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PC Game Review: Just Cause

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When I saw that Eidos Interactive, who simultaneously cured my Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion addiction and sparked my Tomb Raider: Legend addiction, was taking a crack at a sandbox-style shoot-em-up called Just Cause, I got a little tingle in my bottom.

I usually find that if I like one game by a particular publisher, I tend to like most of them. So I plunged headlong into the life and times of our hero Rico Rodriguez, a smooth-talking and damn-near-indestructible CIA black ops agent.

In this first installment of Rico’s exploits, he’s busting up the corrupt regime of Salvador Mendoza (sorta like Manuel Noriega, a demagogue of a country sorta like Panama, in a game whose name sorta sounds like Operation Just Cause, the United States’ invasion of Panama – does anyone see a connection here?)

Let me start by saying – this game isn’t for everyone. Those who fiercely love the beautiful aesthetic of Half-Life 2 and its ilk will be disappointed in these fairly low-res textures and inferior (but still respectable) polygon counts.

Those who adore the ultra-realism of game engines like Doom 3 and Source will shudder at the ridiculous ways that objects move in this game. And those who long for epic storylines of grand proportion will go hungry.

But those who want to shoot and punch people, drive fast cars, fly cool planes and choppers and blow a bunch of shit up – welcome to paradise.

Things to-do: Just Cause offers a fairly limited to-do list, which can get a little repetitive, especially if you’re not enjoying the shoot/drive/fly/blow up formula as much as I do. They consist of:

  • Completing the main storyline, which consists of 21 segments that weigh in at a light 8-10 total game hours
  • Wresting control of cities, villages and crude settlements from the hands of the regime, which involves alternate rounds of killing soldiers and destroying roadblocks, followed by a mad dash to capture the village flag.
  • Wresting control of remote settlements from the hands of the Montano drug cartel and into the hands of the Rioja drug cartel, in a similar fashion outlined above.
  • Completing simple side missions for either the guerillas or Rioja.
  • Completing “collection” missions which involve many, many hours piloting a helicopter.

But with the variety of fun, albeit utterly unrealistic tools at your disposal, how you complete each mission is often more compelling than the mission itself. A single village takeover might involve a skydive into the heart of town, blowing up some propane tanks to take out a few dozen troops, hijacking a tank to blow up a roadblock, and hopping out to mow down soldiers in the street with a machine gun, and jumping into a nearby jeep to speed towards the flag capture.

Innovations: The game uses procedural synthesis to create the game’s island environment, which creates a stunningly vast area to explore and traverse. If San Esperito were real, it would be approximately 250,000 acres – just a skosh smaller than Hong Kong. The skydiving component, whether from an aircraft or from a BASE structure, is a remarkable facsimile of an experience that is difficult to duplicate in any fashion, let alone in a video game. And the ability to drive or otherwise operate everything from a dirt bike to a naval warship opens up hundreds of possibilities to get around and complete missions.

What went wrong: As I mentioned above, the game sacrifices realism for some very jarring, gut-wrenching violence… but sometimes the silliness of it will take you aback.

Being able to jump through a helicopter’s spinning blades into the cockpit while simultaneously ejecting the pilot, or being able to take nearly one hundred bullet wounds before succumbing – these can take their toll on even the most thoroughly suspended disbelief.

Additionally, it’s tough to get past your enemy’s inability to take the simplest cover during an all-out firefight, while the same morons can pull off spectacular and very frustrating offensive driving maneuvers which put your vehicle in a tree 90 percent of the time.

Such a monstrous disparity in AI leaves you wondering if they didn’t dump this bun on the market when it still needed a few more weeks in the oven.

Additionally, voice acting is merely acceptable, the soundtrack is fairly repetitive (you have one boating song, one driving song, one safe house song, etc.), and unless you’re completely anal like me, you might give up on completing the “entire” game once you’ve completed the main story line because of the repetitive nature of the side missions. Not me, though. I’m going to own that friggin’ country, you hear me?

In a nutshell: Ernest Hemingway once described critics as men who watch a battle from a high place, then come down and shoot the survivors. I don’t want to be that kind of critic, so I only review games that I like. That being said, I think that even the most elitist gamer will find Just Cause to be a guilty pleasure of the highest order. How can you carpet bomb a village from a helicopter and not fall in love?

Just Cause is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Content Descriptors. This game can also be found on: PS2, Xbox, and Xbox 360.

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About Tim Greathouse

During the week, Tim Greathouse is a freelance writer, father and homemaker. Each weekend he dons a suit and performs wedding ceremonies for remarkably cool couples all over his home state of Ohio.