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Just Cause 2: The perfect getaway

The original Just Cause game debuted in September 2006 and though it attempted to introduce some compelling gameplay, we were left wanting more. Three and a half years later, the same development team (Avalanche Studios) is back it with promises of new improvements and tighter gameplay.

Now playing: Watch this: Game trailer: Just Cause 2

The original Just Cause game debuted in September 2006 and though it attempted to introduce some compelling gameplay, we were left wanting more. Three and a half years later, the same development team (Avalanche Studios) is back with promises of new improvements and tighter gameplay.

We were definitely impressed with the private demo we received in late February, so let's see if the final version of the game delivers.

Just Cause 2 may not be heavy on story or character development, but it doesn't need to be. Why? The game is an absolute blast in its own right. And with the beautiful fictional island of Panau as its backdrop, Just Cause 2 is a gorgeous technical achievement in its own right. The 400 square miles of the game map can be travelled to in real time via car, motorcycle, helicopter, plane, or any other of the 104 vehicles available.

The game starts off with a series of missions, but you're very quickly given the freedom to explore the open-world format by yourself. It's up to you whether to advance the storyline as you can spend hours just visiting various villages and completing side challenges.

Just Cause 2 is able to deliver impressive visual and physics effects that are incredibly satisfying. The grapple hook is by far the best implementation of that sort of gadget we've seen in a game, making for an infinite amount of creative, off-the-wall scenarios during combat. That combined with the parachute lets you slingshot your way across great distances with little effort. It's these elements of the game that we really fell in love with: the seemingly endless tirade of chaos you're able to trigger.

We also really liked how the game takes detailed notes about your performance with ticker updates about your progress. You may not need to know how many kilometers you've travelled or fall kills you've completed, but it's a welcome addition nonetheless.

Square Enix

There are a few hiccups along the way that are worth mentioning. Weapon switching isn't as intuitive as we would have liked and will take some getting used to. Also, some enemies require some serious rounds to go down. Speaking of which, it certainly takes a lot for your character, Rico, to fall, too, so those looking for a tough challenge may not always find it here.

It's tough to really mention the original Just Cause game, simply because the sequel is so many light years ahead of it in almost every way possible. With hours upon hours of missions, challenges, and areas to explore, Just Cause 2 will satisfy any action lover.

Games such as Just Cause 2 highlight an issue particular to the video game experience. Just how do you balance the freedom of an open, interactive world with the psychological needs of players to feel directed along a satisfactory dramatic throughline?

Some so-called sandbox games (in the style of Grand Theft Auto) are actually very directed experiences, but with a constant stream of new missions, assignments, and waypoints, Just Cause 2 (as with its predecessor, Just Cause) takes a looser approach to storytelling.

After a brief setup mission, you're left to your own devices to figure out where to next on this massive collection of islands that make up the Southeast Asian nation of Panau. There are a couple of targets for new missions on the in-game map you can get to right away, but after knocking those out, the game's narrative takes a backseat to its clever mechanics.

Square Enix

In fact, to unlock more story missions and advance the plot, you are forced to wander the countryside causing mayhem at your own pace until the game decides you've done enough on your own to warrant moving the plot along an additional notch.

It would be easy to dismiss this as lazy storytelling, but the actual game underneath it is so interesting and open-ended, we were able to look past that and just think of the game as an enjoyable laboratory setup for experiments in wanton destruction and vehicular stunts. The main tools in your arsenal, a personal parachute and whip-like grappling hook, have almost unlimited potential applications, from swinging Tarzan-style from trees, to paragliding off speeding cars, to yanking guards off of watchtowers from afar.

If the original Just Cause has some potentially interesting tools (the same grappling hook and parachute), but under-developed their usefulness in actual gameplay, then the sequel rightfully deserves praise for nailing this James-Bond-like arsenal of gadgets.

For Just Cause 3, we're looking forward to combining these winning mechanics with a better balance of freedom and directed drama--perhaps following these recently unearthed screenwriting tips from David Mamet (example, "Any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of ****.")

Square Enix