Just Cause 2
Playing Red Faction: Guerrilla has an odd side effect. Not the nagging sense of disappointment inspired by its near-greatness, but something more abstract. Each time we laid down the control pad after another satisfying bout of nano-fuelled destruction, our opinion of other, completely unrelated games sharply declined.
How could we return to Mercenaries 2 with the knowledge of what Volition has accomplished? How would the holes-in-walls approach of Battlefield: Bad Company look now that we’re accustomed to locating weak-spots, bringing down vast structures with only a sledgehammer and a keen eye? From now on, any game that places destruction and craziness at its core and doesn’t use Volition’s Geo-Mod system will be inherently disappointing. We’ve seen what’s possible, and nothing else will do.
Strangely, it also dampened our enthusiasm for Just Cause 2. The first game was a clear example of unexplored potential, highlighting the need for its own sequel within a few hours of play. But the knowledge that it would employ the creation of chaos as its principal method of progression – very similar to Volition’s use of destruction to weaken the enemy’s hold on Mars – and wouldn’t come close to the authenticity of Guerrilla undermined our initial hopes. Until we saw it, that is.
Avalanche Studios was aware of the shortcomings of its original vision, and turned to the gaming community for advice. The goal was to keep whatever worked and eject anything that didn’t; as it turned out, the only elements its audience wanted to see resurrected were the parachute and grappling hook. Avalanche immediately knew that to make a game around those two elements would require highly sophisticated physics, which is precisely what Just Cause lacked, and why the sequel will be a far more rewarding experience.
The demo started with a base jump; a big one, in our opinion, but the Avalanche team places its office record at somewhere around 1500 metres, or three times the height of the Empire State Building, so we were forced to concede that maybe it wasn’t so big, after all. On the surface, Just Cause 2 showed little obvious progress. Rico plummeted toward the familiar island paradise in his familiar tight, black clothing, saving himself from death on the rocks by opening his parachute at a familiarly crucial moment. From there, things got interesting.
Avalanche has made two very important design choices: the grappling hook is now equipped at all times and mapped to a single-button, and the parachute now has precision control, like a stunt parachute. This pair of subtle tweaks – and a whole host of physical trickery underpinning them – gave rise to some entertaining gameplay.
We saw the grappling hook used as a mode of transport, pulling Rico to far-off surfaces in the blink of an eye. Seamless chains of movement were built around the interplay between the parachute and grappling hook, Rico’s feet never touching the ground even as he fired rockets at the scattering enemies.
We gawped as Rico attached a soldier to a horizontal propane canister and fired a few shots, the helpless fool dragged along as it flamed into the distance. We winced at the sight of the grappling hook plunging into a human chest, pulling the flailing soldier toward Rico as he opened fire with his Uzi. We laughed our asses off as Rico jumped onto the roof of a speeding car, planted some C4, attached the vehicle to a nearby pillar with the grappling hook, and then jumped clear as the car was yanked to halt by the rope and detonated in mid-air.
Indeed, laughter seemed the only appropriate response to the sort of high-concept tomfoolery in Just Cause 2. It may not have the wonderful destruction mechanics of Red Faction: Guerrilla, but it does have something that Volition’s game sorely lacked: a sense of its own silliness, and when chaos is your byword that’s far more important.