I picked up Just Cause 2 because I kept hearing how it is this awesome free-form sandbox experience. I think the best description of this game is GTA cone with a grappling hook and infinite amount of parachutes. It is a game that allows you to climb a skyscraper, jump off of it, open your parachute and glide over to a news copter, use the grappling hook to board it, toss out the pilot and then crash the helicopter into enemy base jumping out at the very last second. It is an open sandbox game that allows you to effortlessly move in the vertical direction which is an awesome idea.
When I first started playing, I absolutely loved the game. The gameplay was incredibly fun and intuitive… Well with the exception of the driving parts. In every game I have ever played on PC the hand brake was always mapped to the space bar. In JC2 the space bar is the “open parachute” button. If you hit it while driving it will instantly yank you out of the vehicle and send you soaring through the air. The actual hand brake was something like shift or tab – something really inconvenient. And yes, I could remap it but then it put the parachute key in an inconvenient spot. Other than that, the whole grappling and parachuting concept was flawless.
The first few missions made me feel like a superhero. I was the combination of the Punisher and the Spiderman. I would climb skyscrapers and rain bullets on my enemies from the air. I would hijack the helicopters sent to intercept me and drop them down on their heads. Even though the missions were linear I was floored by the freedom the grappling hook offered me. I could use vertical distance as cover, I could approach my enemies from above or from below. Whenever I was getting surrounded I could just spirit myself away style by leaping off from a roof, or grappling onto one. I was kicking ass.
Then the honeymoon ended and the game dropped me to the sandbox proper and told me to do missions for the local crime bosses. I’m not exactly sure why but I think that if I worked for them enough, they would eventually tell me where I can find some American agent that I was supposed to rescue… Or kill… or arrest… Seriously, I don’t even know at this point because I didn’t have enough time to actually even start liking the story because the game went from “OMG this is so awesome” to “OMG, this is Sand Andreas all over again”.
I don’t think I ever told you what happened to me when I played San Andreas so I will do this now. I know that I’m supposed to be reviewing Just Cause 2 but I think this is relevant. In GTA: Sand Andreas there is an early mission where you and your buddy break into national guard base and steal some weapon crates. Once you get there your task is to use a fork lift to load the crates onto a truck while your partner in crime stands guard. Unfortunately as soon as you get into the forklift the game starts spawning enemies outside the warehouse. You friend turns out to be a terrible shot so if you don’t run out of the warehouse to protect him he gets overrun and killed at which point the mission fails. So after you load each crate you have to run out, clear the area of enemies only for them to respawn seconds later. You also don’t see your friends health bar while you are inside so you can’t even tell whether or not you have time to load another box before he dies or not. Once you are done you have to escape with the loot in a very long and difficult car chase sequence. And every time your buddy dies, you have to do the whole thing all over again. You have to steal a car, go pick him up, sit through a cut scene, drive back to the base and start over. I tried doing this mission about 20 or 30 times over the course of two weeks and then decided to uninstall the game and never play it again. This is also why I never picked up GTA4. Because I did not want to repeat this experience.
Just Cause 2 did the exact same thing to me. The first couple of missions I took were stronghold takeover missions in which you assist a group of soldiers in taking some strategic point. It usually boils down to grappling over walls and opening gates for them from the inside, and then defending some point from approaching reinforcements. These missions were actually kinda fun, but very repetitive. So I took an assassination mission instead – one of the crime bosses wanted to get rid of some inconvenient reporter. Neat, I said to myself, this should me interesting. So I jumped on the bike that was conveniently provided to me for this mission and drove up to where the guy was supposed to be hanging out, only to realize he also had a bike. As I approached he peeled off and with a sinking feeling in my heart I realized that I am about to experience a scripted bike chase.
Since my driving was a bit shaky, and I kept mistaking the parachute button for hand break all the time I decided to take a different approach. I used my grappling hook and decided to approach the guy from the sky. Unfortunately that didn’t work because he was scripted to start escaping as soon I was within certain vicinity – well beyond grappling hook and weapon range, giving the guy apt opportunity to escape. So I opted for something even more clever. I watched his escape path and built giant road blocks all over it using stolen cars… Only to realize the were magically cleared as soon as I would trigger his escape script.
Eventually I reloaded from earlier checkpoint save and took a different mission which made me disarm some bombs scattered all over the map while a timer was ticking. Curiously enough the bombs were all heavily defended by enemy troops (which makes no sense whatsoever – if you planted bunch of bombs wouldn’t you want your men to be as far away from them as possible?). Not to mention the fact that the bombs were strategically placed in such a way that to get from bomb A to bomb B you had to go through points C, D and F all of which had enemy presence to slow you down.
Needless to say I went from having insane amount of fun just fucking around with the grappling hook and parachute and doing crazy stunts during the linear missions, to being frustrated to the point where I had to stop playing the game and go do something else to cool off. It went from open ended non linear game play that rewarded improvisation and reckless abandon to a punishing GTA style scripted, timed mission style in which you have to perform a sequence of 20 or so perfect grappling hook throws and being off even by few inches may actually cause you to run out of time and force you to start all over again. That is of course if you don’t get killed by the hordes of enemies you just can’t afford to stop and fight.
Just Cause 2 is just not my game. I have not finished it and I never will. I’m putting it on my shelf in the “games that pissed me of so much I stopped playing them” section which so far has been dominated by Rockstar games. Of course if you are one of the many people that actually like the GTA gameplay definitely check this one out. It really is fun and if you can stomach the frustrating missions, you will have a blast.