Just Cause 2: A Review

The worst part of open world games is that they seem huge and full of potential but then you end up doing the same shit over and over again. Just Cause 2 has you playing as Scorpio, a mercenary/special ops kind of guy working for the U.S. government to destabilize a made up fascist regime on a made up island nation called Panau by doing the same shit over and over again. The irony of the game is that to destabilize the military and get the dictator out of hiding, you not only have to partner up with the country’s three terrorist/criminal organizations, you also have to destroy the islands infrastructure.

Panau is going to have a shitty time rebuilding without its water, electricity, gas, oil, and communications. But hey, at least they will be free!¬†The game is such a farce of North American 80’s action movies that the story and its characters is quite off-putting. Here is the evil dictator, Baby Panay or something, a copy of Team America‘s depiction of Kim Jong Il. ¬†There is Tom Sheldon, your boss and an amalgamation of every gross and dumb American stereotype. He loves barbecue and hates commies. It is just so overplayed and bland at this point. I get that it is supposed to be satire, but does that really work in an open world?

There is potential for so much time between narrative that whatever punch the satire might have is lost. A common thread in stories in open world games, but this is especially damaging when critiquing a country’s foreign policy. There is a potential for a lot to get lost between storyline cuts cenes – depending on how much you do between them – which means that whatever message the game wants to deliver is likely to get lost.

It is also not terribly clever.

Playing Just Cause 2 for the story is like seeing a movie at the local theatre just to eat popsorn. It’s an expected part of the experience but is completely unnecessary. The optional missions from the three crime lords – the sexual communist revolutionary leader, the disease obsessed and probably dying mafia kingpin, and the stereotypical mystical native – are a bit more interesting and varied. There are escort quests, assassination quests, and sometimes you get to blow up special things. My favorite faction quest has you fly to an island set apart from the main one. In an effort not to spoil too much, the entire mission is an homage to a famous television show. While the things you need to do there do not differ from the usual, the whole mission’s scope is bigger than the rest and it is refreshing. The whole quest has a sense of purpose, cosmetic or not, that adds meaning. For the story, all you have to do is destroy stuff and once enough things have been blown up, you get the next cringe inducing cut scene.

Oh and then there are the races because every open world game needs races. Besides the car and motorcycle ones, I found these to be incredibly frustrating with a keyboard and mouse and skipped most of them. Maybe it would have been different with a controller.

The game map is so big that if you follow the main story missions, you will barely get to 30% completion. It is clear that the developers wanted to create a fun open world for your destructive whimsy and the story was added because every game needs a story. This doesn’t mean that the game isn’t fun, however. There is joy in creating spectacles of explosions or performing stunts but the game has just enough problems to really be a good game.

Your weapons, ammo, and vehicles come from the black market supplier who air drops whatever you desire at your feet. In the game, this means opening up a menu, watching a cut scene, selecting the thing you want, watching another cut scene, and then finally getting it into your inventory. If you want to order more than one thing at a time, be ready to repeat this process for each item. The cut scenes can be skipped but they still need to load and even these additional few seconds each time was enough for me to rarely use the black market except for fast travel (extraction). The planes handle strange and I found them almost un-maneuverable. When your threat level gets high enough, which happens bloody fast, the soldiers keep pouring in non-stop and if you can fend them off, the army sends in attach helicopters.

In most cases, I didn’t have the freedom to really wreak havoc on the scale I planned because I had to keep managing the threats and my quickly depleting ammo. Ironically enough, a lot of the military bases are sprawled out so the threat meter would naturally go down as I looked for the next collectible to get or destructible item to shoot up. Destroying a water tower and a gas station in a remote village would bring down hell-fire and brimstone while assaulting a military base often just sends in a few red shirts.

To 100% a settlement, you have to collect all the collectibles in the area as well as destroy all the things. Finding collectibles isn’t too difficult as Scorpio has a goodie radar so you will find most of them just by exploring the site. The destructables are also pretty easy to spot – water towers, communication towers, giant gas tanks – but there are also tiny generators and transformers that sometimes lie hidden in remote parts of the area. Hunting these down to get the last few percents can sometimes be extremely annoying. In some locations I spent 15 minutes just to find some shitty little box wedged between two buildings.

Story and setting aside, Just Cause 2 provides a lot of fun even though it runs out of gas. To get really prolonged entertainment out of it worthy of its giant map, you will need to either be super creative and love doing similar things over and over or delve into the world of mods.

As a stand-alone experience, the game offers too much with too little variety. I understand that a large map is required if you want to showcase every type of environment that has ever existed, and the game does that. You will wreak havoc in cities, deserts, snow capped mountains, jungles, rivers, swamps – almost every type of environment you can imagine. The landmark locations help add some excitement and goals to the game but at the end of the day, if you are at 35-40% completion, you have basically seen everything. Yet, the map beckons.

Maybe over here there will be something new. Did you find the bubble gun? The beached whale? Small gaffs and nods spread thin over hundreds of miles. Maybe the next mission will be different. Maybe this military base will have something new. It never does.

No wonder Scorpio looks tired and sad every time he accepts a faction mission.

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