Every so often, a game comes along that shatters the status quo. A game that challenges norms, rewrites the rules, and does a bunch of other things that can only be explained with cliches that don't really mean anything. Just Cause 2 doesn't do any of that. Instead, it attaches a propane tank to a man's chest and shoots it, sending him flying through the air. It jumps off a helicopter onto another helicopter and hijacks it. It rides atop a 757 at 3,000 feet in the air, and then jumps off, falls for a few minutes, and lands safely after pulling the cord for the parachute a few feet from the ground. That's what Just Cause 2 does, and what it does, it does well.
The original Just Cause was slightly less than a mediocre game. It had some interesting mechanics, but that's about where any interest for the game ended. The over-the-top nature wasn't really embraced, never really brought to fruition. With the sequel, a sequel no one thought was needed, Avalanche Studios has done the impossible. They've taken a formula that was, at its core, inherently flawed, and successfully enhanced it. Just Cause 2, a game no one wanted to care about, bursts onto the scene as one of the most enjoyable open-world games ever made, and that's stacking it up against the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Faction: Guerrilla, and even inFamous. That's not to say it's better than any of those games, since it's absolutely not, but it's as much, if not more, fun. There's a difference between a game being "good" and a game being "fun," after all.
Players once again assume the role of Agency Agent Rico Rodriguez, who is dropped into the Southeast Asian island nation of Panau. His mission is to track down and assassinate Tom Sheldon, an agent that has gone rogue while trying to undermine the island's government, in order to overthrow its leader, Baby Panay. Sheldon's mission, too, becomes his, and he lands on Panau with a number of important missions in mind. While the story sounds strikingly similar to Heart of Darkness, it's actually much, much more simple. Also, it's pretty bad. The game's narrative isn't very interesting, something made worse by some of the worst dialogue and scripting in recent game history. It feels as though it's attempting to be tongue-in-cheek, trying to match the game's over-the-top nature to the story, but it misses the mark. After a few hours I found myself skipping cutscenes, something I never do when reviewing a game, because I found it was more enjoyable to go into missions blind than to sit through the trite dialogue.
Luckily, very little time is spent paying attention to the game's narrative. Instead, it's spent wreaking havoc in any way possible. In order to throw the island's armed forces into chaos, Rico needs to cause it. This is done by destroying government establishments and completing the game's story missions. On a small scale, Rico needs to toss some grenades at statues and propaganda towers. On a larger scale, it means diving hundreds of feet into the ground in order to activate the self-destruct sequence in a Bio-diesel plant. In a traditional third-person adventure game, this might mean shooting a bunch of rockets at some buildings until they explode. In Just Cause 2, it means so much more, thanks to Rico's dual-grappling hook. It allows him to zip around like a super hero, as well as giving him the ability to affix two objects together. Again, this works on both small and large scales, meaning he can connect an enemy to a propane tank and shoot it, sending him flying, as well as giving him the option to hook a fast-moving vehicle to the ground, which, obviously, has incredible results.
None of this would be possible, however, if not for Rico's other completely ludicrous and unrealistic abilities. If the grappling hook wasn't enough, he also has access to a never-ending supply of parachutes and the ability to Stunt Jump. Just about every vehicle in the game has an option that gives Rico the ability to get into a crazy, but tactically adventitious position. On cars and planes, it means jumping onto the roof while they're moving, a position that lets him fire on enemies unencumbered by the vehicle. In helicopters, he drops down, hanging on by his grappling hook, and acting like a powerful turret. Even while there, he's able to move around, either using the vehicle for cover from the people inside, or getting into a better spot to hook on to other vehicles, meaning a damaged car during a high-speed chase can be ditched for a new one without much of a problem. It creates a nonstop barrage of action, fueled by thrills that are nearly unmatched in the industry. The only ability Rico has that isn't insane is his arsenal, which is actually fairly inaccurate. Luckily, there are enough other ways to kill opponents that the machine gun isn't really used all that much.
When these two elements are mixed together, they create some fantastic and memorable situations. In order to funnel this together, the game's missions usually push Rico towards such encounters, set up in different areas spread throughout the massive open world. There are a number of different types, with Base Takeovers and Faction Missions being the most fun. Usually, they involve doing all of the things that are already fun in the game, but mixed together with set-up scenarious to make them all the more insane. A simple drive to an airport might be interupted by a number of helicopters that need to be taken out, or foes might parachute in while Rico is attempting to destroy a massive tower. Completing these missions unlocks additional ones, as well as a number of items that can be purchased on the game's Black Market, which will drop weapons and vehicles at Rico's feet for use at any time. Besides those types of jobs, Races are also available, though they fail to live up to the thrills that simply wandering around and destroying things brings.
At one point, a vehicle I had to bring to an area became stuck during a failed attempt at taking a shortcut through a forest. I was able to get it out by attaching it to a large truck with the grappling hook and towing it down the hill. At another point, I aimed an airplane at an enemy general on the ground, and jumped out at the last second, watching the aircraft smash into the enemy and explode. Another time, I leaped out of an exploding helicopter and landed on a motorcycle, which I kicked off of as I sped towards a gas station. When it hit, the entire building went up in flames. Just Cause 2 is filled with memorable moments, some of which are caused by the game, and others which are entirely trivial to the core product. It's a sandbox, filled with exciting possibilities, and might feel more "next-gen" than anything else out there. On top of that, it even comes with support for NVidia's 3D tech, and looks good while doing it. Just Cause 2 doesn't have better shooting than Far Cry 2, better destruction than Red Faction, a better story than Grand Theft Auto, or better graphics than inFamous. What it does have, however, is fun, and what Just Cause 2 does, it does well.