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Just Cause Review

Just Cause pack shot
Developer:Avalanche Studios
Genre:Action / Sandbox
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:www.justcausegame.com
Release Date:September 22, 2006 (UK)
Reviewer:Ryan Sayce (Stan)

If Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as the main character of a game then I think we would end up with something that has much in common with Just Cause; a game of insane stunts, lots of explosions, an almost superhuman main character and of course some sexy ladies. However, although Just Cause ticks a lot of the right boxes, it is much closer to Jingle All the Way than it is the sheer excellence of Terminator 2.

You play Rico, a government operative whose job it is to overthrow the government of San Esperito, a group of islands where the game takes place. The game starts with you freefalling down towards a beach, the freefalling is without a doubt the best feature in the game, you really do feel like you are falling. You can also deploy your parachute at any time and as many times as you like, which isn't exactly realistic in any way, but it is fun.

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Once you safely land on the beach it's your job to take out a batch of bad guys that arrive via truck, you do this with your trusty dual pistols and the games auto lock on system, so really it just involves pressing fire without any real need for aiming. With all the bad guys on the beach dead you hop onto the back of a jeep and use the mounted gun to cover you and your buddy while he does the get-away driving. Sadly once again the auto target system means there is very little skill involved with you just having to aim in the general direction of the enemy. An attempt to counter-act this easiness is made by chucking shed loads of enemy jeeps and helicopters at you, but these don't even come close to posing a real challenge.

The various missions which then await are mostly a little disappointing too. One of the more memorable ones involves having to set fire to some fields of drugs before they can be harvested and used to fund the bad guy's regime. You can go about this mission pretty much anyway you want, but I found it easiest to steal a helicopter and land it inside the compound, that makes it a lot easier than driving around for ages trying to find the way in. Once in, you have to find a way to destroy these crops, sadly there wasn't any really cool way to do it. I had to resort to driving trucks into the middle of the fields and blowing them up, then using grenades to destroy the remainder of the crops. Perhaps knocking over a fuel drum and setting the spillage on fire might have been more interesting. For me this kind of sums up Just Cause, while it can't be described as a shocking game, it lacks the sparks that makes a game truly great and memorable and as such it's just average or repetitive in most ways.

There's nothing average about Just Cause's graphics engine though, which is very decent indeed. OK - sure, there isn't a lot of detail at times, and some of the motion capture looks a bit odd on occasion. However the islands can take hours just to drive through, and during that time there won't be a single loading screen, very impressive.

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Speaking of impressive, my favourite part of the game is being able to steal an aircraft of some sort and fly really high, eject, and just glide down and see the islands from above with their lush forests, sun sets and real-time weather. It can take an hour just to glide back down to Earth, and at times it can be almost breath taking in its beauty from up high. Sadly the graphics and map design get worse the closer you to get to the ground - for instance there are a few cities littered about the place but they really don't differ at all from the jungles: you can't enter any of the buildings and they seem quite deserted with some of the local villages appearing to be busier.

This brings me to what in my opinion is the game's biggest problem - for the most part you never really feel that this is a real living world, with the side missions being played by some soldier or another that doesn't have a name and is just the same skin you see walking about everywhere. In fact, the only real main characters in the game are Rico and the two people you get the main missions from in cut scenes; and even they make some of the characters in a Uwe Boll film look well thought out and executed. Other games like the Grand Theft Auto series, or even the recently released Saints Row, have such vivid worlds, with lots of different characters that really draw you in until you feel part of that world. Just Cause on the other hand, feels like a Saturday morning cartoon that you have been dumped into. One of the missions involves you having to rescue a guy from prison. When you get there via one of the many boats in the game, you find that not only is the security pretty lax, it doesn't even feel like a real prison as its far too open and easy to run about, with no one looking like a real guard or even a real prisoner.

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Vehicles are the bread and butter of most sandbox games, purely because without them traversing the large area would become a real chore. Just Cause features quite a number of both land, air and water vehicles. The aerial vehicles are where Just Cause really shines, allowing you to fly over the beautiful landscapes and appreciate just how huge the islands are, all without loading screens. You can also change your altitude so that you go higher than a lot of the clouds. Sadly the land based vehicles don't do so well; the responsiveness on most of the vehicles just isn't there, almost feeling like you are playing online with a laggy 56k modem. Most of these lack the handling of their counterparts in games like Saints Row or Grand Theft Auto. You have to realise that a very large portion of this island is covered in forest and that most of the roads are just winding dirt tracks. This means that for the most part it's impossible to drive your vehicle through the jungle at speed, or even across the dirt roads without crashing into a tree or something that your car just isn't agile enough to evade. Most of the time you have to stop if you want to kill someone as you cannot fire your own guns from any vehicle; you must use the on-board weapons. However, most vehicles in the game don't have any, which means doing a drive-by on someone is near impossible. Just Cause is full of little problems like these that could have been easily fixed if they just had the time or inclination to do so.

Thankfully if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere without a vehicle you can request a drop from the government. Depending on how far along you are in the campaign these range from a motor cross bike to a speed boat with machine-guns and rocket launchers, and a few others I will leave you to discover. You are also given an item that allows you to attach a grappling hook to vehicles and then deploy your parachute so that you are pulled along and can then pull yourself closer to the vehicle and take control of it. While this is a novel idea I found that for the most part you really don't need it as its easier just to stop a car and steal it. However, I must admit it was fun to attach myself to the back of a police helicopter and watch as it flew about the island blowing up rebels and other people who disrupt the peace.

There are very few games that actually make me want to throw them out of my window, but the later missions in Just Cause just about managed this, mainly because your character can take so much damage that enemies have to resort to firing large amounts of rockets at you. While they don't actually kill you, they do knock you flying and if you try and get in a car they blow it up almost instantly. This means that in most of the later missions, once you have a high wanted level, the only real way to get away is to run through the forest on foot. I cannot describe how annoying it is to be two foot away from your goal and have a rocket knock you off the side of a cliff or explode a car as it drives by you. They really should have thought more about your characters health and then they would not have to resort to just using rockets later on in the game.


Just Cause seems rushed to me - it's like they spent all their time building the islands, then realised they didn't have the time or budget to actually do the missions and characters that would make the game fun to play. Most of the time you won't see a loading screen unless you need an air drop to a specific location or you die, being able to drive or fly around for hours without seeing a single loading screen and seeing the sunset is just simply stunning. But with missions that are basic and generic and don't really suck you into the world, everything feels very flat. There are very few characters that you can interact with, and even the side missions are just handed out by your run of the mill soldiers or rebels. This game is not without its good ideas, and the parachute that can be deployed as many times as you like is certainly one of those. However a few nice ideas do not make good games. As it stands, if there's any sort of liberating to be done, it should probably not involve freeing money from your wallet to buy this game.

The bottom line
5.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • You can drive forever with no loading screens
  • Great free-falling and fantastic parachute
  • Very pretty from above
  • Stunning sunsets
  • Huge Islands to explore

Not so good stuff

  • Basic story missions and very poor side missions
  • Basic A.I.
  • No real interaction
  • Cities feel empty
  • Limited amount of characters
  • Can be very frustrating
  • Poor handling on most vehicles
  • Can't really drive through the jungles
  • Those bloody rockets!!

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