Review: Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
"I finally apprehend my target after a furious shootout on the lawn of a huge tropical villa. Cocking my heavy Dawson 61 shotgun, I put an end to this particular drug lord's little tinhorn empire with a deafening blast. As his bodyguards approach across the bluff behind the house, I jump on my motorbike and kick it into gear. Flying down the ridge, I catapult off the highest point straight over the edge, my bike plummeting away from beneath me as I toss a grenade at my pursuers, then maneuver gracefully into a 1,000 foot, swan-diving freefall. As the thugs are shredded by the concussion blast behind me, I pop my chute and float gracefully over an island paradise, down to the beach and momentary safety. All in a days work, though realistically, this one's just getting started.? ? Rico Rodriguez, Day One, San Esperito.
Just Cause is the new open-world sandbox game from first time developer Avalanche and long time publisher Eidos. Let me tell you - it's about time someone took the GTA formula and applied it to something besides Mafioso and gang-bangers, and Avalanche has done just that. Taking the role of Rico Rodriguez, a CIA operative tasked with fanning the flames of a burgeoning revolution on the tropical island (or more accurately, archipelago) of San Esperito, you'll explore and adventure across a tremendous game world and execute all manner of over the top, spectacular stunts thanks to this title's quirky play mechanics and unique tool-set. As a super secret agent akin to James Bond, you'll drive cars, bikes, boats, choppers, planes (including jets and huge cargo cruisers ), parasail, skydive, base jump and perform insane stunt combinations that I couldn't even begin to predict if I tried. You're only limited by your imagination ? and some annoying bugs and less than stellar design choices. Yes, it's true that Just Cause lacks some polish, but when you're skydiving from a plane at 15,000 feet just before it explodes into the side of a mountain as you gently freefall over a breathtaking view, a few glitches and bugs just don't seem to matter much?
The story is campy and pretty straightforward, and you'll have help and support in overthrowing the corrupt government in the guise of your CIA appointed back-up. You'll receive mission information and assignments from them, and you can also call in requests for air-drops most anytime in order to procure transportation ? a good thing if you've just stunted off a 600 foot cliff and watched your car spiral into an out of control fireball. You can choose to tackle any mission at any time, including the main story assignments, side-excursions to topple various drug lords, killing government troops in order to liberate numerous small towns, and jobs for the local cartels. The combat is lots of fun, and the lock-on targeting works well for the style of gameplay (though there is an option to free-aim by clicking in the right thumbstick). Explosions are fantastic and overall the weapons play is sweet indeed. You'll have access to a nice selection of arms (completing side missions and liberations earns you upgraded weaponry delivered to your safehouse ? where you can also save your game and stock up on ammo and health ? and better vehicles as well) including hand guns, submachine guns, combat shotguns, RPGs, assault rifles and your custom built Protec Grappler G3. This little gem allows you to fire a gas propelled grappling line and attach yourself to any vehicle in the game ? cars, boats, planes, helicopters ? you can grab onto anything and go parasailing around the island ? you can even reel yourself in or spool out the line in mid-air. Clearly this particular tool figures prominently in the stunt action you're capable of throughout the game. In addition, you'll have a small arsenal of explosives to work with; items such as remote triggered, timed and hand-triggered C4, and standard fragmentation grenades as well.
Graphically, Just Cause is gorgeous. The size of the game area is absolutely huge, and the developers claim there are 250,000 acres to explore, 89 vehicles, 32 stunts and 303 missions to accomplish. The 360's horsepower keeps the game looking extremely sharp running in hi-def, and the HDR lighting is amazing. The water looks great, as do the miles of lush jungle. As well, the vehicles are nicely detailed. Character models are pretty basic, but Rico looks very good, and animates well for the most part (the freefall during a skydive is particularly impressive). Unfortunately, there are some graphical glitches, such as occasional textures that shimmer and the usual pop-in that can be expected with a streaming, open world game of this type. However, it's kept to a minimum, and the fact that you can take a plane or copter to the upper reaches of the atmosphere and freefall for minutes before even approaching the ground ? well, that goes a long way towards forgiving whatever small technical issues the game presents.
Of course, the main attraction of Just Cause is Rico's parachute and the various big air stunts it enables. While ultimately unrealistic (it folds away perfectly, never gets tangled in trees or power-lines and is instantly accessible at any time) it's a fantastic play mechanic and really adds something very unique. Big air stunts are par for the course in Just Cause, and while the contextual button commands can be frustrating at first, it won't be long before you're leaping from vehicle to vehicle, grappling onto passing helicopters, and leaping from the roof of a car that's falling thousands of feet to its destruction while you parachute safely to the ground (you can even fire down on grounded enemies while floating above them ? sweet!!).
You can take on the main story (which clocks in at only 6 ? 8 hours) or do side activities. These will earn you prestige points and eventually open up more weapons, vehicles, bonus missions and safehouses. Once you liberate a province, it comes under rebel control, but you have to keep an eye on your wanted level in the government controlled areas. Enemy AI is pretty decent, though some of the driving missions are rife with uber-aggressive computer controlled characters that bash your car mercilessly. Fortunately, it's all pretty balanced for the most part, but there are some occasional areas of extreme difficulty. Mostly the missions are pretty easy, and gunplay is basic lock-on, arcade style. That said, it's still pretty satisfying to blow away government soldiers and liberate a city, and the game is quite liberal with health bonuses and ammo pick-ups. Just wade into the fray and start dealing death, your enemies will kindly accommodate you by donating their health. The game world is truly huge and an incredible number of missions await you ? unfortunately, there's not much variety, and you'll find yourself liberating town after town, or taking out a lot of similar looking drug villas. That said, it's still a ton of fun, but more variety and polish would have made Just Cause an instant classic. However, for a first time developer with such an ambitious plan, the game actually plays very well and is definitely a seriously enjoyable experience, if somewhat lacking in certain areas.
The music is well done, swelling with heroic themes during battles or chases. There are also lots of cool Latin themed passages throughout. The overall sound is great, the voice acting mediocre, and the explosions and sounds of gunfire are absolutely stellar. The world map is well implemented, but the ability to plot a course and lay markers would have been helpful. Either way, if you're an adventure fan looking for a different take on the sandbox genre, Just Cause is it.