Like the hot chick at prom, Just Cause has the looks and moves, but little substance.
One of the favorite movies around the office here has to be Desperado, the Antonio Banderas action flick that made mariachi music cool and guitar cases suspect. There is nary a scene in modern film as superbly hip and fantastically violent than when the Mariachi walks into the bar and takes everyone out with the weapons hidden in his guitar case. That scene plays through my mind every time I see someone carrying a guitar or bass case without fail.
That same sense of Latino pseudo-noir cool is embodied in Just Cause, the freshman effort by Avalanche Studios. Players will find that the storyline missions have an instant appeal and the different stunts will provide some amazing action. Like the movie Desperado, however, the game doesn’t offer anything else past the popcorn action, relying on dull side-missions and repetitive province liberations to pad what would otherwise be an eight-hour game.
When I say that Just Cause leading man Rico Rodriguez will remind you of Mr. Banderas, I mean it quite literally. Rico’s black hair is a little shorter than The Desperado, but everything else matches up; from the voice to the black leather pants, everything here is Antonio in the best possible way. Rico’s visiting the Caribbean island-nation of San Esperito to incite a little rebellion in the local populace, overthrowing a dictator that Uncle Sam doesn’t see fit to rule. Overthrowing a powerful man such as this won’t be easy, so Rico and his CIA buddies will work with the local guerilla freedom fighters and drug runners to put the heat on and oust the leading man in town.
Sandbox games, which really began to take off after GTA 3 on PS2, are often filled to the brim with ancillary activities while the main story is simply there, barely worth completing to open the rest of the playground. Not the case in Just Cause, where the main story provides laughs and quick jabs at U.S. political policy. Missions that lead to the downfall of San Esperito’s ruling dictator include bailing the local freedom fighters out of prison, taking out supply caches, and dismantling their WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction for those who don’t watch the Daily Show). When you hear Rico mention to his superior Tom Sheldon, whose voice is a dead ringer for Law and Order actor Fred Thompson, “At least they have WMDs,” you will know just what you’re in for here.
The problem with the story missions is that they are over far too quickly. Apparently, overthrowing a dictatorship and assassinating the president of a small island nation takes six-to-eight hours. That’s it. In trying to keep the game as open-ended as possible, they have completely detached the side-missions from the main story, whereas other games have required a certain percentage of a certain side-mission completed before you can resume the main story. Whether or not the game forces you into a side-mission to advance the main story, the biggest problem is that these secondary tasks are trite and boring. After you liberate your third or fourth town, which basically is as easy as killing a couple dozen cops or soldiers and a couple roadblocks, you will have had your fill. The rewards simply aren’t there. After liberating a town or village, you get an additional hideout and some respect with the faction you helped. Whoo hoo! There really isn’t anything in terms of weaponry or secret goodies to make the mundane liberation missions worth your time.
So, for the eight or ten hours that players will genuinely enjoy this game, there are quite a few amazing things you can pull off. You can, for instance, jump out of a moving airplane or helicopter, base-jump onto a moving school bus or truck and then hop onto the oncoming army jeep to hijack it. Players are given a sweet little magnetic hook and line that attaches to any moving vehicle found in the game, allowing players to parasail behind it and real it in. In fact, some of the game’s tougher chasing missions are made much easier when you get creative with this little stunt system. Convoys are rendered helpless when you can hop from your government-issued helicopter, parachute towards the ground above the target car, and hook it with your line.
Players that hate driving from one task to another can breath easy for this one. Like in Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, players can call in for a quick lift to their next mission briefing or a safe house to restore their ammo and life. If getting an aerial view of the island interests you, all you have to do is piss off the local law enforcement a bit to provoke a local helicopter, which can then be hijacked with your magnetic hook-line gun. Stumbling across the right military base may net you one of the game’s many weapon-loaded vehicles, making the game play more like the Road Warrior than anything else. In fact, you can have the government-issued 4×4 delivered to you practically anywhere at anytime, complete with a mini-gun payload to chew up traffic as you speed along the islands.
