Open world games have been quite the rage recently. We’ve always had staples of the genre like Grand Theft Auto and the like, but it seems like more games have been adopting the open world philosophy. The latest in this chain is Just Cause 2. Let’s see how it stacks up.
Just Cause 2 is a very pretty game. The setting of the game, a fictional Asian island named Panau, is truly a beautiful place. The sheer size of the map is gigantic and the settings are varied, offering lush jungle, arid desert, snowy peaks and everything in between. The draw distance is nothing short of fantastic and when you manage to get up in the air you’ll be able to see for miles. The game holds up pretty well in motion and during my time with it I experienced very little object pop-in and no texture pop-in. The game also runs very smoothly and I don’t think I ever saw any noticeable drops in framerate. I’m only going to mention this in passing, but my only complaint about the visuals is that the animations were rather unnatural and lacked variation.
The sound in Just Cause 2 plays its part well enough. The voice acting is certainly nothing to be proud of but it fits the absurd B-movie script as much as is needed. The music isn’t anything worth raving about but it kicks in at just the right moments and the title screen features a pretty catchy song. I have one complaint regarding the sound that I will get to in a moment.
I’ll start with what Just Cause 2 has done right. If you’re like me and haven’t played the previous game in the series, Just Cause is the type of open world game that is fueled by big explosions and crazy stunts. Some of the things you are capable of doing in this game are just ridiculous. You’re able ride on top of cars while they are being driven, use your grappling hook to move from vehicle to vehicle (be those vehicles cars, planes, anything), use any and all momentum you have to fly into stunt parachute mode, grapple objects together for interesting results, and much more. The physics engine at work is impressive and you should really take the time to look up some videos of it on YouTube.
The controls for all these crazy feats actually work quite well. The learning curve may be a bit steep as you’re first getting used to it but it won’t take too long before you’re flying around the island of Panau by any means you can get your grappling hook into. The only trouble I ran into was that at times the camera can be a little clunky and since you use the camera to aim your grappling hook, it can sometimes be a little frustrating.
But what about the game itself? Sure, you can spend hours of time just running around causing stylized havoc, but what about the gunplay and the missions? Sadly, this is where the game falls apart in major ways. The mission structure works in a style similar to Saints Row 2: you do various side missions and objectives to build up enough of an unseen resource to unlock your next story mission, then rinse and repeat. Sadly unlike Saints Row 2, in Just Cause 2 it isn’t fun. Allow me to explain.
Seeing as Just Cause 2 is an action game, it’s not too much to ask that the shooting mechanics be satisfying while not intrusive to the gameplay. Unfortunately, they aren’t satisfying and they are intrusive to the gameplay experience. First up, the guns themselves. Here’s where my sound complaint comes in. Every single gun in the game sounds extremely weak. The pistol sounds like a cap gun, and the assault rifle sounds like an airsoft gun. In a game where gunplay is a major mechanic and is heavily featured in every mission, the guns need to sound and feel appropriate seeing as you’ll be spending so much time using them. More on weak guns in a bit.
Another problem I have with the guns is that there simply isn’t very many of them. There is one pistol, one revolver, one assault rifle, one submachine gun, one sniper rifle, one machine gun, and a couple other special weapons involving explosives. What’s worse is that even with such a small weapon list you’ll probably only use the pistol and submachine gun. Ammo for everything else is simply too scarce, and with the number of enemies you’ll be fighting you’ll find yourself forced to use the gun that has the most ammo dropped for it. You can upgrade the guns, but because everyone just drops pistol ammo, that’s the only one I found worth investing in upgrading.
I just mentioned the number of enemies you’ll be fighting. This is another aspect that the game falls apart on. These enemies are bullet sponges to the extreme. If you remember the enemies in the first Uncharted game, these guys are even worse. I was playing on the second difficulty level (out of four), and at times it would take ridiculous amounts of ammo to bring down any enemies (another reason you find yourself forced to use the same gun during the entire game). Of course headshots are your standard game mechanic one-hit-kills, but they are rather hard to pull off thanks to the sometimes wonky camera control I mentioned earlier.
Not only are enemies very hard to kill, but they are pinpoint accurate. You have to constantly be rolling around in order to keep your health from draining quickly. Obviously, you can’t stop to fire off carefully-aimed headshots if you have to constantly be rolling. You might be thinking “but that’s true to real life!” You’re right, but games need to be well-balanced and consistent to be fun. In a game world where it’s established that you can jump from plane to helicopter to driving car in a matter of seconds, you need to follow the same basic idea throughout the rest of the gameplay experience. I cannot stress how important it is for games to be consistent with their own established rules.
Moving on, Just Cause 2 features respawning enemies. Not only do they respawn, they respawn very fast. Sometimes it almost seems as if they respawn faster than you can kill them considering how hard it is to kill them. You can clear an entire base only to have enemies respawn and interrupt you as you are completing your objective. In this game you have a percentage towards accomplishment in bases. Find an item or blow up a target structure and your percentage increases. In a sense, 100% means you have pretty much wiped out said base. This is important because 100% bases are often used as spawn points for you, as well as a place to pick up vehicles for travel. Yet even in bases where you have 100% completion, enemies still continue to spawn on you.
I have one more major problem with the main gameplay of Just Cause 2. The checkpoint system in-mission is incredibly frustrating. Nearly every mission in the game is comprised of multiple parts, many of them quite challenging. Sadly the checkpoints are few and far between. You will often find yourself having to replay substantial stretches of a mission after dying. I often found myself turning the game off after dying on a mission. Also, the collectible items (parts you find in the world and use to upgrade weapons and vehicles) aren’t saved on pickup, so if you make a detour on a mission and find a collectible item then die, you will have to run off and recollect that item after the checkpoint loads.
I’m not frustrated with Just Cause 2 because it’s challenging, I’m frustrated because it’s challenging in the wrong way. Games should be challenging because they require you to adapt and think, not because they are mechanically working against you. Bullet sponge respawning enemies and weak guns are not viable ways of increasing difficulty.
You may be thinking that Just Cause 2 is worth picking up just because you enjoy messing around in open world games. I won’t deny that in this respect it is a fun game. Though it could have benefited greatly from a coop freeroam mode (as it lacks any multiplayer at all), it may have some of the best “messing around” aspects of any open world game with regards to the stunts, parachute, grappling hook and physics. But before you run out and drop sixty bucks for Just Cause 2 (fifty if you’re getting it for PC), remember this: after messing around blowing things up and doing crazy stunts for three or four hours, you’re going to get bored and want to actually play the real game. It’s just a shame that the real game simply isn’t very good.