It’s for a Just Cause

A lot of games like to boast at a world of freedom. Titles from Bethesda and Rockstar Games are all about trying to sell you on this point of a “sandbox world” that you can explore at any time you like while also going on and doing what ever the hell you want. Hey, even Ubisoft got in on the craze with the Far Cry series. They might boast worlds as big as maybe 16 square miles, 30 square miles—the sorts of world sizes only some MMOs can dream to achieve in size. When it comes to Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive’s Just Cause 2, however, it takes a giant dump on the rest by boasting a 400 square mile playground. And that’s just for starters.

Another day in paradise

The game kicks off with CIA agent Rico Rodriguez, a bad cross between Antonio Banderas and Al Pacino, in a helicopter over the island-chain nation known as Panau in Southeast Asia. Rico is briefed by Agent No-Name, who assigns Rico with the task to find his old mentor, Tom Sheldon, and assassinate him as part of the “bigger picture,” which is that Panau, a long-time ally of the US, is now under dictatorship control by “Baby” Panay. Tom Sheldon, who was first assigned to make an attempt to overthrow the government, has since gone rogue and is suspected to be now playing for the other team. Before much of anything else can be learned, the game starts out like a typical movie with the black door gunner and Rico getting knocked out of the helicopter. Since the black dude is dead, Rico sky drives to his body and takes his parachute, safely landing outside a military facility.

By about this time you’re already getting a feeling for Just Cause 2—that is, the story is absolute shit. Of course, unlike some other games, Just Cause 2 is painfully aware of its conundrum, and instead of trying to make it any more painful, it simply runs with it to a comedic point, throwing in the most stereotypical characters known to mankind. Eventually the game leads you to find out that if you’re going to be making any leeway to overthrow the government, you’ll need to be working for the three main gang factions on the island. You have the revolutionary army known as the Reapers, an obvious play to communism; then we have the Ular Boys, a religious-druggy group that claims the island as its birthright; and lastly we have your typical gangster group with a wonderful faction name as the Roaches, with a Malaysian Godfather leading the pack.

All three factions agree to help you look for Sheldon in trade for doing their dirty work. This includes what ever you may think it may mean, including assassinating military officers, killing witnesses that can harm the factions, and even helping them with their drug runs on the island of Panau. Eventually you are led to Sheldon, whom you find out is the mythic being known as the “White Tiger,” a self-proclaimed revolutionary. Sheldon informs you that he’s been working deep undercover because he’s uncovered something of great importance, and to fit the pieces into the puzzle, Rico will need to collect the Agency asset native to the island, the Sucky-Sucky-Five-Dolla girl.

At this point it’s also becoming pretty clear that the characters are so forgettable in this game that you find yourself quickly forgetting the fact that they have names (I think). Sheldon, who was working as your black market contact known as the “Sloth Demon,” complete with creepy voice-over warnings to Rico, turns out to be your extremely stereotypical American—if this were still the 1980s. Sheldon wears Hawaiian t-shirts, likes to say “yeehaw!” a lot, is always found cooking a pot roast, and never misses a chance to utter the phrase “commie basterds” with every chance he gets. This I only remember because he’s the only supporting character in the game that shows up often enough to be memorable.

Eventually the gameplay ties into the story, which is a nice way of saying Avalance and Eidos just stopped trying to fool people with it and wants you to go around the island blowing shit up to cause “chaos” so as to drive Baby Panay out from hiding. The game hits its points by throwing in a cartoony-showdown with other nation agents who have come to stake their claim in Panau, including Japan, China, and Russia as the three that all respectively are backing one of the island’s factions as the new leaders after the government is overthrown. After fighting a fat Chinese man that likes to throw explosives, a Two Face Russian in an APC, and a Japanese colonel with his own rocket-launching low-orbit satellite. After you bump these three off you eventually scare Baby Panay into a military hideout.

What follows is a straight run-and-gun through a snake level before finally confronting Baby Panay. Before you can do much, however, a character that was first introduced to you in the beginning of the game but then leaves to never be seen again shows up and holds a grenade to Panay over some sort of revenge. I’m not sure really. I think he was Sucky-Sucky-Five-Dolla’s pimp or something and he thought she was dead. Anyway, you apparently find out that the reason everyone is so adamant about wanting to stick their finger in the Panau pie is that off the coast of Panau resides the world’s largest oil reserves (“It’s always about the oil” Rico adds for good measure, just in case you didn’t get the heavily-placed political message). Your orders after that are to get in a helicopter and fend off supertankers from China, Russia, and Japan, who are all apparently making a mad dash to the oil reserve to get their own, so that the American military can get their in time to take claim of it all.

