I think that playing as a CIA agent dropped into a little Latin American country to noisily and recklessly effect "regime change" is a great concept for a game. Played as over-the-top satire, with something like the James Woods character from GTA: San Andreas and having the agency's ridiculous budget and equipment at your disposal could really be fun. That's kinda sorta what Just Cause goes for, though it doesn't really play the satirical angle. It's more like a cheesy telenovela except with a lot of wanton gunplay and explosions. Or kinda like Once Upon A Time In Mexico, except you're playing as Johnny Depp instead of Antonio Banderas.

It's going to be automatic to compare it to Far Cry, which came out 2 years earlier and also put you on a Caribbean island with a bunch of guns, boats and jeeps at your disposal. Far Cry is more of a straightforward FPS in the Half-Life mold, however, while this game is much more like GTA: Banana Republic. Caution and stealth are almost totally unnecessary here as your character is basically Iron Man, and the enemies are braindead suicide zombies and rely on swarming you en masse and having heavy vehicle-mounted guns to provide any sort of challenge.

So you're literally paradropped onto this very large island at the outset, and job #1 is to make contact with your CIA handler. From there you have a primary series of story missions you initiate by going to the CIA safehouses, but there's also other GTA-like side missions all over the map. The goal is to overthrow the island's current government, and the CIA is using a guerilla rebel faction and a drug cartel to do so. You can do "turf wars" a la San Andreas for either of these factions, helping the guerillas drive the government out of villages, or the drug cartel drive a rival drug cartel out of cities. Once you do this, some doob will be standing around in the territory, and will give you a series of fetch quest missions, like bring a certain car back here and etc. Do enough of these to build up your "relationship points" and the territory then hosts a respawning unlockable like a certain vehicle or weapon, plus provides another save point. There's also little packages to find all over the map which provide respawning weapons when collected a la GTA.

Sounds OK for a basic concept, right? Yeah, I thought so too, especially since I've been hankering for a solid violent sandbox game lately. But the devil is in the details. First, the world map suffers from Daggerfall Syndrome in that it's just too big for its own good, so most of it is empty. And it's a shame, because it's impressively realized, with a lot of graphical detail and unique terrain layouts everywhere you go. But most of it just has nothing for you to do but accidentally launch over a cliff and get trapped in some basin and have to call for a helicopter rescue.

The liberation turf war missions are also repetitive as shit. It's literally the same thing every time with only very minor variations here and there. Each one is simply killing your way through endless spawn-in waves of enemies. Some have you destroy three barricades with explosives to allow vehicles to get through, some simply have you kill as many enemies as fast as you can to keep a morale meter up, and some use one of those two but also have a quasi-boss figure holed up at the end that has to be killed. Either way, there's almost no challenge and they get tiresome after you've done 2 or 3. And the optional missions on the turf that get unlocked are just repetitive fetch quests.

The story missions are a little better ... sometimes. They lean on vehicle chases, though, and that's maybe the worst area of the gameplay. If you're driving a big and slow vehicle, enemy vehicles will just kind of glom onto your sides like a katamari and pump gunfire into you with not much you can do about it. Anything less than a big truck and enemy motorcycles can also somehow push you off the road (though you can't repeat this trick when you're driving a motorcycle). Your character is also virtually invincible on foot, but is only really vulnerable in vehicles. So some missions boil down to either jogging tediously forever to the mission objective but not being scratched, or trying to drive a succession of crap vehicles that go up in flames about 5 seconds after you get in them.

Unfortunately, gunplay isn't a whole lot better than the vehicles. Picture Hitman, or maybe the first Max Payne without the Bullet Time. There's no positional limb damage, and enemies are psychic suicide grunts who spawn in right near you and just recklessly charge you forever. There's almost never any point in using cover because they just spawn all around your current position from random sides. Normally this is a recipe for bullshit difficulty but your guy is such a nigh-invulnerable tank that it doesn't matter. The game's "killer app" is supposed to be this grappling hook that lets you latch onto vehicles and smoothly hijack them, but I really found it kind of useless other than in certain story missions where it's scripted for you to use it. The main thing that rendered it useless is that you can't fire it while driving a vehicle, you have to get out first, so it's worthless for chase scenes and such. And why can't you use it on anything but vehicles? Seems a massive wasted opportunity.

If you do decide to take this game on, it's best to complete the first few story missions before doing anything else, as this unlocks the ability to call for vehicle drops and an emergency helicopter extraction. You'll REALLY want these when out in the jungle, as there's plenty of huge stretches with no vehicles to be found that you can end up having to spend 10 minutes tediously running out of if you go over a cliff or something. You also can't save anywhere, you can only do it at satellite uplinks at safe houses, so you'll want to unlock a few of those just for convenience and sanity. Personally, I think it might be a better move to just skip straight to Just Cause 2, which got much better reviews than this game did.

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