Five Things We Learned from the Just Cause 2 Demo

Thursday saw the release of one of the most highly anticipated game demos of 2010, Eidos’ Just Cause 2, the sequel to Just Cause which was an open world action game that was equal parts Red Faction and Grand Theft Auto. Sadly, despite base jumping, sky diving, a massive open world, and even cool hijacking stunts straight out of the top Hollywood blockbusters, Just Cause wasn’t nearly the critical or commercial success that its open world brethren were. So should we be amped up for Rico Rodriguez’ next adventure? Here are five things the demo taught us as we inch closer to the March 23rd release date.

Its all about the grappling hook: Every year there is one game gadget that sets the industry on fire. In years past it was Altair’s assassin blade, Marcus Fenix’ Lancer rifle, or even Halo’s energy sword. This year the honor might just go to Rico’s grappling hook. One of the coolest gadgets introduced in a long time, Rico can not only use it to attach and fling himself across the environment (ala Link and his hook-shot), but can also use it to connect anything to anything. During my time with the demo, I tried connecting buildings, people, debris, trees, explosive barrels, and vehicles. Each one has an interesting use or surprise involved. You may have seen trailers where Rico connects one end to a barrel and the other to an enemy only to send the barrel sailing off into the distance with the helpless enemy behind him. No matter how many times I see that, nothing actually equals the joy of doing it yourself.

We’re gonna need a bigger world: Just Cause 2 is big. No, wait I don’t think you understand, it is huge, ginormous even. The first game covered 400 square miles of game play. Just Cause 2 will be just as large, with more diverse landscapes and fewer empty regions. Oh, and the demo world is 35 square miles. That is twice the size of both GTA: IV and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion’s entire game worlds. Take a moment and go to the world map during the demo and zoom out, I mean way out and you’ll get a feel for the type of scope this game is going for. Open world game doesn’t do Just Cause 2 justice, this is close to an open planet.

Walking is for sissies: With one of the largest game worlds of all time, you have to assume that simply walking everywhere or hijacking a random car isn’t going to get the job done. Luckily, Rico Rodriguez seems to be a master of all vehicles and in Just Cause 2 you’ll have access to cars, humvees, motorcycles, various kinds of helicopters, a hovercraft (pre-order bonus), single engine aircraft, and much more. All of the vehicle types have similar control schemes, and maneuvering them isn’t as unforgiving as some of the driving mechanics in say GTA: IV. However, don’t expect the same type of arcade style that games like Crackdown employed. Gamers shouldn’t worry too much since stunt jumps, the ability to bail out of a vehicle, or even hijack one on the fly (literally) all return in the sequel. Also, since the parachute can be deployed at any time, pulling these stunts off and chaining them together to make an action sequence that would make Michael Bay drool is fun and relatively easy. I expect to see some hilarious and incredibly awesome YouTube videos in the near future as gamers try to pull off the craziest stunts possible.

Too complex for its own good?: For all the excitement and praise around the game for its scope, it does come with a few drawbacks. This is a complex game from a control standpoint, in fact, maybe to its detriment. With so many different circumstances and scenarios to learn, even playing through the demo a couple of times I’m still not totally sure about the controls. While the vehicles themselves are not hard to control, learning how the different stunt jumps will work takes practice, and a little trial and effort. Not to mention adding in hijackings, sky diving and parachuting. Doing all of those things is relatively easy, once you actually learn how to do it. Trust me, I endured the sight of my body being shot dozens of yards away from an exploding car or truck more than a few times before I was comfortable with the controls. Additionally, learning how to grapple properly and discovering the outcome of attaching object A to object B isn’t totally intuitive either. Basing your assumptions off of how other scenarios played out doesn’t really work, which is both a positive and a negative for the game. It simply lacks the pick up and play aspects of GTA:IV or Saints Row, games with similar scope. Is this a totally bad thing? No of course not, gamers should just understand what kind of experience they are in for.

It’s the little things: For all of the complexity and attention to detail, there are a few nagging issues regarding the controls in the game. For instance, there is no real climbing mechanic. Rico seems to even lack the ability to pull himself up a ledge when grappled to the wall near the top. In order to actually climb anything, you have to jump away from the object and then relaunch the grappling hook. Not difficult by any means, but it makes climbing over the threshold of a roof or a balcony much harder than it needs to be. Additionally, there isn’t a cover system to speak of at all. This isn’t a requirement or anything, plenty of good games get around having a cover system, but even the simple ability to have the character contextually flatten against the side of building or crouch near a low wall to avoid some of the gunfire would be nice. There is an awful lot of shooting going on and without any of this functionality, it just makes firefights seem a little less cohesive as they otherwise would. Of course, when you have a bad ass grappling hook I suppose the words “duck and cover” don’t come into play all that often. Lastly, the inventory system is a little “wonky”. You can only carry a few weapons and the scheme used to swap between them or even pick up new ones doesn’t work as fluidly as the rest of the game. Using the right d-pad to switch between guns, but using the top d-pad if you want to use a two handed weapon is a little strange and makes changing weapons on the fly a little harder, which is okay normally, but when a game is based around moving quickly, adapting to changing environments and dodging falling debris after you demolish a crane, it can become an issue. A radial menu like Bioshock 2 employs might have been a better option, even if it does pause the game. Also, I still haven’t totally figured out what the difference between swapping between guns, picking up a new one, or just accumulating more ammo. That might sound dumb, but more than a few times in the demo I switched from gun to gun only to later realize that I had dropped the fully loaded uzi I was carrying in favor of a pistol that was lying on the ground. Frustrating to say the least.

One final note, the demo is timed. That’s right, the demo ends after you play for thirty minutes. I have trouble understanding the reasons behind a timed demo, especially one where there is so much to do. Rather than have a ton of time to learn some of the controls and get comfortable with the environment, I was forced to take a kid in the candy store approach of just running around aimlessly trying to take everything in all at once. It’s a shame and Eidos and all the other game developers should take note. If you plan on releasing an awesome demo, don’t punish us with a time limit. That being said, you can just restart the demo once time expires, but again it’s just frustrating.

This is a demo, so I suppose some aspects of the game might still change before its release. However, with the release date just a couple weeks away I have trouble believing that any significant changes are going to be made that will alter the final product much. That being said, the demo has done nothing but made me more excited for Just Cause 2. As long as it avoids any issues with bugs and glitches, this game will not only surpass the original, but it might find itself near the top of the open world “sandbox” genre once all is said and done.