Before that can happen, however, a nuclear sub pops up from the water and shoots Rico’s helicopter down, forcing Rico to romp around on the sub, only to find out that Baby Panay was able to survive a grenade to the face and is now intending to launch four nukes at the four respective countries trying to take their claim of Panau’s liquid gold. Just as he pushes the doomsday button, Panay self-proclaims that he is immortal, and that he will somehow be able to rule the world with his tiny nation island because he has large oil reserves. While on this tirade, however, his shirt gets caught on a nuke, which leads with Rico latching onto another into what can only be described as the best nod to Dr. Strangelove as it can get. Rico is able to disable three of the nukes and instead traps Panay on the fourth while rerouting the targeting computer to lock onto the Panauan oil reserves. He gently parachutes away and lands on a barge out on sea where Sheldon, Agent No-Name, and Sucky-Sucky-Five-Dolla are having a barbecue. The nuke goes off in the backdrop, radioactive ashes fall from the sky, and Rico feels justified in his actions as now America, China, Japan, and Russia have no reason to seek military action against each other and to spare the Panauan people from another oppressive occupation.

To recap: Rico, a CIA agent, apparently gives two-shits about the well-being of Panauan citizens after spending the entire game causing government infrastructure damage, including blowing up gas stations, water towers, and transformer boxes, all the while behind the reasoning that it was for a “just cause.” A cause which originally was supposed to be about overthrowing the dictator of the island but was really about oil, and instead the CIA still plans to put an American-friendly figurehead at the head of the state. This is, of course, ignoring the fact that the nuclear fallout would probably kill off the entire island’s population anyway. Mission Accomplished, buddy!

But wait, there’s more!

After my recap of the game’s story, you’re probably saying, “Right, so shit game? Avoid?” To which I surprisingly have to say no, not at all. In fact, Just Cause 2’s saving grace relies heavily on the gameplay, which makes up for the God-awful story that you can actually choose to completely avoid and never bother to do if you want, as it makes no different to the REAL fun of the game. No, my children, this is perhaps the rare time where I will actually say that the gameplay makes up for the absolute garbage storyline.

It’s difficult to start at one specific part of Just Cause 2’s gameplay, as it’s all so goddamn fun. Aside from the setting being on a gigantic, beautiful tropical island that even includes mythical biospheres for snow and desert levels, the game includes a slew of locations for the player to explore and cause havoc in. 300-something odd locations, to be exact. No, I am not shitting you. No, they are all not carbon copies of each other. Each location is actually beautifully placed within Panau’s scenic scope, making it a truly fun experience as you will find yourself weeks into the game and still coming across parts of the game you have yet to explore.

Locations vary in what purpose they serve as well. You have a couple of major cities in Panau, but you’ve got tons of villages to explore, as well as military bases, harbors, communication outposts, and even oil rigs. The best part of all of this? A lot of infrastructure can be destroyed, and, in fact, you are encouraged to do just that (the more chaos you cause, the more weapons and vehicles you are offered to buy from your black market contact). Most villages contain civic targets, such as water towers, transformer boxes, etc. The sort of thing that would cause civilian unrest. Other things include influence over the people directly, such as statues of Baby Panay or propaganda trailers. It’s the military bases that offer the juicer targets, however. We’re talking about generators, radio towers, satellite dishes, satellite relay devices, propane tanks, chimney stacks, silos, guard towers, SAM sites, and even giant radio towers. All serve the purpose to cause gigantic explosions and double as well to effect specific things in the game. For instance, if you complete all the objectives in a military location, then that location is “abandoned” with nothing but a couple of guards kept as post. Destroying airfields increases the enemy helicopter response time and destroying oil rigs (yes, you can destroy oil rigs) decreases the number of enemy vehicles that spawn. In the entire game world. Sandbox worlds of GTA and Oblivion be damned—what you do in Just Cause 2 has repercussions that are felt throughout the entire game world.

Other large world games usually have trouble when it comes to the travel aspect of getting to one place to the other. Oblivion played it straight with simply adding a fast travel system, whereas modern games with avionics can allow for “real time” travel as well. Just Cause 2 throws in both sorts of travel opportunities, allowing you to call in your black market contact to “extract” you over a location and drop you off, or you can simply hijack a car or a motorcycle or a boat or helicopter or a plane…well, you get the picture. The last truly wonderful bit of transportation, however, centers around what probably makes the entire game of Just Cause 2 an absolute blast: the grappling hook and parachute.

The grappling hook is Just Cause 2’s crowning achievement. Forget your damn automatic weapons and rocket launchers—this damn thing can do just about everything. Not only can you scale walls and what not with it, but you can also latch onto people and throw them off balance, or you can even latch them onto another object or person. I do mean anything, by the way. This ranges from a hanging pole so they’re suspended in the air to latching them onto a car speeding by, where you then get to enjoy the fact that they are being dragged off at some 80MPH. The damn thing acts as a tether cord to just about anything, which essentially means you can even tether other vehicles to each other, or a speeding vehicle to the ground (which causes it to pull pack and flip). My personal favorite? Tethering a helicopter to a jet.

