Avalanche Studios' sandbox action title Just Cause was a game that created strong feelings amongst players. Some absolutely adored the ability to explore every inch of the game's large jungle island setting, perform all sorts of insane stunts (who can forget the awesomeness of base jumping out of helicopter and parachuting directly into a combat zone) and blowing up almost everything in sight in a hail of gunfire. On the other side of the fence, many loathed the game's short storyline, easy combat mechanic and having to constantly trudge around the expansive game world to complete a cavalcade of repetitive missions.
Avalanche has listened to gamer's criticism of the first game and gone back to the drawing board with Just Cause 2, keeping in what players liked about the original title, while doing away with what they hated in effort to give players an even bigger, badder and frenetically-paced action experience that would please both fans and detractors of the first title alike.
This time around the action switches from South America to the South Pacific island of Panau. With protagonist Rico Rodriguez chasing down his corrupt boss Tom Sheldon. Just Cause 2 will see Rico open up his arsenal of guns and insane stunts once more as he traverses through a game world that is over four hundred square miles large (which interestingly to note is slightly smaller than that of the original title) to track down his rogue former employer. What is most impressive about this feat is that players will be able to free roam the entire island without the game ever interrupting their session with a pause to load up the next section of the map.
One of the biggest aspects of Just Cause 2 to receive a major overhaul is the game's combat mechanic. Those that played the original title would remember that the automatic targeting system in the original was so forgiving that all you had to do was run around in circles shooting until there was no more enemies on screen. This time around, Rico will find that his mission just got a little bit tougher as the developer has incorporated a third-person free-aiming system, which will enable players complete control over the targeting reticule - not to mention the ability to to aim at enemy limbs with pinpoint accuracy.
Along with the refined combat mechanic, the AI has too seen its own share of overhauling. Gone are the silly enemies that would run stand in front of you to shoot. This time around the AI is more intuitive. Your enemies will now flank you from all angles and call their buddies for reinforcements when it looks like Rico is getting the upper hand of the situation. The enemy will also use cover more realistically, they'll run and hide amongst cover when you are spraying some bullets their way, then quickly go on the offensive when it looks like Rico is on the back foot.
What we loved about Just Cause was the ability to perform stupidly wicked stunts to get the job done and we're pleased to say that Just Cause 2 still promises to deliver on the insane stunting action that differentiated the original from its other sandbox action counterparts. Avalanche has dipped into its bag of tricks once more to give gamers enough gadgets to play with that even James Bond would be pouting with jealousy. The grappling hook from the first title again makes an appearance, although it too has seen its own share of refinement. While the grappling hook of Just Cause would allow players to attach Rico to cars and boats to para sail his way across the vast jungle, the grappling hook of Just Cause 2 can attach itself to almost any surface in the game. As well as using it to para sail your way around the island, Rico can now use the grappling hook to latch on and kill his enemies from a safe distance, grip onto and scale buildings as easily as Spiderman could, while even hooking onto objects to use them in a variety of creative ways. One of the prime examples that we've seen of this is of Rico attaching a vehicle to a helicopter then piloting the chopper while using the swinging car as a makeshift wrecking ball. What really excites us at PALGN about this prospect is that it gives gamers another way to play the title. You are free to run and gun your way through the game should you choose, but for those a little more creative, you can use your inner MacGyver to come up with some sweet ways to dispatch of the bad guys.
If that's not enough to get your pulse racing, Avalanche have another trick up their sleeves that is sure to please with the refined vehicle stunt system that will feature in Just Cause 2. This time around, Rico will be able to do more than standing like a stunned animal on top of a speeding car, instead players will be able to let out their inner action hero with Rico now able to clamber all over a vehicle's exterior, dodge gunfire from enemies leaning out windows of cars in pursuit and if that's not enough over-the-top action for you, Rico will even be able to hang off bumpers and pop up to take a few pot-shots at incoming enemies - a staple move pulled straight from the annals of your favourite action movies.
All of these refined additions to the title would ultimately be meaningless without some major work on the game's mission structure, and the developer has too taken a look at this area of the game. To that end, Avalanche has slightly shrunk the size of the game world to combat the constant trekking from one side of the island to the other (a major detractor of the first title), while also reducing the amount of dead space on Panau, as well as dropping the original's myriad of uninspired side-missions - meaning that you won't be spending huge amounts of time taking a Sunday drive from one mission point to the next. This time the developer has opted for a new 'Chaos'-based system. Creating chaos on Panau causes the many factions on the island to grow in strength, meaning that if you play your cards right it's possible to storm a government stronghold with the help of a powerful allied faction. As you capture a stronghold, Rico's area of influence increases in the immediate area, which then opens up a host of new opportunities for Rico in the form of better intel, equipment and prospective allies. In total, the game is said to include over one thousand small side-missions to complement the larger story missions.
Alongside the gameplay enhancements, Just Cause 2 is proving to be quite the looker too, thanks to improvements to Avalanche's graphics engine. While Just Cause looked decidedly average up against its counterparts, Just Cause 2 boasts higher resolution textures and more detailed character and vehicle models, a dynamic weather system coupled with all new environmental effects, plus an all new animation system which make it look like a title that is finally fitting of what the current-gen systems can put out.
Of course, screenshots, interviews and gameplay videos can only tell half a story and until we have some hands-on time with the game, it's tough to put together a solid opinion about Just Cause 2. That said, we liked aspects of what we saw in the first title and we're incredibly optimistic for this one given that Avalanche has spent much time at the drawing board addressing the criticisms of the first instalment in effort to give gamers a more rounded action experience. Overall, Just Cause 2 reminds us of the no holds barred experience of Pandemic's chaotic action title Mercenaries 2 and it has definitely piqued our interest as a title to watch in 2010.