So, here I am free-falling from some 5000 metres after jumping out of a cargo chopper I stole from the Panau army; the chopper has since spun out of control past me and the world below is quickly building texture. From here I have a pretty good choice of where to land. I could invade a radio installation, sneak into an air-base, drop in on an unsuspecting colonel hanging out at his villa, or maybe just head toward that area that doesn't quite look like it should. The further I fall, the more intriguing this patch of land is; resting on the back of a mountain range, surrounded by tree-filled stretches of Pacifican beauty, it is dotted with small white-ish
patches of what can only be some sort of vegetation. when I hit around 1000 metres from the mark, I can see a single tower erect in the dead centre of this hidden wonderland. There's no need for the parachute, it's fun to get around in, but my trusty grappling hook can pull me to a safe landing, even from this intense drop.
So, now here I am standing in a field with a single, solitary bell-tower. It's raining but the sun is still shining, adding to the picturesque vision around me. The field is unique because it's not filled with green, but rather a pinkish white, thanks to the cherry blossom-esque trees scattered about the place. Wasting no time, I grapple up to the bell-tower and discover, much to my amusement, a new toy. Literally. Sitting neatly on a small rise in the bell-tower floor is a bubble gun toy, which is perfectly equippable and does exactly as you'd expect - blow bubbles. Planting some remote explosives, I jump off the tower with my new purple weapon holstered on my thigh, land and detonate, sending the top of the tower into the air in pieces as it explodes in glorious fury. Where to next?
This is but one
example of the sort of ridiculously awesome goodness to be found in Just Cause 2. It's by no means the greatest game ever made, and it's campaign component lacks a serious punch, but as a tool for the exploration of all things hidden and fun, it can't be beat. The game-world is absolutely enormous, and beyond being enormous, it's gloriously realised in visual form; standing as one of the most impressive-looking videogame environments I've ever seen.
As a mass of islands, Panau is no slouch in diversity. Everything from snow-capped mountain peaks to dry, sun-baked deserts is on exploratory option. There's jungle, bushland, marshland, lakes, rivers, beaches, towns, cities and mystery - lots of mystery. Missions will generally take you through most of these, but missions are also powered by necessity rather than compulsion - they're an arbitrary distraction to the playground that is Panau and everything it has to offer, but needed in order really get the most out of the game.
There are really no accolades to offer in the writing, either. It's almost a pinch of salt to add to the wound that is mission necessity, grains of which embody scripting, voice-acting, bad characters, repetitive structure and drawn out, unnecessary arcs - it really is background noise, but as I've stated, has to be there in order to push the game forward.
That said, you're only locked into the first three missions really. And it's almost as if Avalanche Studios is completely aware their campaign component is totally lame; practically forcing you to abandon it and explore the lush world they've crafted. Unlike GTA or other open-world sandbox titles, the entirety of Panau is yours for the exploring from the outset, just finish the first three missions and you can pretty much do whatever you want. The caveat for having to apply yourself to missions though, comes in the form of expanding your health and strengthening your cash-flow (used to call in vehicles, weapons and equipment and be extracted to locations if you can't be arsed nicking a vehicle to get their yourself). And these are actually needed to thoroughly enjoy the game at large, though that being said, it's fun to romp around for hours on-end, playing with physics, AI and stunts, but after a while, some direction is definitely required.
So herein lies the rub: the game's campaign/story stuff is lacklustre, at best, but needed in order to become stronger (and offer more to do in the form of unlockable side-quests). It's also needed to, kind of ironically, break the freeplay options, which while fun for hours and hours on-end, can't be the only driving force, which leaves the game in realms of awesomeness and crapola - two forces we really shouldn't have to deal with mixing together (now, awesomeness and awesomeness is where it's at).
. And that's an engaging "however", the missions also help expand the tool-set with educational options for the creatively-challenged out there. What this means is while most on offer are devoid of compelling gameplay, a few key missions make the game's mechanics stand-out, and empower players to expand upon any interactive examples they took part in, in the open-world portion of the game. Missions can range from hijacking, escort and demolition (for a broad range) to helping militant revolutionaries spread their message across the airwaves by repositioning four major satellite relays. But it's never consistent, which is one part of what drags the mission structure down, and the time it takes to play through boring, arbitrary missions to find that diamond in the rough is just too much.
Beyond my clear dislike for the mission structure and overall writing, Just Cause 2 also has some serious issues in the AI/NPC department. Ragdoll physics look out of place against solid vehicle physics, great destructibility, and the general *strength* of the game engine (in that everything is functional and looks realistic). Moreover, they are retarded in their reactionary process, while enemy AI is pretty lacking overall, and for some reason they're all excellent shots from really far away with a shotgun. Go figure.
Still, despite a host of shortcomings, the game itself is still a must-buy. The game-world is incredibly engaging, riddled with secrets and fun tools to keep you playing and sandboxing for a long, long time and it just looks so damn good. Varying weather conditions and effects keep it constantly in a state of visual flux and means - overall - you're always in for a new, unique visual treat. If you're the sort of player who's happy to sit back and marry mechanics with your own creativity, there's no end to how much you'll get out of Just Cause 2, while story junkies might do well to be warned: this stuff is pretty loose in delivery - don't expect GTA-quality story-telling, but definitely expect a lot of fun.