Panau has far more in the way of interesting buildings, villages and installations to explore. Military bases, oil refineries and rigs, ancient temples, dockyards, cities that don’t look like a bunch of cereal boxes scotch-taped to a crappy parking lot – it’s amazing what decent architecture will do to increase your enjoyment of a mission.
The result is a range of objectives that feel more deliberate in their planning: less random and throwaway than before. On a basic level you might be doing the same kinds of things, but the bigger variety in settings keeps things feeling fresh. One minute you’re storming a mountain fortress, and the next you’re speeding across sand dunes on a dirt-bike, while the next after that you’re scaling the towering gantries of Panau’s Space Centre. We think you get the picture.
As if they hadn’t done enough, Avalanche have also refined Rico’s controls – specifically his grapple hook. While certainly handy the last time around, it’s now much easier to use, and much more integral to the game. Locking on to vehicles, specifically helicopters, is now super-simple. You can attach it to any surface to zip-line towards it (allowing you to scale buildings) and the improved range makes it possible to cover distances that would otherwise be laborious on foot – a godsend, as you’ll often find yourself with plenty of ground to cover if you lose your vehicle somewhere away from civilisation.
Even better, you can now launch yourself into the air instantly by zip-lining and opening your parachute simultaneously. While this has its practical uses for travelling around, it’s also an extremely handy tactic for getting out of scrapes, allowing you to get up and over a building when you’d otherwise be soaking up bullets like a bloody sponge. It’s fun, too.
Such a range of movement options proves extremely liberating and opens up a wealth of combat strategies to the player. You can claim the high ground easily. You can escape in seconds and, hilariously, you can pull down enemies, like snipers, from their vantage points in the blink of an eye.
Which is a good job considering that our only serious gripe with Just Cause 2 turns out to be the actual gunplay itself. While by no means a deal breaker, it isn’t anywhere near as accomplished as what’s on offer in the rest of the game. The lack of a cover system, for example, is probably our biggest bugbear. As a result, combat isn’t as solid or as robust as we’ve grown accustomed to, feeling a little impersonal, and in a way less meaningful. Aiming is wishy-washy, almost slippery, lacking in weight and punchy confidence (a criticism that can easily be levelled at the car handling as well, incidentally).
Like we said, it’s no deal-breaker, but compared to how well the rest of the game has been executed it’s conspicuous by its lack of overall refinement and will often drive you to distraction in the game’s later, tougher missions – particularly when you have to contend with some rather cruel checkpointing, which forces you into repeating whole sections of a mission over… and over… and over again.
You’ll forgive it, though. That much is certain. Because Just Cause 2 always gives you something else to do – presenting ample opportunity to mess around, vent your frustration or simply calm down in between missions. Take part in some races, cruise the roads of Panau looking for settlements to take over, follow the tantalising white markers that hint at nearby items to collect, or how about our personal favourite: highjacking a military jet and simply soaring through the skies, your infinite rocket salvos obliterating anything that looks vaguely like an industrial or military target.
This is Just Cause 2’s biggest strength – in stark contrast to the first game, you’ll never be at a loss for something to be getting on with. You never feel compelled to do anything by the book and every session you play, you’ll find yourself concentrating on a new part of the game, continually getting distracted by something else along the way. Save for the combat, Just Cause 2 is everything we hoped the original was going to be – which is surely reason enough for you and Rico to get reacquainted.
Mar 23, 2010