Battle of the GTA clones

Just Cause
Eidos | PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, PC

The setup: As CIA operative Rico Rodriguez, it's your job to skulk around a tin-pot banana republic like a Latino James Bond, taking on missions from your CIA handlers as well as a guerilla army and a drug cartel (that you're secretly trying to undermine). It's all in the name of toppling the country's president, a dictator with drug ties whom the US disapproves of. The island is beautiful, the action is fast and the vehicle-and-parachute-and-grappling-hook stunts are so impossible, the Wachowski brothers would be embarrassed.

The rides: A wide array of military vehicles, a selection of cars and trucks that ranges from crummy-looking to slick, some zippy motorbikes and a variety of speedboats and Jet Skis. Those are all a nice complement to the hijackable attack choppers and planes, which to be honest are what you really want to be driving in the first place.

The violence: Bloody and relentless. The government-controlled police and soldiers of the tiny island nation of San Esperito will be on your tail constantly when you're on missions, or even if they catch you just acting suspicious in their territory. Lucky for you, you'll be able to find an arsenal's worth of guns and explosives to take them out, and your default paired pistols - which never, ever run out of ammo - do an excellent job of splattering the president's goon squads in a hurry.

Why it beats GTA: On the Xbox 360, this is prettier than anything a GTA game has ever attempted. The water is crystal-clear, the vegetation is thick and on an HDTV, you can see every single blade of grass in perfect detail as you roar past it on a motorcycle. What's more, the cliff-dotted tropical landscape is a blast to drive through, and once you've earned your grappling hook - which you can use to hijack airborne vehicles - the possibilities for high-altitude acrobatics are nearly endless.

Why it'll never beat GTA: The really fun, insane stunts actually don't happen all that often, and the missions are so basic and repetitive that they run together after too long. The story is juvenile and bogged down with clichés and sloppy Spanglish, and furious gunfights break out so often that they feel meaningless and inconsequential.

Can it survive? For now, yes. But Just Cause is really only interesting for its stunts, lush environments and campy sense of humor, and if GTAIV outdoes it on those first two counts, we can't see it holding up too well for long.


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