Just as Newton and Leibniz discovered the secrets of calculus simultaneously, so it transpires that two European development houses have arrived independently at another great epiphany of the modern age: 'GTA in the jungle.' This time, there seems little debate over who got there first - Deep Shadows launched the epic, bug-ridden Boiling Point several months ago, but Swedish upstart Avalanche Studios is not far behind with its tropical Rockstar homage, Just Cause.
The parallels between the two are uncanny. Both offer a huge, go-anywhere world, freeform gameplay and a fictional Latin American setting. Both feature an array of vehicles to pilot, points-based relationship stats with local powers and a fully simulated environment. Stranger still, both are named after crap Hollywood movies of the 1990s. But as Avalanche's lead game designer Magnus Nedfors is quick to point out, they are in fact different games.
SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT
"When I first heard of Boiling Point I was scared it would be very similar, but now I've played it I don't think so. There are similarities, but I would say Boiling Point is almost an RPG, with all the people you can talk to and the inventory and so on. Our game is much more of an action game. We don't care about the inventory - just grab a weapon and shoot things."
To bring you quickly up to speed, the concept is this. You are agent Rico Rodriguez, an expert in regime change and 'modern-style James Bond guy'. You've been sent to the Caribbean island of San Esperito to overthrow the president and stop the threat of WMDs (or if you can't find those, drugs). How you go about this is, to a certain extent, up to you. There's a rigid storyline, with 20 core missions that can only be played in a fixed order, but outside of this you're free to explore the island, complete bonus missions, nick vehicles, unlock weapons and build relations with the local rebels and drug lords. Even within the missions your actions are elatively uninhibited.
"We provide mission objectives like 'blow up the radar station'," says creative director Christofer Sundberg, "but how you blow it up is completely up to you. You can steal a plane and crash into it, you can drive a car into it. You can place an explosion pack. We encourage players to be creative."
TAKING A DIVE
The game begins with a skydiving sequence, as you plummet toward the golden shores of San Esperito. Already the clock's ticking, as you have to reach the beach in time to save your CIA buddy Sheldon from some angry cops. After a brief and somewhat comical shootout - combat is extremely simplistic - you're treated to a humvee ride back to the nearest safe house, shooting down choppers and jeeps as you go.
While this is a reasonably exciting way to open proceedings, it also introduces you to one of Just Cause's most endearing features - the parachute that Rico can unfurl from his Armani whenever the mood strikes. It may not adhere too closely to the laws of physics, but it is a lot of fun, encouraging you to chuck yourself off cliffs, leap out of planes - even bail out of speeding cars and boats. Better still, if you can guide your 'chute into the vicinity of another moving vehicle - be it a truck, boat or plane - you can land directly on the roof, tear the driver out of his seat and assume control of the craft swiftly.
Clearly, there's no shortage of things to do here. Other than messing around with vehicles and outrageous stunts, you've got 120 side missions to choose from (varying from assassinations to package deliveries),
and a load of bonus tasks, which might be anything from rounding up fugitives to winning a speedboat race. It's what the yanks might call 'content rich.'