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Hands-on: Just Cause 2


Action movie sequels always aim to be bigger and better than the original. Having played two missions from Just Cause 2, we can unequivocally say it's bigger than the first game, a cult favorite open-world romp starring a South American super-agent with an inexhaustible supply of parachutes. But better? That would require much more playtime to answer.

We've posted no fewer than six videos of Just Cause 2 to date, but this week I had my first chance to actually get behind the controls of the Avalanche Studios developed title, which reintroduces us to Rico Rodriguez, who's bringing his Desperado-era Antonia Banderas looks (sans the long locks this time) to the massive -- yet fictional -- island sandbox of Panau.

Gallery: Just Cause 2 | 10 Photos

Just Cause 2 places a lot of focus on vertical gameplay -- hence the setting, which looks like a mash-up of Dubai's nosebleed-inducing skyscrapers and Malaysia's diverse landscape. There's also much more of a push to use Rico's grappling hook, as if the game was an open-world Bionic Commando and then some. I got to whip enemies into the air and shoot them; tether myself to boats, cars and aircraft to get around; and scale the game's impossibly tall buildings while hanging from their elevators.

But all of that becomes pedestrian when compared to the grappling hook's more advanced technic, which lets you grapple one object to another with some pretty amazing -- and often hilarious -- results. One of the most basic moves involves quickly attaching one enemy to another as they run towards you. The elastic action of the cord pulls them together, knocking them both out. Then there's tethering vehicles to objects in the game world. In one portion of the demo, I leapt across a caravan of Humvees, from one vehicle to the next, as it crossed a bridge, "anchoring" one truck to the bridge itself and jumping just as the cord reached its limit, yanking it back.

There's one thing you won't be able to do: Attach the grapple cord from one building to another across a road to snare target vehicles. (Yes, I asked.)

More ridiculous hijinks were enacted by grappling an enemy to a compressed gas tank, then shooting its valve, sending the pair rocketing skyward. I was even able to grapple myself to a tank in this way, and then shot it and propelled myself hundreds of feet into the air. From there, I deployed a parachute and broke out a rocket launcher to rain down destruction. Speaking of destruction, it plays a key role in Just Cause 2 -- not quite on par with Red Faction Guerrilla, but most of the property belonging to the bad guys on Panau can be blasted apart piece-by-piece.

Blowing stuff up adds to the game's Chaos Meter, and as it fills over the course of the game, new missions will be unlocked. Developer Avalanche pegs playtime of just the main missions at about 10 hours, while one could spend ten times that doing everything, including upgrading guns and vehicles on the black market.

I grappled myself to a gas tank, shot its valve and propelled myself hundreds of feet into the air.

The "Stunt Position" mechanic of the first game (whereby Rico positions himself on a vehicle to jump to another) has been expanded in the sequel, allowing Rico to take cover while on vehicles, clinging to the grill of a truck and poking his gun out to shoot its driver and passengers, for example. It's very similar to the gameplay used in Sony's Pursuit Force games for PSP.

The island nation's 400-square miles offer up a wide array of gorgeous locales, and, as I experienced during the demo, if you can see a location, you can go there. There's no loading, unless you opt to drop a smoke beacon to call in an airlift -- much like in Mercenaries 2.

One of the biggest challenges I see Avalanche Studios encountering with Just Cause 2 is creating missions and objectives compelling enough to tear players away from simply attempting the most insane feats possible over and over again. Alas, there are no plans for multiplayer, but it's something the developer is definitely considering for the next potential sequel -- Avalanche just really wanted nail the core mechanics in Just Cause 2 before grappling with that scenario.

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