Just Cause 2 4-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: February 17, 2014
What is a person to do when a friend disappears in an island nation that, through a recent coup, has become unfriendly to both yours and his nation? If you are Rico Rodriguez the answer is to grab some guns and start hunting for clues in Panau. To help you explore the 400 square miles Tom Sheldon may be hiding in, you have access to over a hundred vehicles, weapons for any occasion, and your trusty grappling hook.
Just Cause 2 is an open-world, action-adventure title that allows you to do just about anything you want. You can BASE jump, surf vehicles (including airplanes), grapple just about anywhere, and all while explosions go off around you. Then you can play the missions and put a purpose to the chaos you create. Naturally the content of this game has earned it a Mature rating for blood, violence, and language, as well as drug reference and sexual themes. If that content is inappropriate for you, then chances are this review is, too.
Released four years ago, the question now is if we should return to Panau or should it remain just some island in the Pacific? Time to find out.
Before launching Just Cause 2 you can imagine that it will have less-than-great graphics for two reasons. One is that it is four years old now and the other is from it being a large, open-world game. Fortunately neither reason seems to mean much as the game is still a pleasure to look at. Although, I guess the graphics are less-than-great, which I will explain in better detail shortly, but good and very good are both less-than-great, too.
Instead of waiting, I am going to jump right into the fluids - fire and water. With Panau being an island nation, there is a lot of water in the game. Just looking at it you see a moving, living body of water with constant waves, though often void of any foam. Interacting with it is when the water starts to look less realistic. Shooting water will create a small spire of water spraying up, and send some particles out as well. Driving a boat through the water will also throw up spray and flying over water will too, but all of these animations are just repeated and sometimes layered on top of each other. It all still looks good, but if you look at it too long, you will notice these little tricks.
There are two categories of fire in Just Cause 2; explosions and burning. To put it simply, the game could be called Explosion Simulator 2010 with what it allows you to do, and the visual effects do not let you down. They have a very realistic looking power behind them, as objects are broken and thrown about and particles fly everywhere. This makes it very rewarding to make things go boom.
Burning fires, however, are like the water animations; repeated and layered on top of each other. There is some depth and life to the flames, but really, it is nothing to be impressed by.
Now let us talk about the land, where most of the gameplay happens. Near your character, the detail is quite nice, and in some areas makes the world even vibrant (I would not describe a barren desert as vibrant). Plants may not stand up well when closely examined in screenshots, but when you are playing and moving through large patches of them, they do look very nice. As an added touch, driving through such plants and patches will cause plant-matter particles to be thrown up by your wheels.
At times though, you will almost be compelled to notice that textures and shaders are repeated. Ground, water, and ice all will use repeated textures at times, which can detract from the game's overall appearance, but not by much. Generally you can only spot this when there is a large plane, and except for the ocean around Panau, there are not many of those.
The terrain of the map is really detailed, with mountains and hills looking like real geologic formations. Combined with the game's lighting, casting shadows from the striations, you will almost believe the game is featuring real satellite telemetry.
However, one thing that will drastically break this impression is approaching the mountains at high speed. As one would expect of any game with a large world, the environment streams in so only what is nearest to you is being rendered in high detail. Instead of popping in, mountains will morph in, as apparently the highly-detailed meshes and lower-quality meshes can be noticeably different in size and shape. Not exactly a major issue, but it is hard to miss a mountain growing in front of you, especially if the snow on it is also shifting around.
Before moving on to performance, I want to mention the physics and lighting. Physics is actually fairly important in this game, because of how much you shoot, crash, explode, and otherwise destroy. In some cases, like the collapse of a giant radio tower, the physics are not completely believable and definitely canned. Seen it once and you've seen it all. There are other examples of this too, but the radio towers are unique in that when the giant pieces of metal fall, they do not cause any damage. When you destroy other objects, particularly with explosives, they do impact the world in a procedural way, so each time will be a little different, as it should be. Cars and other vehicles also appear to be damaged in a procedural way, so dents and dirt will vary with your escapades, as well as which door(s) fall off. However all cars of a type seem to explode the same.
By the way, the physics of a moving car are… unrealistic in my opinion. Of course that can make the game that much more enjoyable. One aspect of this that may be somewhat realistic, though possibly also exaggerated, is the vehicle handling. Different vehicles handle differently, with some making turns or losing traction more easily than others. That can be somewhat annoying when moving at high speed, when one mistake can cause you to lose control and crash into that small, solitary pole in just the right way to instantly explode and die.
