This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Just Cause 2.
"How to Be a Video Games Journalist," Lesson 37: Using Game Titles for Puns and Cutting Swiftian Jibes. A game name like Just Cause is absolute gold for the reviewer, since it can mean both "(a) just cause", a righteous agenda, or the phrase "just (be)cause", a dismissive explanation of whimsical or reckless behavior. The opportunity for puns is obvious. Why would you steal a passenger jet and fly it directly up the bumhole of a sun-bathing prostitute? Just cause! Praise and large quantities of gamer pussy will swiftly follow. However, this pun is so obvious that every game journalist and their cat and their cat's squeaky toy will have used it, so you may have to post-modernly draw attention to that fact at the start of your review so everyone assumes you're using the joke ironically. Remember, the ironic gamer pussy is just as soft and lovely as the regular kind. Next week on "How to Be a Video Games Journalist," digging out your higher brain functions with the end of a ballpoint pen.
Just Cause 2 is a sandbox game in which CIA operative and immortal, physics-defying wizard Rico Rodriguez is inserted into some kind of Southeast Asian dictatorship to destabilize it with his giant, exploding testicles. Why? Just Cause! Truth be told, I never quite figured out why. Not that a reason is needed. Asking players to go into a sandbox game and cause chaos and destruction is like asking a cat to lie on somebody's face while they're trying to sleep.
Mind you, calling Just Cause 2 a sandbox is like saying the Boston Strangler was a bit of a weirdo. If you can imagine a sandbox about 35 kilometers along each side, with enough sand to fill the Simpson Desert and then have enough left over to irritate the vaginas of every hooker in Vegas, where you'd need an army of archeologists working 'round the clock to find all the cat turds and broken glass, that's the kind of sandbox Just Cause 2 is going for. You can motorbike along the coast for hours admiring the scenery. Then you ramp off a peasant farmer's hat, send your bike flying through someone's living room, then re-enact the Columbine massacre on a government soldier's face. Why? Just Cause! 2!
It's a good thing I'm sick of realistic shooters, because Just Cause 2's relationship with realism is limited to a fleeting farewell peck on the cheek before leaping aboard Leprechaun Flight 101 to the dark side of Mars. Warlock master of time and space Rico Rodriguez has a magic, momentum-cancelling hook shot that can propel him into any surface within range. And he also possesses the ability to pull unlimited numbers of parachutes literally out of his arse. And he doesn't even need them to break his fall, because he can hook shot into the ground when you're close enough and escape unharmed. That's right, the best way to survive smacking into concrete at terminal velocity is to smack into it slightly faster. Maybe it's a homeopathic thing.
A sandbox is all very well, but unless it's fun to actually get around in, then all you're doing is giving the player a commute between every mission. Just Cause 2 understands that. You could drive to your next objective in a family sedan, if you've got an afternoon free. Or you could skyjack a military jet, point it at the nearest tall building, stand on the nose cone, and surf it all the way into the cafeteria. Why? Fucked if I know!
Just Cause 2 is a game for fucking around. You unlock story missions by doing the side missions, and you unlock side missions by blowing shit up, so the fucking around is what holds everything together, like the chocolate around a Twix. It's just that the rest of the Twix has been chewed up a bit and gobbed back onto the plate, 'cause the actual missions are rather slapdash. The worst part of the game is the stronghold missions, which are required to unlock more territory, because they're all as routine as brushing your teeth: break into a base, 2, 3, give everyone a bullet pasty, 3, 4, shoot down a helicopter and bam! Let the Kentucky Fried Revolution open for business. Applaudable in a way; making wanton destruction boring takes some real effort.
The other side missions are all nicely varied, if a little arbitrary. A mission where you blow up an entire compound, steal a jet, and shoot down a space rocket in mid-air gives roughly the same reward as a mission where you snipe someone's cat out of a tree. The story missions feel a little unfocused, since most of the story is basically "keep blowing shit up." And everything that passes for a boss fight shrivels pathetically in the face of Rico Rodriguez, the legendary son of Zeus and a Hispanic window cleaner. There's this one incredibly sharp-witted boss who attacks you with a satellite missile system while standing on the same narrow rooftop as you. Didn't even have to shoot the stupid bastard! It would practically have been assisted suicide.
I tell you what, if they ever plan to patch this game, item 1 on page 1, inscribed in flaming gold dust by the fucking pope, would be this: please let me buy more than one thing at a time! Guns are hard to get hold of outside missions; you'd almost think high-powered killing devices are being strictly regulated. So you have to buy them from the black market. That means calling your contact, cutscene for the chopper shopper to come down, picking what to buy, then another cutscene for the chopper to drop it off. So if you're getting ready for a night on a town and want 10 satchel bombs, a sports car to stick them all to, and a sniper rifle to pick off the survivors, then you may need to go through all that three times. And since the chopper pilot sounds like a freshly lobotomized Yosemite Sam, I'm ready to stuff my herniated eardrums down the voice actor's throat.
The second item, written in silver dust by the pope's cat, woud be having vehicle upgrades apply to all vehicles of that type and not just ones you buy from chopper shopper mail-order. Collecting vehicle upgrades is one of the main exploration quests, but buying vehicles eats up money very fast, and there are tons available for free (that is, driven by squishy mortals). Yeah, you can buy an expensive jet, but do you really think you're going to use it more than once? Landing it would require finesse that's a bit beyond Rico, because it doesn't involve anything getting murdered.
At the end of the day, Just Cause 2 is fun. It's not very challenging; between magic space hook shoot and parachute farting, it's almost like playing with all the cheats on, especially since most enemies have the preservation instincts of a chip sandwich. As I said, the game map is willy-shrivelingly huge, but it's kind of too big. You could get through about five conventional games in the travel time alone, and it doesn't take long to find that a lot of these locations have the air of the clone brush about them. If you intend to go for 100% completion, then firstly, it's going to quickly feel like a grind, and secondly, don't handle any sharp objects, because you're clearly mad as a ferret sausage. The story and dialogue are absolute tripe on a bike, but apparently I'm the only one who cares.
At the end of the day (again), it's fun to hook shot a guy in the throat, yank him off a ledge, and drag him behind your car as you drive through a cactus patch. Some might say that's enough. Some might say I'm too hard to please. But some can shut their fucking mouths.
Receiving no money from the Twix people: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
And if you do buy a jet, remember that fourteen square yards of slightly flat terrain on top of a mountain does not make a very good runway
Blimey I mentioned cats a lot this week