Despite appearances, Just Cause is not just another Grand Theft Auto clone. Sure, it features a large, streaming, free-roaming world; hundreds of missions you can take on in a semilinear fashion; and a hard-boiled storyline featuring a tough-as-nails protagonist in a world run by criminals. And of course, you can jump into any vehicle you see and just tool around, if you want. But the designers at Sweden-based Avalanche have taken that basic formula and embellished it with some of the most pleasingly absurd, over-the-top action moves we've seen in a game of this type. Combine these fresh gameplay features with a slightly tongue-in-cheek style and sense of humor, and Just Cause is looking like an action game to keep a close eye on.
As we've reported previously, you'll play the role of Rico Rodriguez, a badass special agent who "specializes in regime change." Rico is being sent to the island nation of San Esperito to assist a local underground movement working to overthrow the corrupt government, and this will form the basis of the game's 21 story-related missions. In the style of the free-roaming genre, you'll move from place to place to pick up new missions that further the "just cause" of the resistance. From the looks of things, this will usually involve assassinating certain authority figures, disrupting transport operations, destroying equipment, and the like. And since you're operating in a country that's literally 250,000 square real-world acres in size, there's going to be a lot of havoc to wreak.
For instance, we got to see the Good Cop, Bad Cop mission, in which Rico has to track down the corrupt chief of police on his lavish yacht and take the guy out. In keeping with the genre, there are multiple ways you can approach such a situation, but until we saw this mission in action we didn't appreciate exactly how free you are to move around through any means you can get your hands on. In the demo, Rico started out in the streets of a small town and fired his grappling cable onto a passing car, then whipped out his trusty parasail and sailed through the air while tethered to the car.
When you're in the air, you can automatically drop onto any vehicle underneath you, so Rico then jumped down onto the car, kicked the driver out, and took off down the road behind the wheel himself. Speeding down a pier with the yacht visible farther out in the bay, Rico then jumped on top of the car using the "stunt position" maneuver (which is available on any vehicle you control) and leaped high into the air just as it flew off into the water, popping out his parasail once again to glide down over a speedboat and taking control of that. This is the sort of action sequence that sells you on a game when you see it happen so dynamically.
It seems like you can move between any kind of vehicle--from motorcycle to car to boat to even airplane or helicopter--without your feet ever touching the ground, thanks to the grapple-and-parasail mechanics. As if that weren't enough, you can even bail out of any flying vehicle and go into a controlled freefall, and you can deploy a parachute to land safely on the ground. With such a massive island, it's great to see that the designers have given you such free-wheeling, over-the-top means of getting from place to place. There are also arrows that point out your next objective, which you can see from just about anywhere, since they tower high above the treetops and roofs of buildings. For a better sense of just how madcap the action in Just Cause can be, be sure to check out our pile of new high-definition gameplay movies.
Another mission, River of Blood, saw Rico tracking down the shady operations of a local terrorist group that was transporting some illicit materiel. After speeding down a river in a high-powered rocket boat, Rico discovered that the bad guys were moving tankers full of rocket fuel on a train, so the mission objective quickly became of the destroy-and-then-get-the-heck-out variety, requiring the player to grab a rocket launcher and trash the explosive tanks before the train got away. But wait! It's hard to escape the scene when attack helicopters are barreling in at you. In another great example of Just Cause's absurdly over-the-top action, the player dodged the fire of the first incoming chopper, fired the grapple at its tail fin, and pulled himself right up into the cockpit (jumping right through the whirling blades, natch) to take control of the helicopter and subsequently shoot down the other trailing helicopter.
If 21 missions doesn't sound like a lot, don't worry--those story levels are only a subset of the game's 303 total missions, which include optional racing, assassination, and escort objectives, among other things. Completing these side missions will increase your prestige points, which will raise your standing with the local resistance and make them want to help you out more. One of the benefits your increased rank confers is the vehicle drop, which lets you phone up your friends and have them helicopter in any vehicle you've gained access to in a few minutes. This even includes experimental vehicles like a jeep equipped with rocket launchers. Luckily, you'll start the game with the ability to have a motorcycle dropped in, so in keeping with the game's theme of making sure you're always mobile, you'll never be without a rapid means of transportation for long.
We got to see the Xbox 360 version of Just Cause, which looks gorgeous, with copious use of light bloom brightening up its already-lush jungle environs. You won't see any loading after the initial load, either--all 250,000 acres of San Esperito stream off the disc seamlessly, meaning you can go anywhere that your high-flying moves can take you. There's also a day-and-night cycle that makes for some nice sunsets and otherwise provides some ambience, and the engine even tracks rudimentary data on humidity and atmospheric pressure, so you randomly get dark clouds gathering and rainstorms as you move around. The island is further brought to life by the random battles you'll stumble into between various rival factions as you go about your business, which adds even more atmosphere and realism to what already feels like a living, lively environment. And if you've kept up with our past coverage, you'll be glad to hear that the developers have really tightened up the frame rate--our demo on the 360 was completely smooth from start to finish.
Just Cause looks like it's packed to the brim with gameplay, what with the hundreds of missions and that insane core vehicular gameplay that we honestly didn't want to stop messing with at the end of our short demo. Just jumping between vehicles and acting like an action-movie hero is entertaining enough in itself, and we're looking forward to seeing what else is in store as the missions heat up later on. You won't have long to wait to try the game for yourself: GameSpot will premiere the Just Cause demo this Thursday for the PC, and the Xbox 360 version should be hitting Marketplace hopefully around the same time.