We normally have a rule that, unlike the rest of the site, games reviews shouldn’t have any graphs in them. It’s not for any real reason per se, just that Joe isn’t really good at making graphs. He gets the lines all wobbly. So, you’ll just have to imagine it when we say that our experience with Just Cause 2 could be most simply conveyed by an S-curve on a graph – first dipping low, then rising high.
To understand that first dip you need to get a good grip on what exactly Just Cause 2 is, because it isn’t really a game in any real, contemporary sense. Modern games have a depth of either story or mechanics which make them engaging to players, even if that only goes as far as the block-matching of Tetris. Just Cause 2 doesn’t have any of that – so, what is it?
Where's my sniper rifle?
Just Cause 2 is an explosion generator, that’s what. It’s the game-equivalent of an Arnie movie; the type of thing you watch because of the big, pretty lights and nothing else. The story is negligible to the point that you’d only notice it if you got a papercut from the script and the characters are a bunch of unsympathetic arseholes that make you want to turn the speakers off. It’s only the chance to see something new go boom that keeps you playing.
So, what makes Just Cause 2 such a slow-burner on the enjoyment graph is the fact that the developers don’t embrace that immediately. They’ve chosen to start the game off with a big injection of storyline and fetch quests, throwing the occasional awkward gunfight in there to placate you while the necessary blunders are dealt with. There’s the occasional parachute jump to further liven it up, but even that is rendered a little disappointing by the fact that you are, at that point, still learning how best to control your character, Agent Rico.
The story, by the way, is both simple and boring and doesn’t really merit the big find-the-memory-cards sequence that Avalanche opens the game with. We’ll get it out of the way quickly, because it’s not something we need to dwell on.
This isn't going to end well
Basically, there’s a fictional country called Panau which has always been allied with the US. The president is assassinated and replaced with his sadistic son, who promptly stops sending the usual oil tribute to the US, so you get sent in to find out what’s going on and (eventually) overthrow him.
There’s lots of chasing leads and searching for contacts and working for criminal factions, but really that’s all there is to it. A developing country stepped out of line and America needs to come along and put it back with an explosive, secret-agent bitchslap. It’s potentially a controversial topic, but Avalance and Eidos have approached it with such an air of nonchalance and matter-of-factness that it glosses right over any ethically dubious or morally interesting areas. Scathing political commentary this is not.
It’d be easy to think that that’s a bad thing. The plot is definitely trite, cliched and bordering on self-parody – but remember that this is True Lies with a gamepad, not Citizen Kane: The Game. In that regard the plot is a piece of perfectly pitched player manipulation – it’s not overwordy and, once the opening sections are done with and you’re let off the leash, it drifts into the background most of the time.
All you need to remember is that your job as a secret agent is to blow stuff up, act like a chauvinist and look suitably unruffled when bailing out of a flaming helicopter.