Just Cause 2 isn't concerned with reality. Whereas InFamous, Prototype, and Crackdown have chosen the superhero route as a means of avoiding the frailty and limitations of normal human beings, Just Cause 2's Rico Rodriguez is basically an inexhaustible badass. The guy can fall a million feet, pull his parachute a second before he hits the ground, and emerge unscathed. He can walk on top of an airplane while it's going mach 2, get shot in the face and recharge health, and exit a vehicle (moving or otherwise) in a highly satisfying fraction of second – all without explanation. Similarly, the story is composed of contrived nonsense that never really makes any sense. Set on the tropical islands of Panau, Rico is an Agency operative who needs to win favor with local gangs so he can take down some dictator - look, it doesn't matter, and the game seems to be aware of this by not shying away from for spamming awful dialogue through horrendous accents. But, truly, it doesn't matter. The plot in Just Cause 2 is technically there, but it means about as much to the experience as it did in Commando when Schwarzenegger killed a hundred henchmen in less than an hour. As a gameplay driven experience Just Cause 2's "how" takes priority over its "why."
Just for Kicks
By way of its mechanics, Just Cause 2 heavily deviates from the typical open-world design. It has the massive weapons cache and variety of land, sea, and air vehicles we've come to expect, but layered through every facet is Just Cause 2's signature set of mechanics; the grappling grappling hook and/or parachute. Rico is permanently outfitted with infinite parachutes and detachable grappling hooks to use at his discretion. In terms of movement, this allows Rico to not only ascend any surface in a reasonable distance, but also use the grappling hook's horizontal momentum in combination with his parachute to, essentially, parasail across most landscapes. It's like Spiderman in reverse, as constantly shooting at the ground and then detaching the hook is a means to progress forward at an incredible pace. The grappling hook can also be tethered to items, meaning you can attach a car to a helicopter or drag a person from a jeep/airplane/other person/etc.
Just Cause 2's opening sequences perfectly define the type of rationale necessary to achieve success through its framework. Tasked with downing a helicopter, I found my bullets ineffective and its mounted-minigun inescapable. After several failed attempts at unloading on it with everything I had (as you do in most videogame helicopter battles), it dawned on me that I had a grappling hook. So, rather than shoot at the chopper like an idiot, I grappled onto it, mounted myself to the windshield, shot the passenger, tossed out the pilot, took control of the chopper, and gingerly stepped out the door as the chopper crashed and I parachuted to safety. Another early sequence had me riding shotgun as another character drove a car. Tasked with protecting said car, I found myself standing on top of the car shooting bad guys in other cars. That didn't work, so I tried grappling over to other cars and killing people one at a time. That didn't work, so I had the idea of grappling onto an oncoming enemy car, and then attaching the other end of my line to the road. That resulted in the car doing a headfirst series of hilarious flips, which also happened to render the car and its occupants incapacitated (except for those rare occasions where the car did several flips and then landed on its wheels). That process was far more efficient than the traditional open-world "use guns to solve this problem" method of interaction, and far more indicative as to what kind of options are available throughout Just Cause 2.
It’s not a stretch to say grappling hook + parachute is my new favorite open-world mechanic. The ridiculous lengths to which one can exploit these two genius concepts creates a playground of possibility on par with the first time I played Grand Theft Auto III. Not since 2001 have a friend and I spent an entire day sitting on a couch, passing the controller back and forth, and laughing our asses off. I spent a good hour getting my helicopter to a considerable altitude before jumping out of it and then trying to re-board it as both myself and the helicopter were in a freefall. And you know what? I actually did it, and I can share it thanks to the PlayStation 3 version's unique "upload to YouTube" feature (check it out). With unique mechanics that reward insane experimentation, Just Cause 2 is the first open world game in years where I have simply ignored any tangible objective in favor of trying to find limitations that seems permanently fixed to the horizon. That was all I did the first day I played it, and I only moved on because I had to write a semi-responsible review.
You are the Scorpio, no?
