I was highly skeptical of Just Cause 2. I played the demo of the original and didn’t like it, and never saw a reason to look at JC2 as anything worthwhile. A week or so ago I finally relented and gave JC2 a shot. What I found was a game that filled a hole in a genre that I was unaware I missed.

The star of Just Cause 2 is not your avatar, Rico Rodriguez. Yeah, he’s the main character, but he’s just your excuse to enjoy the real star of the game – the world and the crazy antics  it’s filled with. From using your retractable grappling hook and parachute to zip around the island at will to the over-the-top action of a firefight, it was like kind of coming home for someone who loved the PS2 Grand Theft Auto games. GTA 4 is a good game (albeit one of the most overrated games of the last five years), but it totally quelled the ability to go one crazy rampages by tying the game down with realistic action and physics. JC2 has no such trappings. Whether you’re jumping on the hoods of cars and shooting your enemies and they lean out to attack you, high jacking an airplane in mid-air, or tethering your foe to the ceiling with your grappling hook and shooting him like a piñata, this game prefers fun to physics and says that if what you want to do is fun but not realistic, then realism be damned – go have fun.

The game world isn’t just fun to fool around in, it’s also beautiful. The draw distances are phenomenal and the environments themselves are well laid out. The game world is also huge. I recently spent an hour or so just slingshotting (the term for pulling out your parachute and then using your grappling hook to pull yourself around in the air, which can actually be much faster then using a vehicle) around the mountainous area in the middle of the map trying to find the highest point for an achievement and the travel distance between peaks was amazing. I was also blown away that I could see all corners of the world from the zenith of the map.

Audio-wise, the voice acting isn’t very impressive and the music is not very engaging either. Gunshots sound rather weak and your enemy’s taunts get old as well. Personally I could play the game with the sound off and miss very little quality wise.

While we’re on the subject of flaws, the story is not good. At all. I completely disliked it, from the sometimes-frustrating goals to the annoying twits you work with and for, and I almost think that this game might have worked just as well without a story. It probably wouldn’t have sold, but I would have enjoyed it just as much, if not more. I also dislike that you cannot shoot your grappling hook straight up, since there’s some arbitrary angle limit to your aim. The overly-generous auto-targeting is a big help in a huge firefight, but in a smaller skirmish they can stop you from getting headshots or will target a car or enemy structure instead of the guy ten feet from you, filling you with lead. Speaking of guns, ammo can be very, very scarce.

The end result is a game that is best approached with a creative mind for chaos and a tolerance for the moronic story. If you’re willing to play with the physics, enjoy causing mayhem on a large scale and don’t need the game to hold your hand, you will enjoy Just Cause 2. If you need a strong narrative or just want to get from start of the game to the end with little free-form gameplay, you’ll be unhappy, wondering what the fuss is about. Personally, I fall into the first camp. I think Just Cause 2 is the summer action flick of gaming; turn off your logic circuits and enjoy the big explosions and over-the-top action and you’ll have fun. Alphasim out.