I’ve been looking forward to Just Cause 2 ever since I saw the game demoed here in our office a year ago. A third-person shooter with more explosions than a summer blockbuster, Just Cause 2 promised to burst into the open-world sub-genre with guns blazing. Although the original Just Cause has its fair share of problems, I was confident that the folks at Avalanche Software could put together a fantastic action experience.

Fortunately for all us gamers, Just Cause 2 is just as enjoyable as it looks. Although the game has a few annoying problems to speak of, this stunt-filled affair is one of the best open-world games I’ve played in a long time. The action is spectacular, the game world is tremendous and enemies can be tackled in a seemingly infinite number of ways. This is a title that every gamer with a taste for action should play.

In Just Cause 2, players take control of the rugged and charming Rico Rodriguez — a field agent for the powerful American agency called… the Agency. Rico is assigned to travel to the beautiful island of Panau in Southeast Asia because his friend and mentor, Tom Sheldon, went missing. Whether Sheldon is in danger, dead or has gone rogue is not clear, so it’s up to Rico to find out. In the process, Rico must attempt to cause as much chaos as possible on Panau in order to overthrow the current dictator. In order to do that, Rico must assist three criminal factions on the island and take on missions for them, causing chaos and earning money along the way.

The game’s story is clearly not the focal point of the experience, but it does its job well enough. You can never accuse Just Cause 2 of taking itself too seriously, especially when you come to the point in the game where Rico is attacked by Uzi-wielding ninjas. Unfortunately, the cutscenes aren’t nearly as impressive as the in-game action — especially scenes that introduce faction missions. The animations in these scenes are always repeated and that can get tiring.

Just Cause 2 might seem like a standard, open-world shooter, but there are a few gameplay mechanics that make it special. The first is Rico’s grappling hook, which can be used freely at any time. Not only can this grappling hook allow Rico to zip around walls and hang from ceilings, but it can also be used to pull objects towards him. For example, shoot it right at a sniper and you can yank the poor lad right off his perch, saving valuable ammunition in the process.

The grappling hook can also be used to tether two objects together. These objects can be living enemies, or you can attach a car to a helicopter and fly it around. The possibilities are astonishing. It will actually be difficult for me to go back to other third-person shooters, as I grew so comfortable with zipping from one wall to the next with Rico’s trusty hook.

The second gameplay mechanic is Rico’s stunt parachute, which can be opened in mid grapple or when free-falling. This parachute automatically gives Rico the freedom to explore without fear, as you can quite literally jump off any cliff and just open the parachute before you hit the ground. With the parachute deployed, you can use your grappling hook to pull yourself along, making the two items into a makeshift form of transportation.

With the grappling hook and parachute, Just Cause 2 is an absolute blast to play. Players are free to move around and fight in whatever way they see fit. With all the weapons available to Rico (including pistols, machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, etc.), storming through the island of Panau is always action-packed and it’s always satisfying. Adding in around 100 different vehicles only makes the game more enjoyable. There were times when I simply didn’t know how to get from Point A to Point B because there were so many options at my disposal. Do I hijack this villager’s slick motorcycle and get there in style? Do I just parachute my way down the cliff? Or do I hang from the bottom of a passing helicopter and enjoy the sights along the way? It’s all up to the player.

The freedom to approach gameplay in whatever manner you choose is certainly one of Just Cause 2′s selling points, but the game does one thing extremely well: creating mind-bending action set pieces like you’d see in a top-dollar Hollywood production. Some missions will task Rico with diving off a bridge to catch a passing convoy, while others will force him to sprint off a cliff as missiles explode around him. Not all the missions are as intense as these, but some of them really are fantastic.

But Just Cause 2 isn’t all fun and games… and explosions. The controls certainly take some getting used to, and the in-mission checkpoints can be extremely frustrating. This is the kind of game where you die often, and when currently engaged in a mission, that means you’ll be starting over just as often (there are checkpoints in the longer missions, but they’re not as frequent as I’d like). When you couple this disappointing save structure with the overwhelming odds tossed against Rico when he’s on foot, this can lead to a lot of vein-popping curse words.

Just Cause 2 also lacks polish in certain areas. There are a number of audio glitches that pop up throughout, included stuttering lines of background chatter and characters not finishing their sentences during cutscenes. This is surprising, considering the game’s otherwise impressive scope and scale.

Closing Comments
I haven’t had this much fun with an open-world game in years. Just Cause 2 is over-the-top and insanely fun. There are some issues in the game’s presentation and the checkpoint system is far from perfect, but Just Cause 2 is otherwise a must-play for adrenaline junkies. Rico Rodriguez might just be my new hero.

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