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Just Cause Review

Developer: Avalanche Studios Publisher: Eidos
Release Date: September 27, 2006 Also On: PC, Xbox and Xbox 360

Take a dash of Far Cry, a hint of The Outfit and just a touch of Grand Theft Auto. This recipe for Avalanche Studios’ and Eidos’ Just Cause sounds to me like a good mix for an action-packed sandbox game. For the most part, Just Cause comes out smelling great. If Eidos had just left the game cooking a little longer, it would taste as good as its garnish and smell makes it seem.

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Just Cause’s Che Guevara-inspired cover art gives a good hint regarding the story’s theme. It’s a game about a revolution, about overthrowing an evil, corrupt government. The protagonist is a CIA agent named Rico Rodriguez (how creative) and his mission takes him to San Esperito. This place is a series of beautiful tropical islands, and San Esperito serves as a wonderful location for a sandbox game, but I’ll get to that in a moment. In terms of the game’s story, Just Cause isn’t very captivating: Rico’s CIA agent buddies aren’t very emotional about his actions and neither are the guerrilla and rebel forces that he fights alongside. This is all realized before remembering that the general concept is pretty exaggerated and ludicrous.

In all reality, who plays a sandbox game for its story? As I said, San Esperito is a lot of fun. It’s so huge that it’s almost to a fault, but once I started exploring the world and using Just Cause’s extraction and heavy drop commands; where you are extracted via helicopter to a safe house and given vehicles, respectively, I loved it. There are dozens of small settlements and even medium-sized cities scattered throughout mountainsides, valleys, beaches, and forests. The bridges, rivers, bays, facilities–every sort of landform is recreated in a beautiful tropical setting. As a result, the environment that this game takes place in does its part to provide a fantastic experience.

Just Cause’s merits don’t end there. It’s a blast to play. Running around as Rico is easy enough to do and wreaking havoc on the corrupt government forces of San Esperito, as well as enemy cartels, never gets old. The combat system is simple enough, offering loads of pistols, machine guns, rockets, and explosives for your violent pleasure. The combat engine really only has one fault: Rico’s auto-aim can be a little perplexing, sometimes locking onto targets that are located behind other targets and sometimes even walls. Rico himself is a nimble guy, and uses daredevil items like parachutes and grappling hooks alongside base jumps and vehicle-to-vehicle leaps to offer an action-packed ride. Combining all of this makes for some interesting experiences; for example, you can base jump off of a cliff, glide via parachute over a bridge, grapple onto a passing truck, leap onto the truck, and shoot at pesky enemies with ease. Is it realistic? Hell no! It sure is a lot of fun, though, and it puts you into situations that only James Bond could call routine.

Just Cause’s mission-based storyline is over far too quickly (it could easily be beaten in less than 10 hours) but it offers dozens and dozens of side missions and specialty missions as well as “collection missions” and races. To further explain each, the story missions are the most involving and interesting. You’ll perform public assassinations, defend rebels while they broadcast a speech, and reprogram missiles to strike government installations. The side missions have either a “go kill this guy” or “steal this and come back” structure. There sadly isn’t much variation to either type. The “specialty” missions, as I call them, are fun and ask you to liberate settlements or take over safe houses. In these missions you start by killing government or cartel enemies, then blow up their blockades, raise the rebel flag, and if you’re in a safe house takeover, kill the crooked owner. Collection missions aren’t really missions at all, and they’re quite tedious, but they offer a lot of rewards for the trouble. By collecting special items marked as blue blips on your radar, you’ll earn trust from either the rebels or your friendly cartel, unlocking new safe houses, weapons, and vehicles. Races seem to be a random and out-of-place addition, and they’re not really races against other people but rather checkpoint-to-checkpoint sprints in which you race a ticking clock. In conclusion, while some of the different missions are fun (story-based missions, liberations), others just aren’t (repetitious side missions, races). Just Cause, like other sandbox games before it, is often only as fun as you, the player, allows it to be.

Unfortunately, Just Cause isn’t without its flaws. As I mentioned in the introduction to this review, Eidos could have let Just Cause sit in Avalanche Studios for a little while longer before throwing it out into the gaming world. It’s riddled with more annoying bugs than you’d be if you rolled around on an ant hill covered in sticky goo. I’ve seen everything from this game: randomly appearing and disappearing cars and buildings, things falling through the ground, random and instantaneous deaths, missions that wouldn’t actually end when they should, and even Xbox 360 Achievements that should be awarded but weren’t. For example, I clearly beat mission 14, a “feat” that is worthy of one of Just Cause’s 50 Achievements, but I wasn’t awarded the Achievement or Gamerscore points for doing so. By far the weirdest bug, though, was seeing an entire cutscene replaced by a blue box and text dialogue, with no image or sound to be seen or heard.

Speaking of Xbox 360 Achievements, it’s pretty easy to earn Just Cause’s 50 Achievements if you invest time. Easy, natural Achievements like “500 Kills” and “Complete Mission 7” as well as the points earned for liberating settlements and completing side missions will come with time, but completing collection missions and races will also earn Achievements. Those who enjoy causing random chaos and avoiding the police will quickly earn the “Most Wanted” Achievements, which award players for avoiding death while being swarmed by San Esperito’s forces. The most fun and adventurous Achievement, though, is the one unlocked for base jumping 1,000 meters–that’s 3,000 feet–and surviving. This sounds easy, right? Find the highest mountaintop and jump off, you say? Well, it’s not, as it requires a perfect jump and landing.

Visually, Just Cause is filled with all sorts of tricks. San Esperito itself is a beautiful place, but the explosions, particle effects, smoke, clouds, and water effects back it up even more. If it weren’t for stiff animations, clipping glitches, and slightly ugly cutscenes, I’d say Just Cause would be a spectacular sight when in reality it’s just a really, really pretty one. Sonically speaking, Just Cause’s dialogue is very emotionless and generic, but the explosions and other chaotic sound effects are fantastic.

Overall, Just Cause isn’t the best game out there. I’ll warn anyone looking into it that it doesn’t offer the most original or engaging experience, but it’s a lot of fun to play. What you see is what you get: it’s a pretty shallow action game that doesn’t have an emotional story or memorable characters, but it’s a lot of fun to play. I can’t quite explain how cool it is to stand on San Esperito’s highest mountaintop above a layer of clouds and know that in just a few moments I’d be diving into those clouds, pulling the string and gliding hundreds of meters onto the top of a moving car. It simply has to be done for oneself. Definitely at the very least rent this one if you’re an Xbox or Xbox 360 gamer with a hankering for an action game, just don’t expect a gripping plot or original ideas.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 8
Written by Cliff Review Guide