You will not believe the wild stunts you can pull off with this simple tool and the work of your imagination. This, right here, is what makes Just Cause 2 a game that you can pick up at any time and simply find a new experience to cause such ridiculous scenarios that would make Sir Issac Newton shit his pants because the laws of physics are imaginary in Just Cause 2. And strangely, despite the fact that you can do some pretty wildly-impossible things, you will be perfectly content with it because you will be overcome by a feeling of awesome that you immediately forget what you were bitching about and laugh at the crazy shit you can do in this game.

But right, coupled with the parachute, and the grappling hook even doubles as a mode of transportation. Once you latch onto an object of some sort, you are able to open your parachute and catch an updraft to start flying around in your parachute. Gravity still works for the most part in Just Cause 2, however, and you’ll float back to the ground, but if you continue to latch your grappling hook to other objects, you’ll be able to keep yourself airborne. You will quickly learn that this mode of transportation quickly becomes the easiest way to ditch the heat on the island and to enjoy the beautiful sights.

The second part of what makes Just Cause 2 so awesome that you forget how much the story sucks is what is called “stunt jumping.” Again, Just Cause 2 throws up a big middle finger to gravity when it comes to stunt jumping, which is an action that allows you to jump onto the top of a moving vehicle and remain stationary on top of it while being able to shoot your weapons and what not. Beyond that, however, through directional positioning, your character can jump to the front of the hood to hide for cover or to the back. This proves beyond James Bondish when you find yourself on top of military vehicles, jumping to the front of the hood, and shooting the driver in the face before parachuting off from the momentum to only have the car veer off in the jungle, hit a tree, and explode. Before anyone asks, stunt jumping even works for helicopters, allowing you to latch onto enemy choppers, swing yourself to the bubble canopy, and then take out passenger and pilot that way (or simply hijack the damn thing if you want).

Stunt jumping, the parachute, the grappling hook—it all combines to be the ultimate experience for the extreme thrill seeker in all of us, stuff that would even make Evel Knievel look like child’s play. Just simply try to imagine every inconceivable thing you could possibly try to do and find out you can do it on Just Cause 2. Stunt jump onto the back of a jet, hijack a jet in mid-flight, tether one object to another to act as a wrecking ball, stunt jump from one moving vehicle to another—it’s all possible in Just Cause 2, which is exactly why each time you play the game a new fun play session awaits.

Some men just want to watch the world burn

Grand Theft Auto has nothing on this, neither does its spin-off clones. Just Cause 2 is in a league of its own when it comes to scope and fun and it simply knocks those absolutely wonderful features out of the park to the point where it completely takes your mind off the fact that the story is a joke—a joke that even the developers get in on when they throw in some ridiculous curve balls like fighting 100-year-old Japanese Imperial Army soldiers or even destroying the island’s “Cape Carnival” space program. Because of the innovative features of the extensive use of the grappling hook, Just Cause 2 will ensure that your experience in this game will provide you with countless hours of entertainment. If you can avoid the fact that the story is garbage and a 400 square mile playground of endless rampage sounds like your cup of tea, then I give a definite recommend to check out this gem of a game.

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

One Response to It’s for a Just Cause

  1. veekay says:

    I played the original Just Cause few years ago, and action in it was awesome. Then the missions got kinda repetitive and I never completed the main game storyline.

    Just Cause 2 is more, more, more… More bigger. More beautiful. More vehicles. More guns. More explosions. More mayhem. More style. More adventure. More guffaws.

    Many of the flaws of the original game were improved upon (the grappling hook can now hook onto any surface, even a cliff top, and can be used to tether people and objects). The side missions are bit more fun (thanks to the different types of enemies and their bosses). The action can even be called spectacular; it is hair-raising, spine-tingling, heart-pounding fun.

    Just Cause 2 proves why this series is the best base-jumping game ever. Who gives a shit about storyline, when you can have so much fun! This game is a keeper, because you can keep coming back to it again and again, and still find something new to do.

    You think I am exaggerating on the fun? Try a youtube search for “Just Cause 2”.

    The only problem I see is lack of a proper modding community. Oblivion (and rest of the Elder Scrolls games) was an average game with some good innovations (open-world, good RPG, combat, etc.), but Oblivion with good mods make it into a phenomenal game.

    That is where I want Eidos and Avalanche to wake up and see the daylight. They have a great game engine (one of the biggest sandbox environments ever created), with less demands (even a PC with medium-high graphics can play it well). The grappling hook and the action gameplay are top-notch. But the enemies are kinda dumb (and no, I don’t think just a simple flanking manouver or calling for backup, counts are very intelligent).

    Bring in better AI (think Far Cry, Crysis, Halo) and bring in better multiplayer options. And please make the JC game moddable – provide SDK tools, custom scripting/meshing/texturing abilities and plugin support. Do not worry about piracy. If people like the game enough to spend years modding for it, then you can be certain people will buy it.

    Thank you Agamemnon for a short and good review, and I hope more people notice Just Cause 2 as one of the best games released in 2010.

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