be added to this game without taking too much of the hilariously fun scale of combat away. Whether that can be done just by increasing the damage enemies do or not, well, it's hard to say.
Just Cause is slated for release later this year. If the guys at Avalanche Studios can bring their interesting, yet odd gameplay styles together for some real fun, then this could be as much of a sleeper hit as Far Cry was two years ago.