Just Cause 2 Preview (PS3)

It hasn't been that long since we last visited the island paradise of Panau where a nasty dictatorial dictator is dictating and transforming the sunny locale into an oppressive dictatorship. We went along to Square Enix's London office anyway and took a second look at the game, which is now nearing completion and gearing up for its impending release.

We got to play the first few hours of the full game, given free reign to explore the expanses of Panau's diverse landscape. Opening fast and furious, Just Cause 2 begins with hero Rico Rodriguez being flown to the island via helicopter, which naturally he leaps from, skydiving to the very first waypoint, where you're immediately thrown into an action-packed mission fighting the forces of antagonist Baby Panay within the perimeter of one of his many military installations.

Zipping around like Spider-Man is great fun, but using the grapple to hijack an airborne helicopter is a unique highlight.
Rico can deploy his parachute at any time and he has an inexhaustible supply tucked away in his backpack. It doesn't make any sense, but then who cares?

Armed with only a PDA, his trusty grapple and a limitless supply of parachutes from his logic-defying, magic backpack, Rico has to find weapons while he's out in the field, but luckily guns are seldom in short supply. Ammunition however, is a different story, and for a game that deals in chaos and destruction, we found our guns running dry far more frequently than we'd have liked.

Soon we discovered that there were several reasons we were constantly scraping around for bullets. Firstly, we were spraying gunfire around more than Arnie ever did in all of his movies combined. Secondly, we were sticking to one preferred firearm rather than switching it up when we stumbled upon a new one and so, we learned to hoard weapons, conserve ammunition and reign in the indiscriminate, poorly aimed scattered shots.

While being stuck behind enemy lines might seem like a baptism of fire for the opening moments of any game, in Just Cause 2 it serves as the perfect way to impart the game's controls and mechanics without having to endure a dry tutorial. Lifting a minigun emplacement from a gunner's nest (much like Master Chief) gives us infinite ammo to tear up the place, introducing players to the white Panay stars that designate an asset you'll need to destroy to simultaneously cause chaos and cripple Baby Panay's iron grip on the island.

It's surprising how much of Just Cause 2's scenery is destructible, and although there aren't Mercenaries, Red Faction or Bad Company levels of devastation on show, for a game of JC2's sheer scale, there's more than a fair share of stuff to break. Once we've levelled a satisfactory amount of fuel storage tanks, antenna masts, SAM sites and then dealt with the convoy of enemy jeeps that attempt to thwart our mission, getting out of the complex is a simple case of grappling back to the helicopter we came in on and being hastily extracted from the site.

Next up, we're funnelled into another story mission that introduces further mechanics such as stunt jumping between moving vehicles and tethering objects using the grappling hook. A visit to a huge casino comprised of two vertiginous towers joined by a closed bridge begins a rescue objective as Rico's contact, Karl Blaine has got himself stuck in a dangerous situation caught in a hail of enemy crossfire, meaning we have to intervene. But why painstakingly climb the towers when you can jack a helicopter from out of the sky instead?

Grappling part of the way up the side of one of the towers, we dispatch a few waiting guards at various levels using carefully aimed shooting and violent melee lashes with the grapple's cable. A helicopter gunship attacks, but a quick zip across to the cockpit enables us to access a short button-matching mini-game where Rico wrestles the pilot from his seat and throws him out. Strafing the bridge with gunfire takes out the surrounding guards and we're able to jump from the chopper and grab Karl to then skydive to safety. Karl later sends you out on missions, after which you're free to explore the island at your leisure, accepting contracts from Panau's various rebelling factions.

The Ular Boys are the first faction we stumble across, so they seem as good a group as any to lend a hand to. Sadly, the mission that follows is a fairly uninspired escort mission that involves taking out snipers, ground troops and rocket launcher emplacements while guarding an incredibly stupid and suicidal technician. There's plenty of volatile incendiary targets to destroy in the area, but it pays to be creative with the grapple to yank enemies from great heights, conserving ammo in the process. It's also mighty satisfying, but still not enough to protect the idiotic Ular technician. Still, after a few retries, we're finally successful and the facility is taken by the Ulars, which unlocks extra faction mission soon our PDA map.

Most normal people would think twice about tackling a helicopter gunship head-on like this, but then Rico Rodriquez daredevil stunts make James Bond look like an insurance salesman.
You can clamber all over any vehicle, throw the driver from behind the wheel or tether the vehicle to a bridge and catapult it off the edge. Being creative is all part of the fun.

While the gunplay and driving is robust and easy to pick up, it's Rico's grapple and parachute that's really the star of the show in Just Cause 2. Being able to remain airborne and traverse long distances by swinging to maintain momentum is a fantastic way to navigate the vast archipelago, and the expanse both horizontally and vertically unlocks almost limitless potential for exploration. What's remarkable, is how much there is to see and do across the entire map, as you're never far from an area of interest or one of the game's thousands of destructible targets and collectibles.

While some locations are somewhat deserted, awaiting later mission objectives to kick in before activity commences, there's still plenty to discover, whether it's the Cape Carnival rocket launchpad or a party boat suspended from two rather suggestive-looking Zeppelins, hundreds of feet above the sea. Combine the main story-driven components, the numerous collectibles, hundreds of vehicles and literally thousands of opportunities to wreak chaos destroying Panau's propaganda and military presence, and you have an open-world game that has enormous potential, which shouldn't be underestimated.

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