Cloning the Grand Theft Auto formula is certainly not new to developers these days. Thankfully the Xbox 360 has seen the brighter side of these copycats first with the hugely successful and surprisingly good Saints Row, and now with the strangely addicting Just Cause from Eidos. While most clones simply try to mimic the abovementioned franchise Just Cause does just enough to differentiate itself from the norm. With over the top stunts, high-flying acrobatics, and a body count that would make a John Woo movie blush Just Cause has plenty to keep fans of the genre satisfied for dozens of hours.
Imagine if you will a free-roaming GTA-style game with a protagonist who bears a striking resemblance to Antonio Banderas in El Mariachi, mixed with some of the most exaggerated stunts this side of a Hollywood summer popcorn action movie and you have the gist of Just Cause. Where this title sets itself furthest apart from the aforementioned title is just how nimble and over-the-top the action can get. Whether you are hanging onto the tail wing of a jet fighter at ridiculously high altitudes or simply taking out choppers with a handgun there is never a dull moment around the island of San Esperito.
The main storyline revolves around Rico, who is a CIA operative with a knack for the ladies and a passion for gun slinging. Your objective is simple, get in, cause as much chaos as possible, and get out. If you are captured no one will claim you and your chances of being rescued are slim to none; like those odds? Then this game is definitely for you as your employers will have you traveling the island assassinating people, blowing up power plants, and mingling with some of the most dangerous gangsters this side of Vice City.
The single-player adventure is broken up into twenty one story missions that can be completed in less than ten hours by most gamers. However that isn’t why you play these types of games in the first place and Just Cause is fully aware that it is indeed a sandbox game. Around the lovely island of San Esperito you will find an abundance of side missions and activities to keep you busy.
There are several types of these missions and some work better than others. For example the racing simply seems out of place altogether, in fact I wouldn’t even classify it as actual racing seeing as there isn’t any competition to be seen. Basically you grab a ride and drive through a series of checkpoints before the time expires. While not exactly the hardest side mission completists will be happy to know that each race victory will garner a coveted achievement and some more gamer points to add to that ridiculously high score.
Two of the other types of missions are very similar in structure. Liberation and cartel drug attacks are basically divided up into three barriers that you must destroy. The only difference comes at the end where you will either raise a flag or kill a drug lord. There are tons of these missions scattered around the island and their only real payout is the opening of side missions and a small increase in your trust meter.
This brings me to the side missions which feel tacked on and very cheap. This is usually a fetch, kill and return quest that has you going from point A to B, grab an item or assassinate someone, then head to the end. While these are generic at heart at least it gives you something to do whenever you get stuck on a single-player mission, which unfortunately doesn’t happen to often with the extremely forgiving difficulty.
The last side mission type is called Collect Missions, and yes achievement freaks there are points gained for each one of these that you complete. In this mode you will be hunting down different items spread across the map, which by the way are marked by blue dots for easy access. Generally you can find all the collect items in each mission in very close proximity of each other, but some of the larger collect quests require you to do some searching to find them all. Like I stated though having the map point you to them all makes finding every last one a cake walk, it will just take some time.
While none of these side missions are really deep or engaging the single-player game is a different story. Each of the 21 missions has you doing different tasks that you can approach from several different angles. For instance, in one of the earlier missions you must break someone out of prison and escort them to safety. On my first run through I simply drove my vehicle at the side of the prison, jumped onto the roof in stunt mode, and deployed my parachute launching myself over the giant walls. On another run I drove straight through the entrance mowing down every guard in my way and racking up one of my first achievements of 100 kills. This type of missions diversity really lets the player take on any mission the way they want, and in turn makes the game fun to play.
One of the biggest things that make Just Cause enjoyable is accessibility. Each mission has a set of checkpoints that keep you from having to replay the same one over and over. You can also call for extractions when you are not engaged or in a hot police chase, which will fly you to any safe house on the map that you have access to or even to the briefing of your next mission. This is extremely helpful as the world of San Esperito is huge and trying to cover some of this ground on foot would make it tedious and boring. You can also call for vehicle drops which come in the form of all types ranging from dirt bikes to choppers, but you have to unlock them through playing the single-player game.
As far as visuals are concerned Just Cause is a masterpiece with subtle hints of disaster included. The actual island itself is huge, and when I say that I don’t think you truly grasp just how big it is until you load up the game and try to actually run somewhere. The colors are very vibrant and extremely green, expect to see more foliage in this game than in the entire Predator movie, and the underwater scenes are absolutely gorgeous, especially in high-definition.
Where the game falls flat though are the animations, or lack thereof I should say. The characters in the game have very few movements and their transition between actions is very disorienting to say the least. There are plenty of visual tricks here including great motion blur, spectacular lighting, and some nice textured, but with a world this big you will definitely notice the draw-in and texture swapping that the devs certainly could not avoid, even on the Xbox 360. Overall the game is certainly not the ugly duckling it may appear to be in screenshots though.
Just Cause is certainly a nice effort from first-time developer Avalanche Studios and perhaps with a few more tweaks this game could become a hit franchise. As it stands the game is still loads of fun to play and at the end of the day that is all that matters. With plenty to see and do and a large variety of ways to cause chaos and mayhem Just Cause will satisfy any gamers appetite for destruction and I definitely recommend checking out this overlooked gem. I am looking forward to a sequel but for now I must return to San Esperito for some more over-the-top honest to goodness fun!