The lighting of Just Cause 2 is actually really good, at least at a distance. The resolution of shadows is not always that high, but in many cases it is high enough to render a really beautiful scene, especially at a distance.
As usual, before talking about performance, here are my computer's specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
On the whole, the performance of Just Cause 2 is exceptionally good, considering how much can be going on at once, even at near-max settings. Two settings I had turned off were the Bokeh filter (because I do not like the look of it) and the decals. The reason the decals were off is because they can cause the game to be unstable and crash. I do not believe this occurs for everyone, but if you are ever playing the game and notice some weird artifacts and crashes, try disabling the decals to fix the problem.
Something else I have to mention about the settings is that I am not sure how valuable it is to push to the highest settings. The Anti-Aliasing setting can be set as high as 32xCSAA, and at that setting I could not notice an appreciable performance hit. I also could not notice any less aliasing than the 8x option, which offers similar performance. It seems to me that just because you can run this game at its highest AA setting does not mean you must.
Besides the decals issue, I also experienced a glitch a couple of times. For some reason when grappling to certain objects, there is a chance you will be thrown almost a kilometer. It is almost as though your character has entered the geometry of the other object somehow, and the engine reacts by snapping you out at high speed. When this happens, there is a chance you will be damaged by it, but I do not know if it can kill you, as it has not killed me before.
At times, typically when driving at high speeds, I also noticed some odd artifacting where black dots on a grid-like pattern appear. I am not sure what causes this, but I find myself unable to not notice it when it is present.
Overall, the performance was good and solid, with the noted exception, while the graphics are good, but not great. It is fair to make some allowances for games with worlds as large as Panau though, so I would not hold the repetitive graphics against Just Cause 2 in all cases. For a four-year-old game, it stands up very well for performance and appearance, and that is what should be taken away from this section.
The story of Just Cause 2 is a little better than a save-the-princess story, but at its core, that is all it is. The main campaign story exists just to give the player a reason to move forward with that campaign. There is more story than just that though, but in a more scattered form.
While the primary focus of the main campaign is finding Tom Sheldon and dealing with the Panau government, a lot of the game actually revolves around three gangs. The Roaches are your more business-like gangsters, looking to satiate their greed and lust for power more than anything. The Reapers are a group of hypocritical communists that want to conquer Panau and turn it into their idea of a paradise. Finally the Ular Boys are the sociopathic, isolationist, xenophobes that believe Panau is theirs by birthright and want to purge the land of all others.
These three factions give you missions to complete, including some as simple as freeing a captured comrade from the military (okay, maybe that mission is not 'simple') and taking over strongholds to expand their influence and open up new missions for you. You do have to complete some of these to advance the main campaign, to create chaos and force a government reaction, but you do not need to complete all of them to finish the main campaign. Minor spoiler though, you will need to select one to aid you in the final campaign mission. Storming the secret government vault where the dictator is hiding is not a one man job.
The story is entertaining over all, and definitely has its moments, especially when it plays the government propaganda, spinning your latest actions, but is not something spectacular. Pay attention to it as you play, but if you miss something, do not worry about it. Just move on and cause more chaos, just as the story calls for.
The most important aspect of Just Cause 2 is its gameplay, because without a story to hold your attention, it has to be. Fortunately the game does this by supplying you with almost any tool you could need to entertain your destructive impulses. Grenades, triggered explosives, rockets, shotguns, machine guns, red barrels, and more all make the game a playground for us. A dangerous playground, but still a playground. Then you add in the grappling hook and you can really start having fun.
The grappling hook is always available to you, since it is attached to your arm. As you would expect, it helps you get around by pulling you to whatever you fire it at… almost. Some objects will instead be pulled by you, including enemies. In some situations the opportunity presents itself to grapple and pull enemies over a railing and to their death, saving you some ammo.
The grappling hook has another useful feature in that it can be attached to two objects, such as an enemy and an explosive tank or a vehicle and the ground. The latter possibility can be especially useful in those circumstances when you are in a car chase, but not the one driving. The enemies you grapple to the ground can be thrown into the air, off bridges, into trees or other vehicles, and whatever else the physics engine says should happen. You can even grapple planes to the ground as they take off. This will cause them to violently jerk before breaking the line, and run off of the runway. Curiously it appears NPC controlled planes are not allowed to crash and explode, which leads to some interesting scenarios.
