MMO Burnout: A weekend with Just Cause 2 multiplayer

Jef Reahard
J. Reahard|10.18.12

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MMO Burnout: A weekend with Just Cause 2 multiplayer
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Wait, what the heck is this? MMO Burnout? On an MMO site? Yes, kids, this is the scary part of the story where Massively strays from the straight and narrow, beating a path through the tangled underbrush of pseudo-MMOs and single-player games that are nonetheless related to MMOs by way of a crucial feature or two.

If you've been following the site for a while now, you've probably noticed us reaching into the realm of MOBAs, shooters, and mobile/browser titles. MMO Burnout, then, is our latest branching opinion column, and as the title suggests, it's largely concerned with what to play when you tire of gear resets, rep grinds, and being your shard's 3,721st incarnation of "the One."

Don't worry, though; we're not delving into Call of Duty or Angry Birds. Burnout will turn its all-seeing eye on RPGs and open-world action games primarily, and we'll do our due diligence when it comes to the PC modding community, too. Speaking of, won't you join us after the cut for a look at the crazy fun to be had on Just Cause 2's multiplayer server?
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OK, first off let me apologize for being something of a tease. See, as awesome as everything that I'm about to describe is, you can't actually do it right now. The Just Cause 2 multiplayer server is a work in progress, and as the mod team says in its FAQ, the server up-times tend to be quite random (also, "don't ask"). Fortunately I was able to take part in one of the weekend beta tests very recently, and I came away with a load of screenshots to show you just how awesome these dudes and their creation really are.

So, Just Cause. 2. If you haven't played it, it's an open-world, third-person action game for the PC. Well, technically it's on consoles too, but guess what? The multiplayer mod isn't! Anyhow, the game sounds rather average at first blush (and it also sounds like a really bad Sean Connery film), but trust me, it's neither. In fact, as JC2's protagonist Rico, a suave secret agent with a sexy south-of-the-border accent, you'll regularly be doing things that James Bond could never imagine in a million years.

Want to drive a sports car through a tropical urban cityscape and flip up onto the roof while it's still moving? Go ahead. Want to pull the rip-cord on your parachute and use the car's momentum to soar over the city streets, firing from the hip at all the bad guys giving chase? You can do it as soon as you log in; there's no minimum level or gear requirements for being a badass.

Want to drive boats, bikes, jets, and helicopters (or tie them all together with zip lines) making use of a tongue-in-cheek physics system spread across one of the largest open gaming worlds you'll ever see? That's Just Cause 2 in a nutshell. And thanks to these mod geniuses, you can do all that and drop several hundred simultaneous users into the mix so you're not just going against the AI.

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My first five minutes with the multiplayer client featured a free-fall from 50,000 feet, a frantic parachute deployment, and a splash-down in the midst of a boat-borne gun battle featuring three other players. Oh, and there was a hilarious fender bender wherein my hijacked speed boat flipped over the bow of an adversary's craft and flung me unceremoniously into the sea before another player in a passing helicopter strafed all of us into oblivion.

It is still a beta client, though, so you'll occasionally fall through the world, spawn inside some unintentionally jail-like geometry, and receive random disconnects. All of that is a small price to pay for freedom, though, and no action game in recent memory delivers as much freedom as Just Cause 2. The game's single-player campaign features missions and a narrative much like the Grand Theft Auto series and its many clones, but honestly this is just a flimsy excuse for blowing stuff up and commandeering bigger and progressively more outrageous vehicles, which is also the entire point of the multiplayer mod.

Character differentiation is non-existent in the multiplayer beta client. Everyone is running around as Rico, but to be honest, I found it hard to notice given the speed and spectacle of the action unfolding around me, not to mention the jaw-dropping scale of the world at my fingertips.

There are also random open-world mission locales that make use of the single-player game's Chaos mechanic (the idea is to do as much damage as possible while fending off what passes for the police on the island of Panau). These mission areas are not unlike an MMO public quest, though the multiplayer mod doesn't feature any of the cannon-fodder NPCs you'll find in Just Cause 2's single-player campaign.

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Depending on whom you're playing with, these can possibly add a bit of structure or at least some basic goals to the free-for-all experience. And this leads in to the one negative in JC2's multiplayer: The beta server is public, open to everyone, and completely anonymous, so you can and will see every form of profanity known to man inside of 30 seconds. And that's just the character names.

Fortunately you can turn off the chat box, and even more fortunately, the mod devs have gone on record as saying that they will be releasing the multiplayer server code to facilitate invite-only shards in the near future. When that day arrives, yours truly will be first in line, and if you're even slightly interested in open-world gaming, I'd highly recommend that you join me.

There is one other potential downside to JC2, and that's the fact that you'll need a fairly hefty PC to get the most out of it. Even though the single-player game shipped in 2010, the proprietary engine from Avalanche Studios still pumps out state-of-the-art visuals that, when combined with the huge game world, the physics, and now several hundred other players, can bring some gaming rigs to their knees in short order.

If you've got the hardware, though, don't let JC2 multiplayer's "amateur" mod status scare you. Installation and setup couldn't be easier, and aside from the aforementioned beta bugs, everything goes off without a hitch. You'll need to run the single-player game once via Steam, then it's a simple matter of pointing the mod launcher to your local file installation and away you go (this is assuming that the beta server is up, of course; check the official mod website for times and announcements).

And if the server's down, hey, you'll just have to tool around in the single-player version of one of the largest and most exciting open-world action games ever created. The horror!

Just Cause 2 can be had via Steam for $14.99.

Burned out on MMOs? That's OK; there are tons of other titles out there featuring MMOish open worlds, progression, RPG mechanics, or a combination of all three. Massively's MMO Burnout turns a critical eye toward everything from AAA blockbusters to obscure indie gems, not to mention a healthy dose of the best mods.
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