Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: September 2006
Format: PS2, XBOX 360 (version played), PC
Genre Keywords: Sandbox, Third Person, Shooter, Action, Vehicles

Just Cause is Avalanche Studios' first outing into the world of next-gen drive-and-shoot, and a prime example that a game can make it on mind-blowing statistics alone. The statistic in this game is acreage: spanning 400 sq. km. of tropical real estate - all of which is reachable, drivable, flyable or glideable - the tropical island chain of fictional San Esperito is a fantastic playground of freeform gaming, with some of the most horrible gameplay mechanics ever put into digital form. If you don't take it seriously however, the game can still provide a lot of fun.

Bring on the cheese

You are Rico Rodriguez, a pistol-toting, parachute-equipped Latino version of James Bond (tres Antonio Banderas, even the voice actor is a soundalike), aiding the US government in liberating the isles of San Esperito from its corrupt dictatorship. Part of the liberation also involves taking over the coca plantations from one drug cartel to another, Uncle Sam-approved one. These two trivial bits of plot serve as the focus of the entire game - you will spend it using your ample arsenal, lots of land, sea and air vehicles and lots and lots of explosives to stir up trouble in San Esperito over the course of 21 fairly predictable (but still enjoyable) chase-and-destroy missions. The missions are given to you by a veritable Jack Wade wannabe (even sounds like him) and his lovely butch assistant; this is done through barely tolerable cutscenes saved only by surprisingly decent voice acting (not Rico's though). These missions open up territories to be liberated via patient takeover of multiple population centers, a successful attempt to inject ludicrous gobs of content to pad out the game's length.

Huge Tracts of Land

See, the game is rather like an insanely attractive but thoroughly unimaginative partner. It puts every other game out there to shame with sheer high-profile looks, boasting 400 km sq. of fully explorable terrain: you can start at one end, get in a helicopter, fly to 6,000 feet, get out, pop the parachute and glide across the island in a slow, controlled descent; you can even attempt to catch another ride as you parachute down. Once you land, you can then get in a car, motorcycle or boat or any available conveyance (or just use your grappling hook to latch on to a passing car and paraglide from standstill) and spend hours driving back on the fully realized rural, paved and even highway systems. No pausing, no loading, no clipping, no hitches and only a bare minimum of popup as the flora LOD system kicks in. All of this with fully realized cloud systems, colorful and detailed time-of-day systems, unique landmarks, constant and thick flora, and driving, flying and walking AI routines going on around you all the time. From a god's eye view to walking amongst the mortals in under a minute's worth of a HALO jump; it's enough to make you believe the next-gen hype.

What the game gives you

Unfortunately the fun you will have with the game is left entirely up to you. The game's story is insipid, the missions static and mostly uninteresting, the ~60 or so liberation missions consist of about 2 cookie-cutter types (but hey, you can repeat each 30 times!), the animations stiff and unnatural and the combat model atrocious, consisting solely of holding down the fire button and pointing in the general vicinity of the bad guys. There is no verve, no zest, no zip or zowie - unless you create your own or simply enjoy boggling at the sheer scale and beauty of the game.

The only mission worth nothing is the set of city liberations. Due to size (again, tech specs to the rescue) of the city you can get an entire city's worth of soldiers, jeeps, armored cars, choppers all duking it out with guerrillas until one side or the other gains an advantage. It's quite an impressive spectacle and one of the more challenging and open objectives that the game provides due to the amount of explosives present (Rico is nearly bulletproof due to the astonishing shittiness of the combat system (I figure the designers couldn't figure out any decent way to do it, so they made you nearly invulnerable instead - there is also no death penalty whatsoever; just hit continue and respawn back at the nearest base) but he is not rocketproof so you actually have to use all your skills to win these objectives). As far as the Story Missions go, the less said the better - really. Most missions consist of going from A to carefully prepared B and blowing it up.

D- for effort, but ...

Despite the lack of redeeming features, it is still quite an astonishing feat of engineering that propels Just Cause, and it's worth picking up (at the now-bargain price of 15 bucks or less) Just For That. As long as you don't take any of its hastily assembled "game" parts seriously, you have a heck of an open-world sandbox to play in at a low, low price. If, like me, you can't help but be fascinated by simply having a world (with ample air, land and sea vehicles at your disposal instantly) at the command of your XBox360 On button, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. Note about the demo: the mission in the demo is timed; most of the missions in the game are not.

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