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Just Cause 2
Graphics: 6.9
Gameplay: 7
Sound: 6.5
Control: 6
Replay Value: 7
Rating: 6.9

We present to you yet another dual review, where I (Arnold) and Ben tell you exactly why Just Cause 2 is a pretty big bag of hyperbole. While a solid concept and idea, it's ultimately lacking in execution and is marred by a grapevine of flaws that really detract from the whole experience. As usual, Ben covers the gameplay while I close up with graphics, sound, and the conclusion. Kick it, Benny.

Over the past few weeks or so, I’ve read some raving testimonials concerning the apparently excellent and even addictive action in Just Cause 2. Furthermore, because I’m such a big fan of Grand Theft Auto, the concept of this anticipated sequel really does appeal to me; the idea of destroying half the world and having the freedom to do it any which way is indeed intoxicating. However, despite the massive potential and the obvious entertainment value (when everything decides to work well together), I just can’t get past the glaring flaws that plague this adventure from the start. It’s not a good sign when I can’t seem to play for thirty consecutive minutes without coming across a huge drawback that greatly hinders the inherently high fun factor. The good news is that the game is better than the sum of its parts, provided you can manage to overlook the shortcomings, which I’m about to explain. The question is, are those “holy sh**, look at that!” moments enough to override the moments when you feel slighted by wonky controls?

Trust me, I’m a huge proponent of having fun; if the technicals and other aspects aren’t so hot but the game remains hugely entertaining, I’m willing to make an exception. But when so many issues pile up before my eyes, I just can’t ignore them. First of all, the core mechanic really isn’t that great. The controls aren’t as smooth or as fluid as one would’ve liked and they tend to alternate between clunky and loose. The grappling hook is an insanely cool feature for such a game and while it does work rather well, scaling walls with it is just plain annoying. For instance, early on, you have to climb the outside wall of a tall casino and you essentially have to climb in short jerks; you can only aim so far up the wall when attached to it. How come we couldn’t just leap away from the wall and aim up higher when in mid-air? Why can we only jump from our position in certain situations? This being said, the range and functionality of this tool is really quite awesome and you will find hundreds of uses for it throughout the game. Therefore, I really can excuse the wall-climbing issue…to some extent.

But there are other negative factors to discuss. Neither the graphics or sound are impressive – as I’m sure Arnold is about to tell you – and the combination of the lame dialogue, silly story and terrible voice acting really detracts from the presentation. Then there are the gameplay errors and glitches: the collision detection just isn’t right, especially when it comes to your melee attack, and the loose aiming control could’ve used the help of a lock-on feature. And why does the fire button only seem to work occasionally when holding an automatic weapon? Why do I have to press it twice to get it to do anything? That’s very irritating and apparently only affects certain weapons. Lastly, there’s the AI, which is just a joke. Enemies use no tactics or strategy, rarely use cover to their advantage, and apparently have no eyes when you’re not the primary target. Early on, there’s a mission where you have to escort a guy through the streets with authorities giving chase. When we came to a stop, I was able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with an enemy without ever attracting notice.

That’s not an exaggeration; I easily stood there and wandered around the gunfight, waiting for any enemy to take notice and fire in my direction. But none ever did. I won’t say anything more about that but we’ll move right along to the destruction aspect of the game. It’s plenty fun and you’ll always be looking for things to blow up – and really, you have to in order to achieve the highest percentage completion – but it’s not like the entire environment is destructible. There are only certain pieces that can go boom and while there is some strategy in trying to string explosions together, it’s a bit less intense than I had anticipated. Now that I’ve outlined all the downsides – much to the chagrin of the fans, I’m sure – I will take the requisite time and talk about what the game does well, which of course involves the freedom, size and scope, and almost limitless options for player ingenuity. As some of you already know, one receives a great deal of satisfaction from a properly executed assault on a military base and when it’s left in ashes and you saunter away, you just feel…all warm and toasty inside.

It’s true. Being able to leap from helicopter to helicopter, double hook your diverse tool to a foe and an explosive object, skydive from great heights, ride like a daredevil on vehicles, and deploy your parachute just about any time you have enough momentum is all super fun and sits directly in the limelight for Just Cause 2. It’s just ceaseless, often comical, lunacy and it’s well worth a big effort to be all creative. Plus, the gigantic size of the world map is so daunting, it’s almost begging you to continually explore and find new places and installations, almost always with the aim of causing large amounts of chaos. Stringing together big explosions nets you a big ol’ Chaos chain, in fact, and the entire process can be very, very rewarding. It’s all the more rewarding because you know you are responsible for generating that entertainment value; you weren’t forced along a particular path and told exactly how to complete an objective. Nope, the freedom is the addictive part and I understand that. But in the end, I have difficulty enjoying it with all the gameplay and control flaws I continually experienced. Sorry, JC2 fans.

Right, so then we move to the visuals and such. When I first saw Just Cause 2 months ago at a Sony event in NYC, I wasn't impressed. But, as always, I have to give these games the benefit of the doubt and assume that by the time they arrive, they'll look better. Now when a publisher is ready to show off a game, 99% of the time that's exactly how it'll look when it comes time for its release. Some developers fix up a few framerate issues, and if a game sees a lengthy delay, they usually go in and fix a lot more than just that. But between December 2009 and March 2010, nothing really got fixed for Just Cause 2. The game is a mess with texture pop-up that literally transforms completely untextured objects right in front of you. Buildings go from looking like plain sticks get their textures rendered in the middle of a cut-scene...yikes. There is some okay lighting work, but overall texture quality leaves a lot to be desired, and character detail falls way behind not just some of the PS3's best, but numerous other multiplatform games altogether. Framerate is acceptable, but it can hit a snag here and there, making this game an overall displeasing title to look at.

The audio, as Ben mentions, is hard to bear at times. In particular, the voice acting is bad. And by bad, I mean pretty bad. The voice actor behind our protagonist does his absolute best (read: worst) Spanish accent and it's pretty painful to listen to; it's like a mix of Gambit and Tony Montana, just 'ugh'. The rest of the voice actors don't do a better job, and the crappy dialogue doesn't help makes things any better. Then there are pivotal things like the sound effects, which in an all-out explosive game like JC2 should rip holes in your speakers, but they don't. The sound in JC2 left me feeling underwhelmed, and I walked away bored by not just the gameplay, but also by the entire technical package. Shame.

So, all in all, this just isn't worth the coin. We're not quite sure where some of the praise for this game is coming from, but Ben and I both felt as if it was just a premature reaction to the whole "wow, exploration and explosion"-factor. And that leads me to this point: Just Cause 2's exploration and destruction isn't even that in-depth; it's quite generic, actually. Last year's unfortunately overlooked Red Faction: Guerrilla was far more explosive and destructive than Just Cause 2, not to mention an overall better looking, playing, sounding, and interesting game. So there you have it, if you want exploration and proper destruction, get Red Faction: Guerrilla.

4/10/2010   Arnold K. and Ben D.