Spike’s Underrated Games of the 360: Part 4

The Criteria: Due to the fact that Just Cause was for all intents and purposes a port of a PS2 game its 360 iteration was largely ignored by the gaming media. The few magazines and sites that did review gave it a cursory bad review and the game kind of got lost in the shuffle.

The Game: Just Cause starts off big, laying its cards on the table from the off. You are given a half minutes worth of expository cut scene before your character sky dives to the island paradise below. Whereas other games would relinquish control, showing your characters descent to the island through cut scene, Just Cause puts the player in control from the off. As you control your decent you are given a marker to aim for, a plume of red smoke drifting off a beach directly head. A plane drifts by as unknown attackers below unload their machine guns at you, pulling your legs in for a controlled landing you hit the ground with a roll before dispensing with the soldiers who had been trying to end your mission before it starts.

Barely stopping for breath the game urges the player to take the gun in a mounted car as it speeds through a section of the island towards a secluded base. Military cars and helicopters attempt to thwart your escape and meet suitably fiery ends. One long car ride and demonstration of American taxes at work, F-16s vs. a Bridge is a pretty great example of the inherent goofiness of the game, and you arrive at your base. You can now go and continue your pitched battle against the police forces or continue onto the next mission, a siege against a well fortified detention centre.

Or you could have, whilst skydiving down, gone and latched onto the passing plane and took it for a tour of San Esperitos many islands and come back to do the car chase later. Admittedly this takes a little practice, throwing yourself out a plane and onto another plane isn’t something you’d qualify as an exact science, but the way the vehicle sort of swoops past your peripheral vision demands you at least make an attempt to hop on board. You will be given many opportunities to use planes later on in the game, but the general tone of the game almost compels you to make a mad grab for it. Just Cause is a Hollywood blockbuster of a videogame, a slab of goofy, visceral fun which abandons notions like physics and practicality to further its own entertainment value.

You are Rico Rodriguez, an American Black Ops agent who has been tasked with bringing about the downfall of a Caribbean dictator by the name of President Mendoza. You are dropped onto the islands that make up San Esperitos and through collaboration with rebels, drug cartels, and the United States Government you affect change by the barrel of a gun. Just Cause is segmented into just over a dozen main story missions, which are all the big set pieces of the game, but these missions are bolstered by the ability to help rebel factions take over more of the island.

When you start San Esperitos is under government control, as you complete missions more and more islands become destabilised allowing you to take part in pitched battles to shift the area into rebel hands. As well as this you can opt to help a drugs cartel who is in direct opposition to another drugs cartel, supplying Mendoza with money. These involve you attacking villas and mansions and allowing your drugs cartel to overrun them.

What Just Cause has in large quantities is panache and style. San Esperitos, despite being a port of a Playstation 2 game, is a stunning backdrop its tropical loveliness rendered with painstaking care and attention. The 360 still suffers from games with drab visual patterns so the deep verdant greens and crystal blues of Just Cause are a welcome change. In addition the game, as stated before, eschews a lot of reality to create an experience that is largely about mindless fun. In keeping with the mindless fun I’m not going to go into the moral quandary of a high octane action game inspired by the real world invasion of Panama.

In my first hour of play I managed to wind up the local law enforcement to a point where I was speeding around the island with helicopters on my tail. My motorcycle got rammed into a tree and I jumped from it to the roof of a truck, sliding from the roof into the driver’s seat and commandeering the vehicle whilst it was still bombing down the highway. The chase finally ended when I drove the truck off a Cliffside and parachuted to safety as my pursuers fell to a fiery death. Moments like that define the game and use its own hair brained logic to great effect. When it wants to Just Cause can be iconic and grand. A mission involving an assault on a building inside a volcano is a great example of this, the meandering road to the rim of the volcano and subsequent explosive firefight being a truly inspired moment in the game.

The problem is that the sheer scale of Just Cause works against it. San Esperitos is massive, probably one of the biggest open worlds I’ve seen in videogames, and as such losing a decent vehicle can set you back a good half an hour as you lug around the island looking for something to steal or ground flat enough for an air shipment. There is also too great an emphasis put onto the liberation missions which all devolve into simple checkpoint battles in villages and mansions. Whilst some spice is added by the larger scale city battles, lots of tanks and helicopters making the game exceptionally hectic and uncommonly challenging, you are generally forced to do the same thing close onto fifty times. When you are commandeering jets and blowing up drug plants Just Cause is a blast, when you are liberating your forty seventh town it is kind of a drag.

Another of the areas that Just Cause really falters in is its use of music. The games soundtrack consists of the same piece of Robert Rodriguez inspired Mexican guitar and it never really seems to have any oomph to it. Certainly it is one of the few games where I felt compelled to use a custom soundtrack, usually something I only do when playing online. Just Cause is a game that demands a high energy soundtrack to justify the inherent insanity of the gameplay and a repeated riff just doesn’t work.

But the problems fade into insignificance when the game lets you do things your own way. One mission tasked me with subtly assassinating a military leader holed up in a heavily defended base. I rode back across a few islands to an airport I had liberated from its dictatorial occupiers and got myself a small commercial airliner. I then proceeded to fly the jet over to the base and drop it on my targets head before making a quick getaway on a motorcycle.

All the quibbles don’t make the game bad; indeed as a piece of entertainment it is great to pick up for an hour or two. Rico is a capable enough main character and the enemies lunk headed enough to allow you to do pretty much whatever you wish. There is a certain thrill to base jumping off of a kilometre high mountain into the beautiful blue ocean below and leading a rebellion in a busy city centre is thrilling.

Simply riding around on a motorcycle can be joyous in itself thanks to the pleasingly responsive controls. There just really isn’t enough to justify the sheer size of the game though and I’m hoping that its upcoming sequel will give you a greater range of things to do.

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One Response to “Spike’s Underrated Games of the 360: Part 4”

  1. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

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