Just Cause Review
Just Cause is able to justify its relative brevity and disrespect for physical law with some extremely visceral and often satisfying action.
- Well-realized island setting
- parachute and grappling gun lend the action a highly unique flavor
- no loading times as you travel across the island
- great variety of vehicles to pilot.
- Short story mode
- not enough ancillary activities
- gunplay is too easy
- implementation of stunts a little clunky at times.
Suspension of disbelief is such a fundamental part of the video game experience that we often take it for granted. Multiple lives and first-aid kits that instantly mend whatever ails you are conventions that we accept without batting an eye, even in games that purport to have realistic settings. That said, Just Cause is a visceral third-person action game with some outrageous action that will require an extra helping of that suspension of disbelief to be able to enjoy. But, if you can get past the infeasibility of a man hanging onto the tail of a flying jet with one hand, you might find a lot to like in Just Cause.
Though the broad structure of Just Cause is copped from the Grand Theft Auto series, the game also shares certain characteristics with Mercenaries and Pursuit Force. The game takes place on the fictional Caribbean island of San Esperito. You play as the black-clad Rico Rodriguez, an amused but detached character who in no small way evokes Antonio Banderas' mariachi character from Desperado. Rico comes to San Esperito to help overthrow Salvador Mendoza, a corrupt dictator in league with the Montano drug cartel. With you are Sheldon, a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, Joe Don Baker-type who has a way of saying Spanish phrases like "El Presidente" with a pronounced twang, and Kane, a comparatively bland tough girl with a lot of sass and some vague history with Rico. With the assistance of the People's Revolutionary Army of San Esperito, as well as the rival Riojas drug cartel, your aim is to dismantle the existing regime through assassination, espionage, and plenty of mayhem.
The island of San Esperito is huge, and though there are a few urbanized areas, including a small high-rise district, several military installations, seaports, and airports, most of San Esperito is blanketed in undeveloped rainforest that is peppered with crude settlements. Its size is a little deceptive, since there's not much to be done in the huge tracts of forest, but it all feels organic, and the scope of the island is still impressive. You're given a good feel for the size of the island, as well as some of Rico's more unconventional skills, right off the bat, as you start off the game by jumping out of a plane at several thousand feet. You can control Rico's speed and direction a bit while in freefall, and you can instantly deploy a parachute at the tap of a button, which slows you down enough to make a safe landing and frees up your hands to hold any one of the weapons you might have on you. The parachute system is just one of many absurd contrivances in Just Cause. There's no limit to how often you can deploy your parachute, it doesn't seem to take up any space on your person, and it never gets snagged on obstacles like trees, buildings, or streetlamps.
In Grand Theft Auto fashion, Just Cause lets you commandeer just about any vehicle you see, including boats, planes, and helicopters, provided you can get close enough to it. Once you're behind the wheel, most vehicles have a "stunt position," which forces you to relinquish control but lets you jump onto other nearby vehicles and take control of them or deploy your parachute, which will jerk you back up into the air. After a few missions, you're given a grappling gun, which you can use to hook onto vehicles from a few hundred meters away. Grappling onto a moving vehicle will cause your parachute to automatically deploy, making it possible to parasail around the island. Perhaps most impressively, you can use the grappling hook to skyjack helicopters and planes while they're in the air.
Using these mechanics well can take some getting used to, as a lot of the action buttons are contextual, and the only way to tell if you're able to pull off certain moves is when the onscreen text descriptions of the action buttons change. So the button used for jumping to another vehicle from the stunt position is the same for simply jumping out of your vehicle depending on the situation, and if you're not paying extra-close attention to the onscreen text descriptions, you'll end up on foot rather than on the desired vehicle. There's also a certain amount of contempt for the laws of physics in Just Cause. Perhaps the most absurd example is the ability to hop back and forth from the cockpit of a moving helicopter to the stunt position on the helicopter's tail, passing right through the spinning blades every time. You'll also find that you can deploy your parachute just feet from the ground without any harm, and you can go directly from a terminal-velocity freefall into a stunt position on a vehicle, even going in a direction completely contrary to your momentum as long as the vehicle is close enough.
The game doesn't even bother trying to justify any of this craziness, and it will no doubt annoy those expecting even a modicum of realism, but once you figure out how to effectively use these abilities to seamlessly grapple onto a car, take control of it, get into stunt position as you drive it off a cliff, deploy your parachute as you watch the car explode in the ravine below you, grapple onto an attacking helicopter and take it over, then freefall directly into the warm Caribbean waters surrounding San Esperito, it makes the action uniquely visceral and extremely satisfying.