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Just Cause Review

By Jeff Buckland, 9/28/2006

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Played on:


Minimum System:

1.4GHz CPU
64MB DX9 Video
Win 2K/XP

Recommended System:

2.8GHz CPU
GeForce 7, ATI
X1800 or better

Played on:

Dell XPS M170 Laptop
Pentium M 2GHz CPU
GF Go 7800GTX Video

If you haven't gotten your fill yet of action games that let you overthrow a corrupt Caribbean government, then have I got a game for you. Just Cause is often described as being a mix of Far Cry and Grand Theft Auto, and while that works well enough for the five-second rundown of the game, we need to dive a little deeper to see if that comparison really sticks. Let's get into the PC version of this new action game from Avalanche Studios and Eidos.

Truly, the Far Cry / GTA analogy seems to fit pretty well in your first few minutes of playing Just Cause. We've got massive tropical islands along with a totally free-roaming environment where the main character can carjack and shoot anyone you want him to; you can do all kinds of missions in any order as well. Your ultimate goal is to overthrow the president, but to do this you'll need to work with local rebels to shake up the drug trade in this small chain of islands known as San Esperito.

As you play further into the game, however, you'll find that many of the great aspects of Far Cry's complex AI system are nowhere to be seen here. In fact, it's tough to even use the term "artificial intelligence" when talking about the many soldiers, policemen, and enemy rebel troops you'll find yourself fighting in Just Cause. They're so stupid, it's difficult to really put into terms - but it's so bad tha I sometimes feel like my enemies have made some great accomplishment by sometimes successfully throwing a grenade in my general direction. At least they've almost all got weapons and ammo for you to pick up - you'll rarely run out of weaponry, as you'll often be faced with a dozen enemies at once. The funny and sad part is that this game's firefights are still pretty easy, and hell, even if your assault rifles, shotguns, powered-up pistols, grenades, explosives, and rocket launchers run out, then you will still have a pair of pistols with infinite ammo as well (although you'll need to reload every 12 shots).

What I've described so far probably doesn't sound too appealing, but luckily, rookie developer Avalanche Studios has given Just Cause enough merits to make this one actually checking out. There's a large number of vehicles here, including boats, motorcycles, jetskis, cars, ATVs, helicopters, planes, and more. Sometimes you'll be in the back of a pickup firing a rear-facing machinegun, and other times you'll be using a pimped-out speedboat with an infinite store of missiles and bullets to fire. In fact, every vehicle in Just Cause has infinite ammo, and in my opinion, the game's better for it. Sometimes it's just silly, stupid fun to fire a barrage of missiles at bridges, hills, random cars, and pretty much anything else around you.

Early in your progress through Just Cause you'll be given a pistol-fired grappling hook, which winds up becoming one of the most fun parts of the game. Through the use of some very dodgy physics, you can use the grappling hook to latch on to a vehicle and literally parasail around with your parachute (which, like in Battlefield 2, never needs repacking and can be deployed as many times as you want without issue). Now, I'm pretty sure that in real life you can't parasail behind a car that's going 40 MPH, but if you play Just Cause for more than ten minutes you'll soon figure out that realism was not exactly high on the developers' priority list.

What makes the stunt and grappling hook system even better, however, is that you have a couple of stylish ways to carjack people. All you need to do is drive alongside the target car in your own car, flip out of the window onto the roof, and hit another key to jump to his roof. Then hit a key to kick the driver out of the side, replacing him with yourself as the driver. Or if you're on foot, just snag his vehicle with the grappling hook, parasail, and reel the line in to get closer and eventually get onto the roof of a car. You'll find this to be a useful tactic when chasing someone that's in a car, since you can't fire your hand-held weapons from vehicles and most of the cars you'll be driving don't have guns mounted right on the front. Of course, this whole system gets even more challenging and fun when you realize you can hijack a helicopter a similar way...

When it comes to story, Just Cause delivers some cheesy plot where some American CIA operative has hired you, Rico Rodriguez, to infiltrate the local rebels, become one of them, and overthrow corrupt president Salvador Mendoza. The missions you'll get will have you riling up local drug cartels, releasing rebel leaders from prison, hijacking shipments, blowing up fields of coca, and much more. These missions often come with checkpoints so you don't have to redo them entirely, although you'll find that you can only save at certain spots on the map and only between missions.

There are two types of missions in Just Cause: the main story that has you taking on El Presidente's forces, and the side missions where you help two rival factions (the Riojas drug cartel and the rebels) take over villages and then supply them. The best action to be fround is in the main story missions, and if you only do these ones then you'll be finished with the game in less than seven hours. The side missions are generally really simplistic and not terribly engaging, and while there are a lot of them they follow a certain formula a bit too often.

