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Impressions: Just Cause 2

After sifting through the hyperbole of other previews for this game, we walked into our eyes-only preview of Just Cause 2 as professional skeptics. Well color us pleasantly surprised. After spending a few minutes watching Just Cause 2 in action (running on the Xbox 360) we cannot wait to see more of the game. Developed by the team at Avalanche Studios and now planned for a 2010 release, Just Cause 2 picks up where the original left off -- players once again take on the role of Rico Rodriguez, this time forced to hunt down his friend and former mentor Tom Sheldon.

Sporting a completely overhauled engine and intelligent design decisions, Just Cause 2 isn't your average sandbox action game -- it's what Grand Theft Auto would be if it made sweet love to Bionic Commando.

Gallery: Just Cause 2 | 10 Photos

The original Just Cause wasn't a bad game -- in fact it was extremely entertaining -- but its rough look delegated it to the category of a "just another poor prev-gen port." According to Avalanche Studios game director Magnus Nedfors, the original title was planned for the PS2 and the original Xbox only, but development was shifted to include the Xbox 360 after the console burst onto store shelves. Unsurprisingly, Just Cause 2 is built from the ground up as a completely current-gen experience -- and it shows.

"Grabbing onto an enemy leaning out of a speeding vehicle allows players to attach him to moving cars, dragging the adversary along alive-and-kicking."

Our demo consisted of a mission that saw Rico car surfing, tasked with protecting a vehicle on the road. As enemies inched toward the lead car in hopes of stopping its advancement, Avalanche showed off the upgrades made to Rico's arsenal. For starters, Rico's grappling hook has been removed as an equippable weapon -- now the functional device is stuck onto Rico's arm and is mapped to a single button on the controller.

Players can use the unlimited stream of grappling hooks for various tasks: latch onto a car and sail above using Rico's never ending supply of parachutes, nab enemies and stick them to surfaces (ala Spider-man) and even grab vehicles and hurl them off the road. One of the most impressive uses of the hook was also one of the funniest. Grabbing onto an enemy leaning out of a speeding vehicle allows players to attach him to moving cars, dragging the adversary along alive-and-kicking. The game also includes a new on-vehicle cover system allowing Rico to maneuver around a moving vehicle to shield himself from enemy fire.

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If a vehicle becomes too much for Rico to handle, players can board an enemy vehicle and plant a satchel of C4 explosive, and then jump to another vehicle (or sail above via parachute) to safely blow it into oblivion. It's quick, intense and looks great using Avalanche's new engine. The only troublesome part of the demo we saw was hijacking a vehicle during car surfing sequences. In order to commandeer an enemy ride players must first kill all passengers and then perform a four-button combination to throw out the driver and take over the wheel. It's a mechanic we fear will get really old, really fast.

"It's a mechanic we fear will get really old, really fast."

According to Avalanche the world of Just Cause 2 is bigger than the previous title, sporting 60 story-based missions and plenty of varied side quests and collectible missions. The game includes no artificial barriers. That mountain in the distance? Drive there now, or hijack a helicopter (complete with jumping through spinning blades unscathed, you know... just cuz) and fly to it. Players can begin their quest anywhere they choose. Just Cause 2 works on an influence system: players begin performing tasks and slowly increase Rico's influence in the area, unlocking new missions on the island where his name is known. Bored with seeing the same scenery? Move to another part of the world and build your influence there.

Our time with Just Cause 2 was short, but from what we've seen of the game we have no doubt that Avalanche Studios is trying to do something special with the series. Rico is back and it's time we started to pay more attention to the guy, if only to see just how suave he can be.

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