A two week holiday in Panau. What on earth would you pack? Silenced semi automatic pistols – check. Shotguns – Check. Ubiquitous Arnie-style minigun for the heavy stuff – Check check check. Oh and of course a self-folding parachute and a dual mode grappling hook wouldn’t go amiss either.
Top the whole lot off with a cool pair of leather trousers and hair so slick you could lubricate the axles of rail freight with it, and you’re all set for chaos.
In Just Cause 2, chaos is more than just a byword, Chaos is your means to an end and causing as much chaos as possible is your oeuvre.
Sent into a political hotspot by The Agency once again, this time Rico Rodriguez is tasked with finding his old hog-cooking boss not for a parlay, but to put a bullet between the old soak’s eyes. The Agency fears that their former top man has gone rogue and it’s up to you to find him and either bring him in or put him down, preferably the latter.
The game begins with Rico being literally thrown in at the deep end. Just like the first game, you’re thrown out of a helicopter (or rather this time round, blasted out of one) with not so much as a “take care, have a nice time, don’t forget to write”. Straight away you’ll get to grips with one of Just Cause 2’s nicely tuned gameplay elements – freefalling. In conjunction with a bit of parasailing, Rico’s a master of the air and often approaching a target from up above is an extremely wise tactic.
It’s also very handy when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with no transport. In conjunction with Rico’s most useful sidearm, the grapple hook, you can use your nifty folding parachute to hop around the landscape. Fire your hook at the ground, winch it in while your chute’s deployed and you can cover great distances in a few bounds.
Panau is a hotly contested slice of real estate, a massive archipelago of islands fought over by several warring factions and of course a territory that the Agency would love to get their grubby little mitts on too. Once you’ve landed and established your first couple of contacts you’ll realise that the key to unlocking Panau’s secrets comes with playing each faction off against each other, completing missions for them and worming your way into their favour. Each time you complete a faction mission, or blow up a piece of government property you edge closer to another Agency mission. These form the real backbone of the game, and as well as eliminating your old boss you soon realise that your reason for an extended vacation in Panau is to oust the corrupt president, Baby Panay, from his post so the US can stick a yank-friendly president in place instead.
Each of the island’s factions has their own political agenda, mostly concerned with buggering up the government’s plans while making a shedload of cash from various illicit activities. These “side missions” can be quite varied but you’ll soon find that there’s a lot of copy/paste stuff, and depending on the mission type you may find initial outings a little repetitive.
That said, the way you approach each mission is entirely up to you. Aside from the (slightly tedious) base invasion and escort missions, you’re relatively free to do exactly what you want in order to complete the goal. Given that you are capable of acts of extreme destruction, this leaves the game mission structure relatively open ended – and you can tackle faction missions in any order you want, with more gradually unlocked each time you free a new chunk of territory.
Scattered amongst the missions, there are also race challenges and other diversions to keep things nicely mixed up. Rico can pretty much turn his hand to any vehicle he can find (and there are a lot of them, I’ve found about 80 unique vehicles so far and still haven’t driven them all) and races can occur on land, sea and air. Again, completing these will add a little to your overall game completion percentage so although they’re not compulsory, they make a welcome break from the frenetic fighting.
Comparing the first Just Cause to the second, a lot has been improved and tightened up. Graphically the game looks like a proper Xbox 360 title rather than an Xbox 1 / 360 crossover like JC1 did. Panau is a lush landscape filled with detail and although it’s easy to spot a lot of common elements recurring in different locations, there are plenty of neat little unique items to keep you scanning the landscape with a keen eye (if you can spot the beached whale and the “Lost” hatch, you’re doing well).
In fact, hunting out those oddities that Avalanche Studios have crammed into Just Cause 2 becomes something of an obsession. PS3 owners have obviously been busy using their snooty unique YouTube Video Clip creation stuff, so if you really can’t find an item, chances are someone on YouTube already has. It’s also a great source for those lunatic moments of greatness that occur in Just Cause 2 when things don’t quite happen as you’d want them to, but are hilarious to watch nonetheless.
The attention to detail is fantastic though, and that’s what really makes the sequel a distinct improvement over its predecessor. Everything from the vehicle handling to the environmental engine has been tightened up, tweaked and given a makeover so it’s very easy to get distracted and just end up mooching around the islands, or flying around in a plane taking in the sights. But the luxury of being able to pick and choose your missions at random does make the game eminently approachable and very easy to get into, and even if you concentrate on polishing off the faction and agency missions alone, you’ll still find a good 20 hours of gameplay in Just Cause 2 – unprecedented in the modern gaming market where you’re expected to pay for the rest of your game at a later date (though there will inevitably be DLC for this too, at least the developers have packed plenty into the original – a pity more developers and publishers don’t follow the same ethos).
Rewarding and deep, though still prone to moments of graphical glitching and even in one case a black screen of death, Just Cause 2 is easily one of the best open world games on the Xbox 360.