There are not as many weapons as there are vehicles in Just Cause 2, but unlike the vehicles, you can unlock every weapon in the Black Market. As you can expect, the Black Market is the place to buy what weapons, explosives, and vehicles you need to cause chaos. It is also where you can spend the Weapon and Vehicle Parts collectibles found throughout the world and rewarded to you for completing missions. These parts are used to upgrade what items you have unlocked. How do you unlock items? Causing chaos.
One weapon however, my favorite weapon, cannot be purchased. It can only be found at military bases, and I believe is well worth seeking out. It is the mounted gun, which is essentially a minigun with unlimited ammo. Now it does not fire as rapidly as a real minigun, but each round seems to hit like a ton of bricks, sending enemies high into the air. Actually many weapons can do that, as apparently the ragdoll physics makes dead bodies very light.
The only drawback to the mounted gun, besides the limited availability, is how it limits your movement. You cannot run or jump when you are holding it, and must instead walk around, slowly, causing as much destruction as one man can. Considering how unbalanced it seems to be now, imagine how ridiculous it would be if you could run and jump with it.
Fortunately there is an option (multiple actually) for when you need both mobility and firepower. Military helicopters almost all feature a variant of the mounted gun, and some also fire rockets, making for an especially lethal package. You can also unlock for purchase a similarly armed helicopter through the Black Market, but it is not exactly what you will find shooting at you from time to time. Military planes can also be heavily armed, and a similarly armed plan can be purchased through the market as well, but personally, the planes are not that much fun.
Unlike the helicopters, the weapons on a plane can only be aimed by aiming the entire aircraft, which is not easy. Also planes are very difficult to land. Often I will find myself using planes as a means to cross the country quickly, without using the Extraction fast travel system, then aiming it at a target, and jumping out. In a previous playthrough this strategy worked better than expected as the plane apparently crashed into a military colonel; a special unit that spawns in certain places for you to eliminate. Despite being kilometers away, I received the message about the kill and how it demoralizes the enemy.
As I mentioned in the Story section, you receive missions that pertain to the main campaign or are given to you by one of the three gangs. These missions can be somewhat varied, as some require you to kill a target, kidnap a target, or free a member of the gang. One mildly annoying aspect of some of these missions is that they can require you to drive a vehicle somewhere while being chased. In general, no land vehicle allows you to drive and shoot, so you have to hope you can outrun or otherwise escape your attackers to survive. You can leap onto the top of a car, letting it continue on its current path, so you can shoot at your enemies, but honestly it always felt safer to me to just drive and try to run them off the road.
Just Cause 2 really does shine when it comes to gameplay, as it enables and even asks you to do whatever you want to cause chaos, making the majority of the experience a lot of fun. It does somewhat stop being fun when you start trying to hunt down every collectible in the game, as the only means you have to find most of them is a signal strength meter. You know when you are getting close, but they will not appear on the map unless they are one of the special, faction desired collectibles.
To complete the main campaign, it took me 11 hours and six minutes, which got me to 24.55% completed. After that I kept playing to complete all of the gang missions. That took me to 20 hours and 28 minutes with 42.80% complete, so you can see there is still a lot to do and destroy. Those times may be overestimates by the way, because it can be hard to pass by military outposts without at least taking out some SAMs… and fuel depots… and generators… and radio towers… and you get the idea.
I suspect that if I do not mention the recently released multiplayer mod, there will be at least one forum post about it. I did not spend much time in the mod, but I definitely saw its potential. For one thing the servers I joined had mods that allowed people to spawn in vehicles, and even a means to boost vehicles to physics-breaking speeds. I am sure that other servers have other, more intriguing mods installed as well.
Because I was joining random servers, with no friends, my experience was not very fun, but I believe that is purely because I had no friends on the server. Playing with people I know, and communicating with them, will certainly improve the experience, as the chaos becomes more coordinated than people just flying around, shooting each other. Based on that experience, I definitely hope that any future game in the franchise has multiplayer built in, and perhaps even co-op for the campaign.
Additional Gameplay Images:
Is Just Cause 2 a game to remember and return to, or should we let it disappear like an exploded fuel tank? In my opinion this is a game to remember. The chaotic, open-world design can supply you with dozens of hours of fun, before and after finishing the final mission. The graphics stand up very well and the performance is excellent. It may have some shortcomings, but nothing to keep me from recommending it.
If you like open-world games and making a game into your playground, Just Cause 2 is an easy game to recommend to you. You can also check out its many mods (there are more than the multiplayer mod) and its DLC. The DLC, by the way, only add weapons and vehicles for purchase in the Black Market. They can still be a lot of fun, especially as the items come fully upgraded, but do not add any greater content to the game.