STAFF REVIEW of Just Cause (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006.
by Adam Rivard

Just Cause Box art Hola senoritas and senors, welcome to the luxurious island of San Esperito. Sure, the government is a total dictatorship and is corrupt as could be, but come on down anyways and enjoy the lush scenery. However, be mindful of men in parachutes, cause someone is looking to bring down the government and initiate change that is sure to rock the isle.
Of all the unlikely superheroes, Just Cause seems to have nailed the unlikeliest - a suave Latino hero (black ops operative) by the name of Rico Rodriguez. Being a black ops operative and all, Rico wears a tight black outfit, has greasy hair and a cross on his neck chain. Rico is a killer with the ladies and has one serious (and I do mean serious) parachuting fetish. I can already picture this guy freefalling from the sky and onto a toilet seat when he needs to take a dump. The extra gel in his hair is by no means a stereotype of some Antonio Banderas wannabe - it's a neat little trick to make Rico more aerodynamic. After all, it's not easy to parachute off a mountain, use a grapple hook gun to hook onto a helicopter in mid air and then hurl yourself somehow onto a flying helicopter (with a spinning rotor and everything), jumping into the pilot seat in the process.

Rico can do all that and more as he wreaks havoc on the stunning island of South America?s San Esperito. I?ve been hi-jacking helicopters, parasailing on the back of speedboats, liberating provinces, delivering drug packages for local cartels and generally causing as much mayhem as I can muster. If size does matter than Just Cause is the new ?daddy? of videogames, but as someone once told me, size isn?t everything?it?s what you do with it that counts. Just Cause doesn?t have to?willy wave? to prove its credentials it does have plenty more to offer in terms of excitement, sheer fun and new game play ideas.

Hopefully, my introduction made it quite clear that Just Cause is an over-the-top action game favoring, well, over-the-top stuff. It has a flimsy, clichéd storyline which borders on B movie/soap opera "quality," with characters that are exaggerated and cartoon-ish in almost every way. Just Cause delivers a free-roaming, sandbox type of gameplay experience. The island nation is pretty huge and the idea is for the player to have one main story line and then a number of side missions that will allow for the unlocking of new weapons, vehicles and such. The territory of San Esperito is exceptionally large (250,000 acres of mountains, jungles, beaches, cities, and villages to explore), and the landscapes look great. With volumetric clouds and full 3D backgrounds, the landscapes are very much reminiscent of Far Cry's paradise island. Gameplay-wise Just Cause takes some cues from GTA, minus the actually engaging story and characters.
The great thing about the action itself is that you can take over all sorts of vehicles and really take Rico wherever your little heart desires. During the "liberation missions," the combat can heat up nicely with massive fire fights, and once you get the hang of the stunts, they will occasionally provide some good few minutes of fun. The bad side to the game is that the main story is really unappealing, mostly because it's so trite and clichéd. The same can be said about Rico who has the action appeal of Roberto Rodriguez' anti-hero gone terribly wrong. In other words, Rico is not as appealing as Avalanche hoped he would be.

On top of that, the vehicle handling is off (oh, and sound terrible too), and the AI and animation of the bad guys are far from what you'd call good. Especially the death animation. To be fair to the game, the way that Just Cause works, this is hardly intended to be its strong point (the AI that is), so this doesn't take away from the gameplay as much as one might expect. Yet there are many glitches in the game that take away immensely from the experience. If Just Cause was polished up a little, it could be up to par with other games on the 360. But it?s not.
Now for the visual?the game is a lush beauty, as the corral underneath the ocean, the sandy beaches, thick and green trees and other fauna all made the island feel like a real exotic place that you'd pay to go visit (that is, if it wasn't overrun with a power hungry government). Explosions and more natural man made environmental features like factories and mansions were also rendered expertly well.

Ideally, the game allows for such neat stuff as province control where you get to change the balance of power in the game world by building alliances with the local guerrillas and drug cartel. Generaly, this should ensure for quite a bit of replayability. Sadly, this is not the case, as once you've finished the main story and unlocked some of the most powerful choppers and weapons; there isn't really much of an incentive for the player to keep playing. Just Cause had plenty of potential, and in terms of the engine and the technology behind it, it delivers quite nicely. In addition, just looking at the crazy aerial stunts that Rico performs, the game comes off as looking rather spectacular.

Unfortunately, these fun elements simply don't gel well together, so the end product seems rather flat. That's the best way to describe it really. For a game that tries hard to create a flamboyant image for itself, Just Cause simply lacks the punch and the personality to truly deliver on that front. On the bright side, Avalanche does show a lot of potential. Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes and come back with a stronger contender next time.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.8 / 10
Sound: 5.4 / 10


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