One of the most appealing qualities of the sandbox action genre is the ability to traverse an entire gameworld at will, free of the restrictions of linear level design. But oftentimes, you're still restricted to the realm of realistic physics when traversing that terrain. That's not the case in Just Cause 2, an upcoming sandbox action game that lets you bounce around a vast Southeast Asian island using a combination of a parachute, a grappling hook, and a deft talent for leaping between speeding vehicles. We recently took some time to see a demo of Just Cause 2 to see that recipe in motion.
This demo was guided by a member of Avalanche Studios, the Sweden-based developer currently working on the game. It began with protagonist Rico Rodriguez falling through the sky with nothing more than a rocket launcher strapped to his back to let you know that he intends to cause some pain when he hits the ground. But it took a good long while before that happened, which gave us the chance to get a lengthy look at the island of Panau--the game's 1,000-square-kilometer setting--from on high. It's a vast collection of varying climate zones that features impressive-enough draw distance to scope out a good stretch of it while going for a leisurely skydive.
Why start the game with a skydiving sequence? As it turns out, the parachute is a critical part of your repertoire, considering that you have the ability to deploy it as often and rapidly as you want. (You'll need to exercise a little suspension of disbelief regarding why Rico never needs to stuff it back into a backpack.) It works well in conjunction with the grappling hook, Rico's other powerful toy. The grappling hook operates similarly to what you've seen in Lost Planet or Bionic Commando: simply aim the reticle at a nearby surface, fire, and you'll quickly zip right there.
But of course, there are a few key differences. For one, you can cut the grappling hook short in midswing and use it as a way to slingshot yourself up into the air, at which point you open the parachute to sail off to a distant location--or just shoot your enemies from up in the air. The developer guiding the demo was able to perform an impressive string of movements that included zipping up and over armed guard towers while latching onto ledges for cover. Another use is slightly more diabolical: You can tether bad guys to objects by latching your hook onto them and then a second object. Feel like hanging an enemy from a light post like Spider-Man would? Go right ahead. Feel like tying him to a moving car and shooting him while he's being dragged at top speed? Probably not what Spider-Man would do, but have at it.
Speaking of vehicles, the way you're able to leap from, to, and over them plays a big role in the fluid sense of movement in Just Cause 2. At one point, we witnessed Rico float down onto a moving car with his parachute, yank out the driver, launch off of a bridge, eject, and float down onto an airplane about to take off from its runway. And of course he stole that one, too. You can also hop from one moving car on the road to another, or just parasail from them if you don't want to get your hands dirty. Combined with the ability to fling yourself into the air using the grappling hook, this sort of acrobatic movement should make Just Cause 2 feel like a fairly unique sandbox action game. But given that this was a hands-off demo, we'll reserve our judgment until we see the learning curve that goes with pulling off all of those maneuvers.
All of these abilities will be put to use in a storyline that assigns Rico the goal of overthrowing the island nation's dictator, Baby Panay. Rico's method for doing this is simple and straightforward: cause as much chaos on the island as he can. Chaos is a sort of currency that unlocks key story missions by drawing the attention of all local factions and giving you new opportunities to earn friends and enemies.
As with any sandbox action game, you'll also find plenty of weapons and vehicles. Weapons available to you include an array of destructive black-market firearms and explosives, and the vehicle tally comes in at north of 100. You can upgrade your skills in both departments by collecting packages scattered around the island--an incentive to search around instead of just focusing on missions.
If you enjoyed Mercenaries 2's style of straight-to-the-point, morally bankrupt sandbox action set in a tropical locale, it looks like Just Cause 2 should offer similar frills with an added emphasis on fluid mobility. We're waiting to see what else the game will offer in terms of side missions, considering that one of the criticisms of the original was its lack of stuff to do outside of the main story. We should have more on Just Cause 2 in the coming months. No release date has been announced.