Monday, January 3, 2011

PS3 Look - Just Cause 2

Thankfully the spirit of classic brain-melting action games has not quite died. I think it was at the start of this generation I assumed that with the rise of franchises like Call of Duty and the like that games where the entire goal is to shoot people and/or blow them up would lead to some sort of intelligence revolution with lots of discussion about the nature of war, philosophy, and other...errh...smarty-thingies. Gaming is not about excuses, apologies, or even reason and Just Cause 2 is just the sort of the game we need to keep our brains thoroughly liquefied and smiles permanently etched on our faces like somebody took a bowie knife to them.

The plot to this game is...oh my God. I'm usually pretty successful at not taking these story-lines seriously but somehow I goofed up here. The game takes place in the fictional nation of Panau, which most closely resembled Southeast Asia. The "hero" of the first game is a one-man war machine by the name of Rico Rodriguez who is backed by the good old US of A to take down a corrupt government, establish somebody a bit more US friendly, and maybe grab a hold of the world's largest supply of oil. Not all of this guaranteed but who cares? The story-mode takes maybe two hours to complete and it goes down about as quickly as a rotten burrito. A handful of things to keep in mind however: Ninjas are involved at one point, there's a nuclear submarine out of nowhere, and characters are introduced just to be killed off in spectacular fashion.

The entire point of this game is Chaos. It's kind of like a simulation or one of these boring statistics programs that you ignore when you buy your next gaming PC. If for some sick reason you want to progress the storyline you have to invest in chaos. Chaos is gained from the destruction of enemy property, such as fuel lines, gas-stations, radars, and well anything that could potentially explode. There are well over three hundred locations to visit in this game and they all have their fair share of objects that must be destroyed or collected. Fans of bar-filling and emptying will find a lot to like here as most anything of importance tends to have a health meter shown when a gun is pointed at it. It's sort of like investing as you trade bullets for chaos and in some roundabout way fun is achieved as objects blow up, enemy corpses soar through the air, and our man Rico takes off in his parachute for the next location.

Next to the explosion, the grappling hook is the biggest star of this game. The idea behind it is that it's not just some tool for getting around as with a bit of creativity the player can annoy the enemy with it, tether objects to vehicles to create a wrecking ball, and yank those pitiful bad-guys off of ledges to a horrible death. The getting around stuff is cool too though as Rico can do something as banal as make a quick getaway or they can hitch a ride on a passing jet-fighter. The sky is most likely the limit here and even after the beating the game I haven't really tested all of the ways the grappling hook can work. Rico also has an infinite supply of parachutes which is pretty important as extensive use of the hook tends to leave him hundreds of feet in the air.

Fans of vehicles have access to everything on land, sea, and in the air. As with the last game players are free to do their best action-movie impressions and hop out of vehicles at the last possible moment to cause glorious explosions. Military vehicles also tend to come with weaponry so it's quite easy to snatch a piece from the enemy and turn things around. The handling is about what anyone should expect from an open-world action game. There is a bit of a curve to handling some vehicles (especially planes) but it's nothing like Gran Turismo meets Microsoft Flight Simulator or something similarly dull. Besides you gotta be able to do things like attach a bus to a helicopter and we don't need some realistic handling system mucking up the fun for us.

The biggest concern for me is money. Sure chaos is the real currency of this game but a lot of the paper tends to end up in the player's pockets as they progress. The problem is aside from some serious emergency like when something absolutely has to be blown up there's nothing to spend money on. Sure weapons and vehicles are readily available through an airborne supplier but they're basically one-time uses and there's nothing in the way of permanent upgrades or abilities that can be bought. There are other ways of upgrading at least though it involves a lot of scouring around for parts. I guess some kind of home-base that could be upgraded through use of money would have been nice. There are a number of strongholds that are unlocked throughout the game and maybe having access to any purchased vehicles and weapons through them would have been nice. On the other hand this is the kind of game where the player really has little reason to return to a place after it's been completed. The idea is to keep moving until everything is sufficiently destroyed and maybe start again on a new difficulty setting.

Since I was spoiled by the likes of Red Faction: Guerrilla I'm also a bit miffed by the lack of destructible buildings. It just doesn't feel complete to me when I raid an enemy encampment because I bet their barracks are still standing, some bunkers are left, and generally there's probably an untold number of survivors waiting for me to get bored and go away. I would love nothing more than to nuke them all and bathe in shrapnel but I guess the engine isn't quite ready for that sort of thing. It would have been a lot worse if for example any buildings I destroyed somehow magically re-appeared if I turned my back or walked away for awhile. Sure the chances of coming back are slim but what if I wanted to grab a plane and just admire my handiwork from above? I guess I shouldn't be disappointed about things I can only imagine.

The missions also tend to be pretty bland. The climatic moments in the story tend to involve guys with a lot of health who eat bullets like corn-flakes and most other situations boil down to blowing something up, getting away with valuable or intel, or even *ugh* protection services. There are a lot of missions to this game and they can't all be clever or unique but the story-mode could have at least gotten a few points that make it worthwhile to bother with. Unless you're an achievement/trophy hunter there is absolutely no appeal in shooting through the story and since everything worthwhile can still be unlocked through exploring the island there's hardly a reason to bother with finding out why the heck everyone cares about Panau. It's just as well that I gave away the plot of the game in the second paragraph of this review.

In all fairness however my complaints about the mission-design is just nitpicking. Sure something like that would be an imperative aspect to most other games but here it's just another something that can be done. What makes this game work is the freedom to do any number of things to cause destruction or simply goof around. If some soldier gives you lip about swiping their jeep feel free to hang them from a low-ceiling and power-slide into them like a piƱata. Uncle Sam really doesn't care if you happen to drive a tank into a peaceful neighborhood and do what comes naturally. If all else fails you can always grab a plane, fly as far into the air as possible, jump out, and then land directly on your head. I really hate to say this but sometimes you gotta play a game just 'cause.

Game Rating - 4 out of 5
My Rating - 5 out of 5

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