Just Cause 2 is a game that fits neatly in the open-world action vein. On its own, that's not much of a description when you stop to think about how prominent the genre has become since Grand Theft Auto III took the format and catapulted it into prominence earlier this decade. What sets Just Cause 2 apart from the competition, though, is the sheer sense of scale around you. The game takes place over 400 square miles of fictional Southeast Asian geography. Your eyes are constantly assailed by sprawling vistas, huge mountains towering above you, and a draw distance that's both impressive and utterly intimidating when you realize that you'll actually need to travel across this world.
Thankfully, protagonist Rico Rodriguez is a character who has enough gadgets and connections to make short work of this expansive terrain. He'll start the game with a grapple hook and parachute that combine to make for some interesting methods of transportation. You can BASE jump from waterfalls, slingshot yourself into the air, parasail from moving cars, and do all sorts of other tricks that combine quickly propelling yourself with the grapple and falling to safety with the chute. You'll later gain access to a black-market weapon and vehicle cache that lets you quickly call in air drops of cars, boats, helicopters, and even a jet plane. You can also spend money on the black market to upgrade the various traits of each vehicle and weapon.
All of these tools are used on a quest that has Rico butting heads with the local military forces. The unnamed government agency Rico works for has seen one of its agents go missing in this fictional nation of Panau, so Rico has come in to help search him out. Along the way, Rico will team up with the local militias seeking to overthrow the country's dictator. This makes for a gameplay experience that has you rounding out the story-driven missions with a metric boatload of subversive side tasks that paint you as a guerrilla soldier weakening the government's grip one well-paying job at a time.
One of these side tasks has Rico breaking into a government security database to find the location of a witness who has been detained by the authorities to keep him from testifying. The militias want this witness freed so his story can be heard, and Rico is more than willing to lend a helping hand. For a side mission, this one had a surprisingly cinematic scope to it--far from the typical "Go to X location and kill Y dude" sequence of most side missions in the genre. We began by blasting through the security gates on a squirrely four-wheel ATV (poor decision on our part), only to be met with dozens of angered soldiers. We dealt with them in quick fashion by brandishing a combination of dual-wield submachine guns, a shotgun, and remote-detonated explosives affixed hilariously to their faces.
Stealing helicopters is a breeze when you can quickly grapple onto them.
Even more hilarious (and slightly sadistic) are the kills done with the grappling hook. You can fire your hook onto an enemy and then shoot the other end onto a building to string him up all by his lonesome. But that's just where it starts. You can also string two bad guys together and watch as they're smashed together as the stretched rope recoils. See a nearby gas tank? String a bad guy to it and shoot the cap off the tank, looking upon him with glee as the tank turns into a self-propelled rocket carrying horrified human cargo. Like when using the grappling hook for transportation, these moves have a solid learning curve associated with them, but the payoff is rewarding.
After dealing with these enemies, we broke into the database and found the location of the witness--he was being driven to another part of the island in a security convoy. A moment later, a friendly helicopter came in and whisked us off to that location. (Had this been an enemy helicopter, we could have easily latched onto it from the ground and zipped up to the cockpit to fight the pilot for control of the chopper.) After a minute or so, we were hovering above the convoy and ready to complete the second act of this mission. We jumped from the helicopter, latched onto one of the trucks, and leaped from moving car to moving car until we were able to jack the car holding the witness and drive it to safety. The control scheme allows for some pretty acrobatic dances atop moving cars, not the least of which is the ability to grapple hook a car chasing you to a roadside tree.
Another side mission had us scaling one of the game's biggest skyscrapers to take control of the state-run television satellites to broadcast a subversive video on the government's various abuses of power. Standing at the bottom of the building, we could have called in a helicopter, or we could have walked inside to try to find a quick teleport to the top. But we decided it would be more fun to latch onto a speeding elevator on the outside of the building and ride it straight to the top.
In many cultures, dragging a jeep from a Harrier jet is considered a sign of respect.
Atop the building, we had to fight a number of angry soldiers. Once again, our old friend the grapple hook came into play quite often. We had a good time dangling enemies from the ledges of the skyscraper and "accidentally" pressing the button that releases the grip on the hook. After a good mix of those moves, some melee combat, and a lot of run-and-gun shooting, we wrested control of the satellites to broadcast the video. Then, as a final parting gift to the dictator, we blew up the main satellite and BASE jumped down to safety.
For what it is, Just Cause 2 appears ready to become a fun addition to the sandbox action family. The story could certainly stand to be less generic (no joke: the government agency Rico works for is called "The Agency"), but that's not exactly something you'll be caring about when you attach enemies to a gas tank as it rockets them into the sky. That's something you can look forward to doing when Just Cause 2 is released early next year.