Daddy, where do cheap bananas come from? Well shucks, Billy! Don’t you remember the days after World War II, when the CIA liked to sneak into Latin American countries, assassinate elected leaders and install hand-picked puppet tyrants so corporations like the United Fruit Company could move in and rape the land and people?
You can be part of that rich history in Just Cause, where you’ll play Rico Rodriguez, a CIA agent sent to initiate regime change in a paradise island overrun with power-hungry militias. He's an Antonio Banderas look-alike, in a skin-tight jumpsuit, ready to overtake San Esperito, a 20 square mile nation swollen with lush vegetation, rugged mountain terrain, rivers, lakes, villages and cities. It's all glowing with vibrant color. It's yours to overthrow. And damn if it isn't fun... on your own terms.
You’ll scurry around San Esperito and steal cars, planes and boats, stopping at safe-houses to load up with weapons and explosives. You’ll take missions from either the CIA or the different factions vying for control of the country; at any point you might be sent to kill someone, steal something or destroy some sort of place. After a few missions, it all blends together.
If you prefer, you can buzz around the country like a murderous hummingbird instigating your own fashion of destructive mayhem, Grand Theft Auto-like. It doesn’t quite make sense that a CIA spy is blazing in like Rambo, but it works.
And while the island may be vast, the size isn’t utilized too well. You can explore freely but you won't find much. Instead, you’ll be making your own fun most of the time. You’ve got gadgets that will allow you to craft James Bond freestyle action scenes, such as infinite parachutes for jumping off cliffs and skydiving. The sprawling airspace means you can fly planes high enough to make your brain implode.
Then there’s the grappling hook. Say you’re walking along when a car catches your fancy as it speeds past. Hook it and you’re quickly parasailing. Then you can reel yourself in, straight into the driver’s seat. (You can also do this with boats or planes.) With all that mountain terrain lying about, we yearned to launch it over the cliff-edges and pull ourselves up. But we couldn’t, so we cried.
We also sobbed whenever we got stranded in the butt-hole of the jungle, low on ammo and dying. But then we called up the ever-lurking CIA helicopter, and it gave us a ride to a safe house or dropped a gift-box right in front of us containing a neat little spy vehicle with a rocket launcher. It was a pacifier of destruction.
To go along with your British super-spy gear, you've also got super stunt moves straight from Hong Kong cinema. Sure, there’s the ole leap from car to car trick, as well as jumping from boat to boat. Then try from plane to plane. You don’t get many chances to leap between planes, but it's yummy when you do.
While the stunts and the utilities allow you to get creative, the story mode doesn't. You’ve got about six hours worth of generic story based missions, although you might make them fun with a few style options. Beyond that, the land is mostly barren scenery and the side missions are monotonous. All you do is storm villages - barge in, shoot a bunch of people and blow up three barricades. Repeat.
Just Cause offers some nice explosion-filled graphics (the 360 looks best, followed by the PC, Xbox and lastly the PS2), some inspired stunt work and some fun tools.
And the world is huge. If it was more packed with opportunities for us to use those tools and stunts, this could have been a GTA-killer.
Instead, the game’s best moments bubble out of your brain. Artistic types will blow through the mission, then happily spend hours wandering the island and devising elaborate stunts, combining their plane-to-plane jumps with long freefalls with murderous rampages with driving burning cars off cliffs and shooting grappling hooks into boats and…well, you see?