For those who just want to roam and cause chaos without actually completing the story, well, Just Cause will likely to be worth it for you. The cops will come after you if you start killing people, but often rival groups start fighting each other and you'll find yourself wondering who's fighting who. This actually makes it more fun, as the explosions and deaths stack up while you can take advantage of it all. Many times I've witnessed some chopper come out of nowhere, fire rockets at three police cars just minding their own business (blowing them all up, of course, and causing some rather impressive-looking explosions), and then just take off. The one thing that is frustrating is that the game doesn't really tell you who's at war with who - or why. The cops do have a sort of "police star" system here to show you how much they're after you, but it's pretty easy to get away from them if you want.

Luckily, the graphics make up for many of the game's smaller shortcomings. Just Cause's massive draw distance and humongous set of islands truly dwarfs what Far Cry was capable of, and the only loading times you'll see once you've gotten into the game are before or after some cutscenes. The special effects thrown on are very nice, and while this game suffers from an excessive amount of bloom lighting, it can be turned off in the options menu - too bad most other special effects get turned off with it if you do so. Clouds are volumetric (so you can travel into and through them) and are used to some nice effect throughout the island, but are never used to cover up any technical shortcomings. The physics system in this game is rudimentary for today's standards, but overall it does its job in the most basic of fashions. It actually can lead to some unintentionally humorous moments, like when you crash a motorcycle rather lightly and suddenly Rico goes flying a hundred feet off to the right - yes, a 90 degree angle from the direction of your original momentum. Hell, even stunts that completely defy reality whatsoever are included, like the ability to jump from one helicopter to another. And don't let those helicopter blades stop you, either! Rico will pass through them harmlessly if he's in the middle of one of his slick stunt moves.

Unfortunately, there are some other technical issues that need to be addressed. First, Just Cause doesn't support widescreen resolutions at all - wide-angle monitors are only getting more popular, and the Xbox 360 version certainly supports widescreen, so I don't understand what the problem is here. In fact, the game is hard-coded to only support a total of five screen resolutions: 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x1024, and 1600x1200. Luckily, the guys at Widescreen Gaming Forums have come up with a fix that allows any resolution that your video card and monitor support, including wide ones, but you'll need to be comfortable with editing an .ini file with Notepad and not afraid of using random software found on the internet. For what it's worth, it worked just fine for me and widescreen modes look great now.

Configuring your controls is another issue, as this game winds up being almost as bad as Battlefield 2 when it comes to the sheer number of buttons you've got to configure. This happens because the game gives you separate controls for basic vehicle movements, but then adds unique ones for flying, driving, boating, swimming, and using motorcycles. Throw in some stunt-based keys and it can get confusing quickly, but fortunately the game does give you on-screen reminders in the top-left corner for what keys you can press and what they do. If you are like me and simply must change a game's default controls, well, it will take you a while to get it all set up correctly and it might take some trial and error, too - but in the end it's worth it.

The Xbox 360 version is also out in stores, and while I've heard the Xbox and PS2 versions of Just Cause should be avoided, the 360 version has more special effects, easier targeting for when you're on foot (the PC version has an autoaim targeting system unless you're traveling on foot, while the 360 gives you this autoaim system all the time), a large set of achievements to challenge you with, and often a slightly more stable frame rate than a medium-specced PC. Your computer will need to be pretty beefy to match or beat the HD resolution and overall smooth frame rates on the 360, and having only the mouse and keyboard for controls on the PC version means using some of the aircraft takes a lot of getting used to.

The music in Just Cause brings in some great classical guitar and then branches out to Mariachi-style horns, a bit of spy music, and some generic action-oriented stuff. It's an eclectic mix that overall doesn't get in the way but also doesn't stand out very often. Voice acting is pretty bad overall, and with the rather ugly look of the cinematics you'll find yourself often just skipping the cutscenes and just getting to the part where three vehicles and a helicopter blow up simultaneously while you escape by parachuting over a ravine (yes, that's certainly a possible scenario in this game).

Even with its technical and gameplay-related issues, Just Cause's unrealistic, arcade feel still winds up being loads of fun once you start getting creative with the game's stunt system and fiddling with some of the more hilarious options. The physics system and story are both pretty crappy and the AI is worse, but somehow that doesn't matter nearly as much in this game as it does in others - the huge, outdoor environments and ability to cause huge amounts of destruction help to make up for this game's problems. Just Cause really could have used a few months' work to polish it and add some more depth to the main story missions, but the developers have put an emphasis on fun here that shines through anyway.

Overall: 80%



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