So now the massive wave of Christmas releases have splurged in our faces as gently as an 18 wheeler slams into a minivan filled with a middle school basketball team, or however the phrase goes. And now we’re all taking a chance to breathe in the slow, noxious gases of winter and spring releases until the vacuum of summer game releases has us holding out for the first fall AAA game to be over-hyped and promptly let us down. Happens so often you’d almost call it destiny.
But hidden under the wreckage of that car collision was an announcement that should have moistened the pants of sandbox shooter-lovers all ’round the gaming world. That’s right, Avalanche Studios finally announced Just Cause 3 a few months ago and have given it a 2015 release year for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC. At first, some thought Just Cause 3 might be a free-to-play title. But Avalanche Studios announced that Just Cause 3 both won’t be free-to-play and won’t have microtransactions so that his arm hook can work another ten times if you spend $0.99, or whatever. It’s a nice change of pace in an industry where companies have the audacity to have microtransaction prices up to $100 in games so buggy that if it were a person, it’d be quarantined and burned at the stake. I’ve always felt like the last mission Rico was involved with, Just Cause 2, is practically a textbook for how sandbox shooters should be done. It does so many things right for its genre that the few blunders the game has can be overlooked. So, while we wait in drooling anticipation for Just Cause 3 , let’s take a nostalgia trip to Just Cause 2 and the 300 hours of my life it took from me.
Just Cause 2 does its first right by creating a huge world. Seriously, it’s about 35 km across each side with variation between areas. One moment you could be driving along a dirt road, going between villages and bridges in the jungle, and the next you’re racing across a huge suspension bridge into an expansive city. It’s so rich and finely detailed, with small huts and tribal-like villages all looking unique and not just copy-pasted all over. All right, some of the buildings do, but what do you want? There’s like, 400 or so different towns and places to explore, almost as if the place you were in were an actual country. And you’re about to hit this country with freedom so hard it’ll impregnate women in a 50-meter radius of Rico with bald eagles.
The world also feels organic, with government planes flying overhead, traffic ebbing and flowing, and pedestrians being held at gunpoint while government officials proceed to shoot the innocent and insolent alike. It all adds to this feeling that the country is being ruled by a megalomaniac monster in a way that doesn’t just go “look at this guy, he’s the bad guy because we say he did a couple of bad things.” It’s a good case of the environment showing the story rather than someone telling it.
The next right it does is has a wacky, over-the-top story with super-serious characters. The plot reads like a James Bond film. This guy runs this island country named Panau that has good relations with the U.S. But then the guy’s brother kills him and installs a totalitarian dictatorship overnight, cutting all ties with the U.S. The U.S. is sad that Panau isn’t returning any of its calls, so they send Rico Rodriguez to investigate both the island’s leader and a missing government agent. On the way you’re asked to destroy any sort of government building, propaganda, or soldier, while helping out the rebel factions that are supported by larger nations with an ulterior motive. It’s essentially Pavlov’s dogs, but with white stars on a red backdrop. See a government thing, destroy the government thing. And find the government guy.
The plot is wacky enough that it would never draw you in on any real level, which makes the characters acting so serious about everything even better. When (spoiler alert) Rico discovers that the small island nation holds the world’s largest oil supply, his boss’s tone very quickly shifts from blowing everything up to blowing everything up but also watch out for the locals. For Rico to start questioning motives at this point would just complicate things. Just put on your serious mask, nod, and blow more stuff up. The plot serves as a minor backdrop to what players really want to do: blow stuff up, and it serves this purpose quite nicely.
One thing that I was recently reading up on is called the “strange attractor.” There are entire websites on the concept. Basically, it’s combining something that is attractive and something that is unique to draw an audience into a product. For Just Cause 2, the attractive would be an open-world shooter, something that the Grand Theft Auto series has popularized. To differentiate it from Grand Theft Auto, Just Cause 2’s unique piece is Rico’s grappling hook. It allows Rico to essentially be Spider-Man by flinging onto cars, latching planes to statues, attaching gas tanks to local tourists, and anything else your corrupted heart desires. The grappling hook allows for increased mobility, alters how the player can fight enemies, and warps the game passed being another Grand Theft Auto clone in a unique way.
There’s way more that I could get into with Just Cause 2’s design. I could discuss how the resource system makes for an interesting circling pattern that constantly rewards and pushes the player to explore more of the world. I could go through how the three rebel factions offer another great way to see Rico’s juxtaposed seriousness in every scenario. I could go over how the missions make you feel like James Bond more than playing a recent James Bond game will. But I won’t, since I do this on my time off and my editor would reach through the computer and kill me if I gave him a short novel to look through. Now go get excited for Just Cause 3 by blowing something up.