At its finest moments, Just Cause 2 is pure, unadulterated fun. As you effortlessly grapple from tree to tree, raining down bullets on your enemies and dropping grenade amid highly combustible fuel tanks you’ll find yourself hooked upon the simple, but well-polished acts of destruction. It’s a pyrotechnics dream as your mission is simple: blow up as much of the island as you can.

The reasons for this are weak at best. For all its fun, Just Cause 2 has to impose the typical narrative story on top of the open world sandbox of unrestrained violence. The game takes place on the fictitious island of Panau and you control Agent Rico Rodriguez who is tasked with destabilizing the island so American can take it over. To achieve this he’s tasked with pitting the various powers on the island by against each other and destroying as much as possible.

The problem is that the production values of the story are abysmally poor. While the engine looks fantastic when you are playing it, the cut-scenes look unanimously awful because the models cannot stand the scrutiny of the close-up shots. Furthermore, the voice acting is cliché ridden and poor. This is in part because the writers are attempting to be funny by being bad, but most of the times it comes off as simply bad because of the lack of true wit and comedic timing.

But most of the game you’ll be too preoccupied with blowing up tankards of oil and mowing down armies to be worried about the story. Avalanche Studios nailed a couple of key mechanics that make Just Cause 2 a blast to play. The first is the grappling hook which allows the player to attach and fling himself to any surface.

In addition, you can grapple any two items to each other. This allows for all kinds of fun options. You can tether enemies to exploding barrels or bring down a statue by grappling it to a nearby passing car. Experimentation is encouraged and allows players to find new and creative ways to approach certain situations they might find frustrating through simple gunplay.

Combined with Rico’s parachute, and the grappling hook also provides a fast mode of transportation. While gliding down, you can use your grappling hook to build momentum and sling yourself forward, gain some air and progress toward your objective. A lot of open world games can get tedious when you spend half of it driving to and from every objective.

But Just Cause 2 always makes it fun to get around the world whether your chose it’s unique mode of transportation or op for the more traditional vehicular method of a car, helicopter or plane. Couple that with a teleportation system and Just Cause 2 makes sure you have as little downtime between shooting and blowing up stuff as possible while still giving you complete freedom from the first moment you gain control of the game.

And it’s the game desire to give you the most fun as possible that makes Just Cause 2 a glowing example of how to make a fantastic open world game. While you’ll be doing the same thing for countless hours before getting to 100 percent completion, the core mechanics are so well polished and refined that it’s a game that is as enjoyable in its opening moment as it is every time you pick it up and play.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing

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