Monday, August 04, 2008

Just Cause - Review

If you want a full review of this game, look elsewhere. I will simply hit the highlights and why I keep coming back to this game.

There aren't that many console games that I return to. Most are great for a once-through, but replay value is low. Microsoft has attempted to fix this by adding achievements to their 360 games, and has thusly increased the play time of inexcusably short games with the least effort possible. Certainly the maps are enormous, areas beautifully rendered, plot well developed, and progression smooth, with enough attention to detail to convince you that the world YOU live in is less realistic; but who cares when it's all over in 5 hours? Sure, you'll probably get another play out of it on a harder difficulty, and maybe another to catch any achievements or extras you may have missed, but we're still looking at limited replayability. Just Cause is the only console game that I really have enough fun playing to come back to it month after month.

The outline of the game is simple enough, and could easily belong to any one of a hundred shitty $50 races to the finish line with a victory lap to the store for trade in. You play Rico Rodriguez, a CIA agent whose over-the-top Antonio Banderas in Desperado character modeling is as obvious as getting hit in the head with [clever thing to get hit in the head with here]. Rico must fight along side local guerrillas to unseat a hostile banana republic dictator, and free the people of San Espierto. Your superiors are a fat, Hawaiian shirt-wearing, mai-thai-sipping CIA boss, and a sassy, tough-as-nails, flirty, special forces love interest. (Though judging from how she acts, one might speculate which "special" they meant) You are armed with a slew of weapons, ranging from never-ending dual revolvers to 9 shot missile launchers (most of which you carry on your person at one time, GTA style) and enough health to take on endless streams of cross-eyed opponents without breaking a sweat.

Yes, this game had all the hallmarks of a game I wouldn't even be able to make half way through before uncontrollable vomiting forced me to ritualistically destroy in sacrifice to the god of GOOD games. There were only two things that kept me playing, and they were such good reasons, I could overlook all the other bullshit.

1. Suspension of disbelief
Suspension of disbelief is the name of the game (but Just Cause is catchier), while playing this game you will be able to make use of an endlessly redeployable parachute, make use of an endlessly redeployable grappling hook, go for a drive as a passenger with an NPC, drive your burning car off a cliff as you bail out and deploy your parachute so you can watch it explode in the air as it arcs down the valley into the river below, fall for thousands of feet into the ocean uninjured, fall for thousands of feet only to open your parachute with a few feet to spare and land safely, steal a tank and drive into a military base blowing up everything on the way, fly your helicopter low over a major freeway raining indiscriminate death onto the cars below, call in a vehicle air drop from anywhere, leap from speeding cars onto cars speeding in the opposite direction, hijack cars, boats, tanks, helicopters and planes, go skydiving, grab onto the tail of a flying helicopter from a skydiving free fall, leap from the tail of the helicopter into the cockpit and take control, fly into restricted air space and engage enemy helicopters and fighter jets, bail out of your burning helicopter before it explodes, grapple onto and parasail behind a passing fighter jet, jump onto the wing of a fighter jet, hijack a fighter jet, tear around San Espierto at Mach 3, and crash into a mountain side because those damn jets are hard to fly. Almost all of these things are utterly impossible, yet doing them (with a little challenge) is somehow very satisfying. You have the power to do all these things, and are provided with endless scenarios in which to do them. In most games it's not fun to be invincible and all-powerful, this game is a serious exception for me.

2. The world
San Espierto is VERY big, and quite diverse (though mostly jungle). It is not encumbered with loading screens, and you are allowed to see as far as one would expect to in real life. Skydiving gives you a view of clouds and weather systems along with a topographically accurate birds-eye-view of the island. On foot, you could probably walk from one end of the island to the other in at least two hours, on a vehicle, maybe 30-45 minutes. The place is huge, and spotted with small villages, towns, high-rise cities, air strips, military bases, secret mountain-side facilities, odd structures, cartel bases, and much more. I've been playing for a long time, and I'll still fly over something strange, and stop to investigate it. The jungle can be fun to get lost in, or dirt bike through. For as many things as there are, there is still detail in a tiny island with a shack and a dock, or a small cove in the side of a mountain. Being able to see so far makes standing on top of tall things or skydiving a lot of fun, you can watch the same tiny lake grow larger and larger faster and faster as you rocket toward it, and dive into it. Surfacing to steal a passing boat, and run it aground at full speed, launching you into the air and onto the busy streets of a city, then getting yelled at by civilians, and chased by cops for illegally parking your boat. While there is technically a lot of repetition in the places, there is a boatload of variety in the situations you can get yourself into and how you can deal with those situations. If SAMs are taking down your helicopter when you attack a military base, fly it in low, and park it where it'll be safe while you run around clearing out the SAMs before starting the attack on the base, and launch missiles down from above with cold impunity. The explosions, fire, and sound effects are exciting, and enjoyable. Skydiving gives the real sense of speed, and somehow manages to stay exciting. Firing a missile into a group of enemies, and watching as a few sail past you never seems to get old. Firing at random cars, and chasing down those that run or watching them crash into other cars as they flee is just fun. Driving a car evasively as a military helicopter fires missiles at you is just fun. Shooting down a helicopter, and watching it fall into another helicopter is just fun. Starting a long mission, and ignoring the regular path by hijacking a helicopter, flying up past all the roadblocks, and hovering down into a volcano to kill the assassination target is just fun. Flying fast along a bridge, dodging in and out of supports is just fun. Stealing a jet, and making multiple passes over a military base raining missiles on them, while outrunning SAMs is just fun.

Just Cause is just fun.

...and could probably be had for pretty cheap around now.

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