I've been playing Just Cause 2 in between drinks for nearly a month now, and after having just (literally minutes ago) completing the main story I feel as though I can put my thoughts on this game together and form a coherent argument as to why you should (or shouldn't) give it a try.
In Just Cause 2 there isn't really much of a story. I could tell you about Rico Rodriguez and the fictitious American agency (The Agency), and Panau's civil war and each of the warring factions but it is not worth noting. All you need to know about your part in Just Cause 2 is this: you are a handsome man who blows up just about everything because he can. Each of the factions are self-serving, there are no penalties for killing civilians. It is very easy to get detached from any sense of narrative or purpose in this game. It is for this reason however, that I believe I had more fun with it than most other action games that I have played in the last few years.
A beautiful tropical holiday: Just Cause 2 is set on the exotic, fictional island nation of Panau. Comprised of four main islands, and over 300 unique settlements: Panau is one of the largest play areas in the sandbox action game genre. I would argue that it is not fair to equate Panau to a Sandbox, it is the whole freaking playground. After completing the main story I am still yet to visit one third of all the settlements in Panau. The scale of Panau in terms of both its expanse and the height of several structures is impressive and while travelling you will notice that the draw distance is just as remarkable. The frame-rate is consistent for the most part, and that is particularly noteworthy during some of the more hectic moments of play where structures and vehicles are being destroyed in their multitudes with several enemies (still living) also sprinkling bullets, rockets and grenades at your feet. In previous posts I have complained of some low-detail enemies with awkward animations, but given the amount of action unfolding on screen at any given time such flaws can be forgiven.
Design your very own action movie: Just Cause 2 is exceptional because of the freedom it affords you. You are the director of every explosive scene and odds are, your experience with JC2 would be very different to that of your contemporaries. There are so many different ways to approach the game and its every mission, stronghold and settlement. Faction and Agency missions are set all over the country, but you can cause chaos in any number of ways. Thanks to the in-game vendor you can also order a variety of weapons and vehicles so you can tear across and through Panau however you want. You can stand on the shore of one of Panau's many vast beaches, order a speed boat to then visit and destroy offshore oil rigs. You can order a helicopter and two grenade launchers, fly above an enemy airbase, abandon your heli and parachute to the ground, raining explosives on the Panauan military. You have an extensive arsenal of weapons and vehicles at your disposal, and while I generally took to the skies in a helicopter with miniguns and rocket launches firing continuously, you could just as easily climb to a nearby mountain top using your trusty grappling hook, base jump from the peak and parachute to your objective. You can be as creative, or as plain as you choose. The lack of a compelling over-arching narrative and a forgiving checkpoint system also encourage you to go about your business in your own custom fashion, to make your own fun. Best of all, JC2 allows you to capture your gameplay footage and upload it to YouTube. Both of the clips I've used in this post were captured using this feature. There is so much to see and do, and so much value to be had in JC2.
Smooth sailing: It is just as easy to drive a car as it is to fly a helicopter or a jet. No matter how you choose to cause chaos, it is so wonderfully simple. Just Cause 2 is so ridiculously fun. I often found myself laughing out loud due to the incomprehensible nature of the action occuring on screen. Sometimes I would boot up the game and ascend to the highest peak I could find and go base jumping. Sometimes I would search for collectable resource items across the many hundreds of settlements of Panau. Sometimes (not too often) I would even play through the faction and Agency missions. Not to say that the mission design in JC 2 is awful, quite the opposite. Agency missions progress the story while faction missions add to your Chaos count, which in turn unlocks Agency missions. If you would like a sample of the brilliant mission design on offer in Just Cause 2, I would recommend that you read one of my previous posts: Best I Ever Had, a transcript of the action from the faction mission entitled, Pirate Transmission.
A mass of minor flaws: I loved my time with Just Cause 2, but I did come across some minor flaws which detracted from the experience. As mentioned in a previous post, the voice acting relies so heavily on South-East Asian stereotypes that it is almost offensive. The musical score is uninspired and I actually ended up turning the music off altogether. Enemies suffer from Uncharted syndrome, where they are ruthlessly aggressive and fire at you with unmatched accuracy. I couldn't hit enemies at 150m with an assault rifle but the lowliest Panauan soldier could hit me with a pistol from 2km away. The difficulty is inconsistent as well. As you progress through the game, your enemies will become better equipped and more resilient making settlement sabotage more difficult. Each time you die, you'll need to travel back to the settlement from the stronghold you most recently claimed. You can order extraction to the settlement from the in-game vendor at no charge, but it does break the momentum. Interestingly enough, stronger enemies doesn't necessarily equate to more difficult missions. The checkpoint system is perhaps a tad too forgiving, and I was rarely troubled by any of the story missions.
Anticlimax: I don't want to hit you with any spoilers but be warned: the final story mission is so terribly disappointing. Scratch that, almost all of the story missions end in disappointment. The fourth story mission is however, just about the best scripted mission you will ever play through: It's long, it's exciting, and it is action-packed.
Save some time for people watching: Upon completing the story I had only seen 24.70 percent of what Just Cause 2 has to offer. I'm now planning to grab a few more trophies by collecting more resource items and sabotaging more of the Panauan military's strongholds. If you are strapped for cash, I can easily recommend JC2 as it will keep you going for weeks and perhaps even months.
9/10: I will concede that, much like my play-through of Just Cause 2, I am merely scratching the surface. I believe however that this is one of the best action games made available over the last few years. There is such a variety of experiences available on offer here, and if you aren't having fun, odds are you're not using your true creative (destructive?) potential. Panau is the canvas on which you can paint scenes of discovery, conflict, humor and raw beauty. Even when I was being attacked by a multitude of soldiers I felt relaxed and that I could ultimately decide how each encounter began and ended. There are some flaws to be observed, but none are game-breaking and all can be forgiven. JC2 is just like all the classic 80s action flicks you remember: violent, ridiculous, and fun. Do yourself a favour, pick it up and make some fun.