Whether you drive, fly, or run around the islands of San Esperito, you will be greeted by solid visuals and plenty of sweet graphical tricks. Xbox 360 owners will be especially pleased with their version, complete with advanced lighting and impressive blur effects that convey a sense of speed when whizzing across the waters in a speedboat for example. Rico himself is smartly animated, waving his double-pistols at his hips as he jogs through gunfire to complete his next objective. The camera angle shifts that occur when performing stunts are appropriately jarring and sell the moves. In reality, he didn’t actually jump but transported from one place to the other, but like any good action film, it’s tough to discern that while the action is moving along. Just Cause trips up in some of the obvious places visually, however. When you head to one of Sheldon’s trailers for your next mission, you are greeted by what looks like a cardboard cutout representing Sheldon and his assistant. They literally look like they are life-sized cardboard cutouts, or better yet gingerbread people with clothes. Cut scenes that advance the story are pretty ugly as well, sporting lip-synching that make Godzilla flicks look like they were filmed in English and goofy character models. The animators were going for a certain style here, but it comes off as bland and lifeless instead.
When you look at it more and more, the Desperado comparison works really well here. Action scenes and sweet gunplay make for a compelling first watch, but you can’t sit through repeat viewings of that film like you can others. Just Cause is the exact same situation; after you liberate the island and eliminate the dictator, there is simply no other reason to put the disk back in your system. The island looks pretty and there are plenty of attractions to see, but once you spend a little time there, you are ready to leave. Most players will be done with this game after eight or ten hours and wishing that instead of the goofy collection or liberation missions that were thrown in, the developers would have fleshed out the main story.
You’ll play this game, just ’cause I said so. by Patrick Evans
July 26, 2006 – Much of South America is a mess, both politically and socially. What’s more, American involvement has been portrayed in more than a few movies. With that in mind, the idea of an operative being dropped into the fictional San Esperito to start a revolution and dispose of the current president is buyable. In fact, it’s enticing.
The plotline of Eidos’s Just Cause is easily one of those things that you could certainly imagine happen but never hear about officially. Reports state that the island nation of San Esperito has gone rogue and is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, so it’s in the best interest of the world if the scene was jostled a bit. Players will assume the role of CIA operative Rico Rodriguez as he begins the revolution. Beginning this revolution may sound simple; land on the island and begin blowing everything away. As an expert of explosives and firearms, Rico is the perfect man for the job.
Just Cause, like so many other games coming out in the near future, will give the player free reign to carry out the mission as they see fit. To one-up the competition, Eidos is providing perhaps the biggest sandbox we have yet to see. San Esperito will encompass beaches, jungles, mountains, cities, and villages, all with areas to explore and missions to accomplish. Overall, there will be 1,024 sq. kilometers to traverse. Of course, with such a huge play area, a bevy of land, sea, and air vehicles will be available to get from point A to point B. Much like other games of the genre, Rico will be able to jump into any vehicle he sees, from a local’s car to that government attack chopper. If hijacking isn’t your thing, you could hit a passing vehicle with your grappling hook and use your special Agency parachute to parasail across the island. Nothing says “dangerous, government-overthrowing badass” like dangling legs from a multi-colored parachute.
Shooting it out with the local army and militias will be the standard 3rd person action fare. Rico will be able to advance a linear story leading to the assassination of the current president and placing a friendly regime into power. While on assignment, players will also be able to take side-missions, bonus missions, and other activities to create havoc help the Agency’s cause. Local guerrilla forces and drug cartels will want part of the future government and will be available to work for in return for assistance. After all, it wouldn’t be a South American operation without the involvement of both guerillas and drug runners.
The Agency doesn’t just send its operatives into the jungle alone, so Rico will be getting assistance from field operatives Sheldon and Kane. Whenever you are busted up good and need an airlift out of the area, these two are always on call. They will also be able to provide you with vehicle and supply drops as well, for those times that mass destruction simply can’t wait.
Just Cause looks like it will provide players with more than a fair share of gunplay, destruction, and political intrigue. While the comparisons to games like Mercenaries are conceivable, no game before it has rendered this sheer amount of civilian and military landscape without loading times. Using what they call the Avalanche Engine, which generates the landscape in bits to streamline the rendering process, they will eliminate the time spent waiting instead of blowing things sky-high. While the prospect of constant destruction and mingling with drug lords sounds awfully attractive, we won’t know for certain how it handles until it comes out. Just Cause will be launching the revolution on a multitude of consoles in late-September.