Fans of the mayhem potential inherent in sandbox games may have been looking for a sweet spot between the story-driven action of Grand Theft Auto and the unpolished chaos of EA’s Mercenaries 2. Just Cause 2 isn’t exactly at that perfect junction, but it is a respectable shot at the bulls-eye.
The protagonist is Rico Rodriguez, a black-ops type scouring the island nation of Panau for a possibly rogue US agent. His story leads to encounters with various island factions, each of which opens up side-mission avenues and provides a reason to explore the massive landscape. The story is about as smart as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando (though sadly not as funny), and the voice acting can be distractingly awful.
The prime directive, however, is “blow shit up,” and Just Cause 2 embraces that concept with passion. Rico carries a grappling hook that can be used to scale surfaces, pull him toward speeding cars, and connect any two objects. (Think “enemy soldier and aforementioned speeding car.”) The union of hook and action opens up tactics that aren’t deep, but are appreciably broad. Why destroy something with rockets when you can attach C4 to a tuk-tuk, heli-drop it into an enemy nest, then detonate the explosives from afar? Then wash, rinse, and repeat with different object combinations.
Panau, gorgeous and decorated with snowy peaks, deep jungles, and desert stretches, is the real main character. No area is locked behind plot points. Instead, exploring and creating chaos around the island drives the story. In the first couple of hours, you can be cruising in an attack helicopter or a stolen fighter jet. Canvassing the entire island for stuff to destroy can get old, but it’s always pretty; lighting, mist, and rain add delightful visual touches.
Mission structure isn’t the game’s strong suit. To really delve into Panau, you’re expected to master the grappling hook, the ability to acrobatically perch atop vehicles, and Rico’s always-ready stunt parachute. Expertise comes with rewards: giddy moments of near-death escape from ever-more-aggressive enemies, the excitement of executing a kooky attack plan, and, yes, the simple thrill of blowing shit up.