There are very few games that outright toss a player into an open world allowing them to explore it at will, completely ignoring its focus. Even fewer are games that take that sort of open world gameplay and make it fun, as opposed to daunting and repetitive. Avalanche Studios set the bar high then, boasting how its game world provide all that and more, at the players whim. So how exactly does Just Cause 2 hold up against other sandbox blockbusters?
The game takes place years after the first with main character Rico Rodriguez ready and willing to cause complete chaos in the fictional island of Panau. The goal is to overthrow an evil dictator, as well as attempt to stop your recently-turned-badguy former mentor, all the while trying to earn a buck. That's about all the storyline anyone would need to know, as the game starts off freefalling from a helicopter to catch a dead man who has your pda in hand. From there it's action around every corner, set at the pace of the players whim.
Though Panau is a massive island players are able to grasp what needs to be done easily, and therefore there's never really an issue of becoming overwhelmed by options. Places to be destroyed, missions, faction influence, unexplored towns, and (some) items are marked on the map for the players convenience. This means no struggling to find the next point, or searching each city to see what needs to be completed. Players also get to take quests at their own whim, advancing the story as they please, so those in the mood to simply wander the world causing havoc can do so (though naturally doing quests will give bonus money and unlockable items).
Just Cause 2 would be nothing however, if not for its controls. Players are given a grappling hook and parachute from the start, with a brief tutorial on how to control both. Though traditionally used for either dragging oneself to a location or slowing down a fall (respectively), combined the two make for a series of vast and varied gameplay options. Need to travel faster? Simply tether onto a car, plane, helicopter or unhook the parachute and pull Rico around. Caught in a tight spot? Grapple up to higher ground, hook people and pull them, or tether any amount of environmental objects to one another for fun effects. The possibilities for action and adventure in game are limited to a few minor gameplay designs and the players imagination.
A wide variety of weapons and vehicles compliment the game perfectly as well, and for those players too impatient or story driven to walk/run/hijack/parachute to their next objective a fast travel option exists in the form of the black market. The black market also enables players to purchase their own unlocked guns, tools, and vehicles with the money they earn from doing tasks all over the island, and all of these things can be further customized with parts found scattered throughout each of the towns and cities in game.
For as fun as the game is there are a few misses, generally in the shape of gunplay. While Just Cause 2 offers a lot of options in the demolition department, straightforward gunfights in the game feel dry and boring. Perhaps this is because movement and aiming has been altered to ensure the best possible controls when using the grappling hook or parachute. In an attempt to make up for this it feels like the game just sends massive waves of enemies forward, enforcing a sort of hit-and-run strategy for most missions. While most sandbox games aren't known for their shooter elements, it would have been nice to see more of a manual lock-on system implemented rather than free form aiming.
Another potential pitfall for some fans may be the storyline, which plays out with some of the worst voice acting possible coupled with some very bland plot devices. This is made up entirely by the fact that the plot exists purely to toss more and more ridiculous scenarios at Rico, and then have the player experience the thrill of the action firsthand. Fans of 80-90's action movies will have a great time, but anyone looking for a serious plot will be beyond disappointed.
Graphically one would expect a game of this magnitude to be a bit more lax, but Just Cause 2 is anything but. Boasting some of the best looking graphics in a next generation game to date, but even more impressive than that is the load times (which are virtually nonexistent). Once the game is up and running there's little to no lag, or wait to load any other part of the island, allowing for seamless exploration and general havoc-causing. Sound wise the game delivers as well, and though the main soundtrack won't stir any heartstrings the explosions sure do sound great.
Overall Just Cause 2 is one of the best sandbox games released in years, and has most definitely set the bar high for open world gameplay across the board. A very well defined and memorable location combined with some very smooth and imaginative game design let players feel like they're a part of a very alive world. A world filled with all sorts of things just begging to be grappled, shot, or exploded as soon as possible. What more could any gamer ask for?