BIGGER MAPS, MORE vehicles and nastier weapons, all the things the sandbox fashionista can't wait to get their hands on. Just Cause effortlessly ticks all these boxes, making it a fun world to play around in. But does it come at the cost of a compelling adventure?
Avalanche seems to have devoted most of its efforts into creating an incredible environment. San Esperito is a distinctive setting, a tropical island paradise far removed from the grimy urban ghettos of Saints Row. We say island, but actually it's an entire archipelago, and it's massive - a quarter of a million acres. This makes it the biggest game environment ever to appear outside an MMO. It's mind-bogglingly immense.
San Esperito is split into 36 different regions. Some are controlled by corrupt government forces, others by one of two guerrilla outfits. As a special agent for the CIA, it's your job to fight El Presidente and send the nation into rebel hands.
The map is so large that it's hard to get a sense of the scale of it. Only when you take your first helicopter ride into the clouds, and can't actually see where it ends, does your jaw really drop. We're talking a draw distance that beats Far Cry on PC - no small achievement.
Comparing San Esperito to Saints Row's Stilwater City is pretty revealing. Although Saints Row is a 50th of the size, the level of variety in THQ's game is much, much greater. We're talking about different buildings, landmarks, environmental textures and civilian characters. When you consider that San Esperito is 40 per cent jungle, 50 per cent water and 10 per cent human settlements, you have a lot more repetition in terms of landscape. Every forested area looks similar, as do the beaches and cities. To be fair though, Just Cause does have more exciting landmarks, such as a prison, an oil rig and a volcano.
It's almost as if much of the world has been generated rather than designed. This isn't a negative though, because it has allowed Avalanche to conjure some of the most breathtaking moments in all of gaming. One case in point is the skydive. From the start of the game, it's possible to hijack a plane or chopper and take it for a spin way above the clouds. At this point, you can leap out and witness the awesome beauty of nature as you skydive at terminal velocity. The dynamic music changes to some serene, angelic chords and it immediately dawns on you just how small and insignificant we are in this amazing game.
Just Cause offers a startling amount of freedom, and that freedom is all the more enjoyable because the graphics are so mesmerising. Miles of lush, vivid greens are surrounded on all sides by peaceful blue and turquoise oceans. Dive into the sea and rays of light puncture the waves and refract through the shoals of fishes that dart around you.
Above water, the sun's radiant glow makes you feel like you're on holiday. It's a sensuous experience; it's as much fun appreciating the beauty of San Esperito as it is actually completing the missions.
Freedom is also found in the dynamic abilities of your character, Rico. He's able to jump from vehicle to vehicle, parachute jump on top of moving aircraft, paraglide by hooking onto moving cars, and freefall 1,000 feet into the ocean. On the one hand, it's nice to be able to do all this from the start. But with so much to do in the first few hours, there's not actually that much to play for later on.
The actual story missions are far less fun than when you're left to your own devices to explore the island. That's partly because the objectives are ridiculously far apart, and partly because they can get a bit tedious. Despite being able to call in a vehicle air-drop at any time, for example, you'll still have journeys of up to 20 or 30 minutes if you can't find a plane or helicopter.