Just Cause 2 highlights everything that’s right and wrong with sandbox games, capturing their every strength and weakness in a particularly telling way. The first time I ever saw the game was when my brother was playing it. After asking him what the game was about, he responded, “blowing stuff up.” When I pressed him for more specifics about the story and characters, he kind of shrugged and said something along the lines of, “I think there’s a story, but it doesn’t really matter.” Truer words were never spoken about this game.
Just Cause 2 is fun for the first several hours
It’s not like the game lacks entertainment value, especially in the first few hours that you play it. You’re quickly thrust into a world where you can steal helicopters while they’re in midair and then use them to assault military bases. You can even steal a fighter jet, jump on top of it while in midair, and shoot a machine gun from the top of the plane (though this is never really practical or necessary).
The game is about nothing, though
There’s technically a story tying everything together, though to call it a “story” would be an exaggeration. Basically, you’re sent to an island to topple the current regime so that the US can put a dictator friendly to them in charge. How do you accomplish this, you ask? By blowing stuff up, of course. The whole thing is basically a ‘Murican stereotype in action.
That’s all well and good, but the game seems to suffer from an identity crisis midway through. One moment it seems as though it’s trying to take itself seriously, while the next moment has you fighting against a squad of ninjas. Seriously… ninjas. Games like Saints Row: The Third succeed at this kind of weirdness by jumping in wholeheartedly, but Just Cause 2’s reluctance to ever fully commit makes such sections truly uncomfortable to play through.
The controls often suck
Then there are the controls. Being on foot, in a helicopter, and in a plane all have separate control schemes, and all pretty much suck. On foot, you have primary weapons and secondary weapons, with the secondary weapon usually being a pistol or explosives. Unlike most games, the right mouse button fires the secondary weapon rather than entering an “aim” mode (which is inexplicably mapped to the C key), so early on I was throwing grenades and firing my gun when all I wanted was to aim. The whole thing was very uncomfortable and got to be such a problem that I eventually remapped the aim mode and secondary fire so that the right-click did what I expected it to do.
Don’t be mean… I’m context-sensitive
You’d think that a game with an aim mode mapped to the C key would at least avoid context-sensitive actions, but the all-important grapple hook’s use varies depending on what you’re shooting it at. If you shoot it at a person, it pulls them toward you (and this can be used to pull people off tall buildings to kill them), while if you shoot it at anything else, it pulls you toward that object and can make for a helpful escape. However, what this means is that if you’re surrounded by enemies and in need of an escape, you can accidentally pull an enemy closer to you rather than grappling away from danger. I actually died several times this way, and it’s really frustrating that there aren’t separate keys for the different grapple uses.
The controls for the plane and helicopter are at least somewhat better, but—and this defies all logic—changing the key binding for one mode means changing it for all modes. This means that changing the secondary firing mode to C changed the secondary firing mode for planes and helicopters to C, which proved to be hilariously awkward. What’s the point of having several different control schemes if all the keys are tied together like this? It’s just sloppy and amateurish. Even worse, both the space bar and E key bail you out of the vehicle in midair, so fumbling around with the controls can mean accidentally sending your shiny new plane or helicopter into the side of a mountain.
The missions suck. You’re able to take both “agency” missions and missions for local gangs (who are trying to overthrow the government, albeit for different reasons than you), but all of them prove to be unfulfilling; there are “steal this car and drive it here” missions, as well as “deliver these boxes but drive slowly so that they don’t fall out” missions, and things rarely get more interesting than that. There are even a bunch of escort missions where you have to keep someone alive, which I just know are everyone’s favorite.
The worst of the escort missions are the “stronghold takeovers,” where the point is basically to run through an enemy base with a friendly “technician” and keep him alive until he can do some magic computer stuff to take over the base. These always play out the same way: you get airlifted outside of the base, kill a wave of enemies, grapple inside and open the door for your friends, deal with a few more waves of enemies, and finally, mount a machine gun and hold off a last wave of enemies while the technician does his computer stuff. Toward the end of that final wave (who never stands a chance against your machine gun), everyone starts chanting your name. This happens every time, and it gets very, very old.
There’s also the whole QTE thing
You’ll be asked to disarm a bunch of bombs and steal a bunch of vehicles throughout the game, and the way both plays out is through QTEs: there are numbers through 1 and 4 that pop up (on consoles there are controller button prompts) and you have to hit the right numbers to succeed. That’s pretty much all there is to it, and it’s awful just how frequently these QTEs pop up. If anything, Just Cause 2 is a true reminder of just how lazy QTEs are in games.
Repetition is the name of the game
It’s not long before you realize that you’re just doing the same kinds of things over and over again and the game’s complete lack of depth becomes painfully clear. I even stopped listening to the mission briefings after awhile because nothing anyone said ever mattered; it’s always, “this person must die for our cause,” or “steal this because I said so,” with no thought given to anything beyond that shallow level of depth. Just Cause 2 is ultimately a cartoonishly shallow open-world game that becomes a chore after a few hours.
It’s less pretty than you’d expect
While the graphics sometimes make you take notice of them (clouds, weather effects, and vehicles in particular are of a high quality), there’s a lot of really noticeable pop-in wherever you go. Additionally, character models are without a doubt of a very low-quality, and several scenes are marred by a weird grain filter that’s easily the ugliest grain filter I’ve ever seen in a game.
Even the occasional moments of prettiness are often brought down by the fact that a huge chunk of the game looks exactly the same; there are “brown” areas, “green” areas, and “blue” areas, with only small details changed between them. The objects that can be destroyed? They all look the same, and even the many vehicles that you can steal are just a few models repeated endlessly. Ultimately, even the game’s graphics come up on the empty side.
The music’s also unremarkable
There’s some guitar stuff that you might find memorable, but mostly it’s just the same kind of forgettable music you’d hear anywhere else. Nothing really stands out musically, and at times the music can be so repetitive that you have to take a break or turn the volume off. Like the game, much of the music reflects style over substance, so there aren’t really any melodies present to latch onto.
Here’s what you should do: