Just Cause 2 is probably one of my favourite games of all time.
It’s not the first holder of that esteemed title, of course. Being as easily distracted as I am, many different games have been made my favourite game of all time. Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts II, Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain… the list goes on for some time.
To be fair, Just Cause 2 actually deserves its praise.
Going into the game, I’d already read a lot of blog posts about the game, and I thought I knew what to expect. Ten minutes into the game, it gave me an AA gun and a bunch of stuff to destroy. And I knew immediately that the multitude of blogs and reviews hadn’t scratched the surface of it.
Lots of games give you the option to blow things up. Red Faction Guerrilla is a great example of the same style of game-play; you’re given a wide open landscape, and one simple order – go blow shit up. And it’s fun, for a short period of time. After that, you realise that whilst everything is falling down in a rather pretty fashion with bits flying everywhere, the structures stand up if you’ve left so much a biscuit wafer attached to the upper platform. Nothing keels over due to gravity. Alright, it’s set on Mars, where I’m sure the gravity is weaker, but I still take falling damage, and I’m fairly sure that the material isn’t that tough if I can knock it down with a hammer. And that aspect kind of killed the game a little bit for me. It just didn’t feel quite right after that.
Just Cause 2 gets around this by not knocking things down at all until you’ve destroyed them. At which point they go berserk. Pretty much everything blows up, if you shoot at it. Hell, the guard towers blow up if you shoot them, even if there’s nothing explosive in there. I know, I checked. And that gives the game a certain charm. It’s absurd on so many levels – the way civilians go flying if you so much as brush them, the infinite parachutes, and the similarly-limitless grappling hook – but that absurdity makes it good. Red Faction failed because things didn’t react as they should. Just Cause 2 succeeds because things react as you think that they should. It’s Hollywood movie-standard, and that’s good, because surely every gamer wants to be in their own personal action film. A moment of this occured whilst I parachuted off the side of a snowy cliff, a military base exploding behind me. And you can do that a lot, if you want to. The game world is of such a size that you can do that again, and again, and again.
This game makes you feel cool, and that’s not something that games make you feel enough. I last felt it with Mirror’s Edge, and with the original Devil May Cry before that, but it’s not something that is pushed at us enough. Lets be honest, the way that people play games is by trial-and-error. We bungle through, roughly scraping through levels in a cack-handed sort of way. We need games to give us an essence of cool to that stupidity. And Just Cause 2 has it in spades.
The little touches that make the game as much as the explosions. Drifting slowly over a quiet forest, the game throws little music clips at you, highlighting the peacefulness and the beauty of the landscape; something that you often fail to notice whilst you’re blowing the shit out of it. At another point, I was torn; should I blow this mountain-top community’s only water tower sky-high? Their nearest water was several miles away, and all I’d get was a silly little completion point. My conscience was torn with my desire to complete the settlement and move on, and to be a decent human being. Eventually I stopped being such a pussy and did it, but I was genuinely torn. It’s nice for a game to do that you. I’ve never felt like that in Fallout 3, or Oblivion. But then, I’ve never played such an ass in those games.
Rico’s little quotes are another nice addition. “Now, we’ll have some fun” when he picks up a minigun, or “tough luck” when he throws a 747 pilot out into the open air at several thousand feet; the fact that he’s an asshole shines through with pretty much every action, and I don’t mind. I don’t usually like playing assholes – Mass Effect, Fallout 3 and pretty much any role-playing game can attest to that – but something about Rico appeals to me. Perhaps it’s the cheeky-boy charm as well. Or simply because it’s amusing. Either way, the developers made someone who I regarded as a complete asshole likeable, and that’s a task worth praise.
And it’s beautiful. I had to upgrade my XP OS to Windows 7 before I could play it, but by the almighty PC gaming gods, it was worth it. Standing on the suspension bridge leaving one of the cities, it started to rain. And the rain stuck to Rico like a sweaty prostitute. If I’d been a gay man I’d have licked my screen. The whole thing was that beautiful. And the sunsets, oh god, the sunsets… One mission takes you to a far distant island, where an EMP system installed by the Japanese in World War II is still active, and is blowing planes out of the sky. The level itself is one of the benchmarks, the “Dark Tower” they call it. The whole collection of towers was simply sublime.
In fact, here’s a video:
Just beautiful. And it’s not just great looking, it’s a great level to play in the game too.
The clinching point came for me whilst I was drifting around aimlessly on my parachuting from a plane in order to reach a mission. I suddenly realised that everything that I could see, I could go and visit. Nothing was a background texture, and everything was there for real – so to speak. At that point I realised that this was probably my perfect game. I would often set off with one goal in mind, only to reach the halfway point, and notice something cool quite close, and end up chasing that instead. Halfway through that task, I’d notice a tall structure sticking out of an otherwise featureless area. So I’d go investigate that and end up on an oil rig. And so on. I’m constantly being distracted, within the game. I was almost trapped within the game, until I stopped turning it on. Aha! Victory is mine, silly game!
Of course, it has downsides. But these are minor, and if you’re enjoying what the game does well, these will mean fuck all to you. Sure, the storyline is paper-thin in substance, but every other part of the game is polished to a near blinding shine. None of the bad points matter that much, because this game is so good, and the bad points are so minor. Get this game, if you enjoy having fun. And I’m sure you do.