But when you do finally get down to business, Just Cause 2 offers a good chunk of content. The mainline game progresses as you unlock missions tied to the plot, but those missions won't be available until you create a significant, numerical amount of Chaos. Chaos is created by acting like a total madman and blowing a bunch of shit up. Each settlement in the game, be it small little villages or heavily guarded military installations, features radar towers, giant gas tanks, missile defense systems, or some other measure of usually-red-colored explodables. Destroying those creates Chaos, and creating Chaos opens structured missions (and usually pisses off the local police, though they're usually easy to drop).
The actual missions, while a good bit of fun, are somewhat pedestrian. Just Cause 2's logic-defying mechanics are often put to good use, but not in a manner that can match the chaos you can create on your own. Feats of firepower and health management are filtered through a series of vehicle chases, assassinations, and escort missions. Though there are a few occasional gems, it's a shame that Avalanche couldn't find a better way to exploit all the wonders in their toy box. Whether you're doing missions for one of Panau's three rebel factions or carrying out operations for The Agency, Just Cause 2's actual substance can get a little on the monotonous side. The missions aren't bad by any measure, they're just not as grin-inducing and open to experimentation as I would have liked.
Firepower is Rico's means of character progression. Scatted all over Panau are item boxes, each containing car parts, weapon parts, or straight cash. Parts can be collected and then spent to level up weapons and vehicles, and cash is used to instantly order said weapons and vehicles from the Black Market's instant airdrop. Upgrading yourself is also the only way to combat the progressive difficulty, which translates to an increase in your opposition's ability to soak up bullets, magically detect your location, and fire their weapons with pinpoint accuracy. The A.I. isn't technically bad; it just comes off as a bit lazy. Straight combat is serviceable and often dependent on the availability of ammunition, but the staggering amount of weapons and available explosives, along with a generous aim-assist, typically makes for an engaging affair, even without the grappling hook/parachute shenanigans. It’s also worth mentioning that the lack of a cover system, a mechanic that has gone hand in hand with gunplay in a post-Gears of War-world, Just Cause 2 occasionally feels a bit behind the times.
Being an open-world game, you can certainly expect a fair amount of distractions. If you aren't too keen on making your own fun, there are over 300 locations to 100% complete by acquiring all items and blowing up its blowup-able stuff, dozens "commanders" (read: high health sub bosses) to take down, challenges to complete, and numerous races over land, sea, and air to finish. On top of that you have a ridiculous amount of terrain to explore and insane Easter eggs to discover (the Mile High Club, and the uh, mysterious island were particularly entertaining).
While the narrative presentation may be intentionally maligned, the visual package didn't suffer the same fate. Just Cause 2 is breathtaking from any angle, and not just in terms of what your eyes can see. The draw distance, especially when you get up really high, never fails to impress, but the sense of scale and breadth of explorable terrain is mind boggling. I can't think of another game where I can see a mountain in the distance and immediately know that, if I wanted to, I could airlift a rickshaw up to the top and ride it down until it blew up. It may take some creativity, but you can realistically go anywhere you want in the largest map I have ever encountered. Also, unlike the first game, Just Cause 2's environments are considerably diverse. Textures tend to repeat a little too often and the architecture can get monotonous, but the variance between massive cities, snowcapped mountains, and desert wastelands silence most complaints. All Just Cause 2 needed to thrive was its mechanics, but layering a beautiful game on top of them certainly didn't hurt.
A couple of problems tend to put the brakes on an otherwise amusing experience. Dialogue timing, poor animation, and sound effects in the cut scenes could have gotten away with being intentionally bad, but it's legitimately disappointing when my car fails to make a noise after crashing into a palm tree. Just Cause 2 was also prone to a considerable number of graphical glitches and poor collision detection, albeit none of it that ever crashed my game. The Black Market, which only allows you to purchase one item per menu session, would have done well to be a bit more intuitive. Finally, I always found myself wishing for a better GPS system, especially when I was stuck in the cities.