Platforms: PC, PS2, X-Box, X-Box 360 - Version Reviewed - X-Box 360
Say what you like about Just Cause, just don’t say that it’s doesn’t have ambition. The game is positively fit to burst with the stuff; look carefully at the screenshots, and you can probably see it seeping out from between the pixels. The environment is huge – a South American island boasting over 1,000km square of beaches and mountains to explore – and you get a huge range of vehicles, from bikes, ATVs and Jeeps to boats and even helicopters, with which to explore it. What’s more, the Avalanche engine really is an amazing technical accomplishment, delivering on the age-old promise of procedural landscape generation with an undulating game-world covered in lush vegetation, unfolding seamlessly before your eyes with zero loading and minimal pop-up.
The sad thing is that the game is, to some extent, a victim of this ambition. It’s as if the team at Avalanche was so busy filling this enormous canvas with a bloody great big picture that they failed to add the smaller brush-strokes that would make it feel a living, breathing place. If you want an example of how this mistake can separate the great from the merely very good, you’d struggle to find anything better.
But let’s backtrack. Let’s pull back to the basic premise, as it were. The South American island in question is San Esperito, your standard issue dodgy state held by an oppressive government and on the verge of resolution. You are Rico Rodriguez, a specialist bought in by an equally dodgy and equally standard-issue US intelligence agency to stir things up in the favour of Uncle Sam. To this end, you’re free to wander the island as you please, doing a small task for the insurgents here, a little job for a drug cartel there. However, as the game progresses you’re also given missions by your agency contacts, Kane and Sheldon, in return for support in the form of safe-houses, weapons and vehicles. The latter are particularly useful, as you can arrange particular models to be dropped by helicopter when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere without a ride.
Now, the missions themselves aren’t anything that special: eliminate this guy, rescue that guy, get object X to destination Y, destroy facility Z, and so on. What is special is how these are accomplished. Just Cause announces its intentions very early, as Rico skydives into action then gets caught up in a stonking chase sequence just to kick things off. This is a game where getting from A to B is an adventure in itself, combining daredevil stunts, high-speed driving and a heck of a lot of gunplay in roughly equal measures. The game starts with you racing dirt bikes through the mountain jungles and stealing jeeps and off-roaders, but soon throws in its signature tool: the grappling hook. Using this you can engage your ‘chute and paraglide behind moving vehicles, then grapple a new ride and reel yourself in to steal it, or bust loose and take to the skies. Nor is this Rico’s only avenue for stylish moves. If you ever wanted to throw yourself out of a falling car, leap from vehicle to vehicle, or throw yourself through the window of a 4X4 to toss the present incumbent out (always tempting at school-run time), this is the game for you. And just when you think things can’t get any better, it throws helicopters in into the mix. Remember the opening sequence in Goldeneye? The motorcycle jump into a moving plane? Just Cause has moves to match.
What’s more, using these tools you can work out how to do missions your way. Some reward the simple run-and-gun approach, but others require a little more ingenuity. Chasing down a target in the middle of a car convoy? Well, you could try driving after him and shunting the car off the road, but you could also try grappling the car behind, gliding onto the roof, entering the car and steering it off a cliff, throwing yourself out at the last moment to glide down as the car heads straight for the beach below. Want to get into an enemy HQ? Well, you could march in through the front gate, all guns blazing, but could also dive a motorcycle off a nearby bridge, glide and grapple a passing helicopter, then either capture that and land it or simply cadge a lift to a handy spot over the base.