Swedish developer Avalanche Studios' first in-house development project is a 3D action-adventure starring a U.S. operative named Rico Rodriguez. Just Cause has Rodriguez attempting to overthrow a fictitious South American island's regime by instigating a revolution. Players will accomplish this by working with citizens, political factions, rebels, and even drug cartels in a series of explosive operations. In the tradition of games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Just Cause features a free form world with an estimated 250,000 acres of territory to traverse by plane, car, boat, or in some cases, parachute. Since the island of San Esperito is filled with cities, towns, resorts, jungles, and mountains, players can acquire more than 100 vehicles throughout their tumultuous stay. The main storyline includes over 20 missions with objectives that can be accomplished by any number of means. Hundreds of side and bonus missions are also available for fun or profit, with stunt challenges like parasailing, vehicle leaping, or skydiving part of the itinerary for tropical thrill-seekers.
It seems like GTA-inspired sandbox titles are a dime a dozen recently on the Xbox 360. Just Cause comes to us following two solid titles, Saints Row and The Godfather, both of which had their own respective hooks. Saints Row had its customization and online multiplayer, while The Godfather had the license to one of the greatest movies of all time. Just Cause has neither of these, and instead relies entirely upon its innovative features, which just don't innovate enough.
Your perception of Just Cause can be drastically different depending upon how you approach it. Gamers going in expecting a realistic island coup - which is the logical assumption - will be sorely disappointed. While the story, setting and a variety of other parts of the game scream realism, the way the game itself plays would suggest the complete opposite. It's almost as if the development team was unable to decide which direction they wanted to go in, and the end result is, unfortunately, a poorly-done hybrid of these two extremes.
This glaring fact is immediately apparent upon picking up Just Cause. One of the focal points of the games is its stunt system, which makes your character, Rico, out to be a superhero. As I was driving along in my motorcycle, I noticed that I could release my parachute; I figured this was pointless as I drove down a flat road, and assumed that it was there in case I decided to ride off a cliff. Just for kicks, I decided to hit the button, and Rico jumped off the bike 80 feet into the air and pulled his parachute in one unnatural, albeit fluid motion. Maybe there was just a glitch that I had encountered, I thought, but as I played for a few more minutes it became more and more apparent that this was not the case.
When Just Cause says stunts, they don't mean the occasional, incredible James Bond stunt where he jumps off a cliff and ends up on the inside of an airplane's cockpit flying away; no, in Just Cause that would qualify as a regular task that you can pull off with the press of a button. Jumping out of a moving vehicle and then leapfrogging from one car to the next is among the other regular, ridiculous stunts you can pull off. Sure, it sounds cool and it's neat to pull off a few times, but these stunts simply seem like cool ideas that were slapped together in this game, and they feel awfully out of place.
It's a shame that you can't instead be immersed in this beautiful looking title. The island is absolutely massive, and everything from roads and mountains to boats and sunsets are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Lighting and shadow effects are top notch; when you pass through the shadow of a tree but have those few rays of sunshine pass through and light up the respective parts of Rico's body, you'll know this is truly a next-gen title. Sure, the CG sequences looks a bit ridiculous thanks to the bulky action-figure-looking characters, but everything in-game is just jaw-dropping. Skydiving and then pulling your parachute while admiring the horizon is quite the site to behold. Graphically, Just Cause is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
Unfortunately, you probably won't even feel compelled to see the majority of the island. Just Cause simply lacks that real draw that makes you feel like you have to explore every inch of the land. Part of that is certainly from the long stretches of nothingness - Oblivion mastered the art of having acres upon acres of open-space with nothing more than forests to cover them, because you always wanted to know if there was something around the corner. Just Cause, on the other hand, doesn't have enough to really keep you interested. Condensing the entire island so that there was more frequent action as you traveled would have been a wise decision.
Another wise decision would have been to go the way of Saints Row and just make Rico a mute. I made the complete opposite argument when bashing Saints' decision to make your character rarely open his mouth, but when all that does come out of your character's mouth is pointless, inane comments and cliches, you simply wish he would just shut up.
You'd also wish that he wasn't the apparent offspring of Superman; Rico's punches will send enemies flying backwards as if they were just hit by a car, and he is capable of doing the same with pistols from long range. The revolver shoots as quickly as a semi-automatic rifle, and every gun lacks any real feedback; while they show recoil on-screen, you just don't see the reaction from Rico or get the feeling that you're actually firing a large weapon. But hey - this is Superman's son by all accounts, so I suppose it's understandable.
Saints Row made a major improvement upon GTA's formula by opting for a free-aim system, a very welcome addition to the genre. While The Godfather didn't provide this, it did allow for you to precisely aim and target enemy body parts such as their shoulders, legs, head, etc. Just Cause allows for you to freely aim by placing the camera over Rico's shoulder, but this is more of an annoyance than anything else. The game's shooting relies almost entirely upon its auto-aim system, which is complete garbage. It's difficult to switch between targets due to the fact that only one button is assigned to this task. Not only that, but the choices it makes when choosing which enemy to target are just nonsensical; let's just shoot that guy in the distance before taking out the guy firing from two feet behind me.
Additionally, the lack of crouch and run buttons is a big turn-off. Given that there's no reason to be stealthy in what equates to a shoot-'em-up, perhaps crouching would be worthless, but running? That's a staple, and its absence is inexcusable. The jump button that is provided does only what it promises, and also doubles as a roll. Rico can jump several feet into the air from the stationary position, so would it have been all that difficult to provide him with the ability to pull himself up to a roof or surface that he can clearly reach? Instead, you're forced to move around until you can find a sufficient incline in the adjacent hill so that you can clearly make the jump onto the roof.
On the upside, the setting of the game is phenomenal. Participating in a take-over the island is quite the experience, and being in Rico's position has its perks. Using his PDA, you can call for a dropoff of a vehicle, or call for extraction, provided that you are in a reachable location and aren't under attack. Helping guerrillas fight off the corrupt police is rewarding, as is working against huge drug rings.
Just Cause was filled with a lot of great ideas. It had the potential to be an awesome game, but what comes across as unsurety on the part of the development team really hampers it. There are so many cool ideas here, and the layout for what could have been an even more interesting multiplayer than Saints Row goes to waste thanks to the poor execution.
People who downloaded Just Cause have also downloaded:
Just Cause 2, Sniper Elite, Juiced, Ka-52 Team Alligator, Joint Strike Fighter, Lock On: Modern Air Combat, MiG-29 Fulcrum, Master of the Skies: The Red Ace
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