Things are not looking so bright on the Central American island of San Esperito. A corrupt dictator is developing illicit WMDs. Guerrillas roam the countryside, fighting running battles with the neo-Nazi army. Drug cartels control whole towns and villages, drinking, whoremongering and generally leading enviable lives on their marching-powder profits. And to make matters worse, the Americans are about to send in one of their agents to effect a one-man regime change. San Esperito may have thought it had seen its fair share of violence, but wait till it sees what the Agency can do.
Your first involvement as special agent Rico Rodriguez sees you being tossed out of a plane at 5,000ft. Once mild panic has receded, you work out how to deploy your parachute and come floating down to be briefed by your Agency contacts. From here, in true GTA fashion, where you go is completely up to you. This war-torn, white-sanded, jungle-covered island is your oyster. Go anywhere, take any mission, steal any vehicle: GTA, you have been robbed again, but this time at least the muggers have had the decency to spend their takings wisely.
BIG IS BEAUTIFUL
San Esperito is a huge, sprawling land of opportunity. You haven't seen a gameworld this big before, at least not one where there are no load times and missions are to be found at every village, every T-junction and every jungle clearing. Do the Agency's dirty work, help the guerrillas liberate villages or assist the drug cartels in their turf wars. It's more dangerous than Rochdale town centre at throw-out time, with policemen battling drug barons and fighting freedom fighters. But while San Esperito may be a brutal cesspit of wanton violence, it sure is a beautiful one.
The lush, shimmering greenery, the lingering sun coating everything in gold - just cruising the highway is an eyeful. But it's those staggering vistas from 10,000ft that really bring a tear to the eye. And not only is there not a load time in sight, but the horizons have the draw distance of a flight simulator. It's such an appealing sight it makes you want to volunteer to swallow condoms full of crack, just to be allowed to join a Colombian drug cartel.
If there's scant attention paid to the laws of the land, there's even less given to the laws of physics, as it turns out Rico is something of a bionic man. In one mission, he found himself careering off a cliff on a dirt bike. He managed to let go of the bike mid-air, at which point he assumed that psychotic-looking head-first skydiving position. A quick key bash convinced him to flip open a parachute, with which he then glided down to the road in the valley below. Seeing as he was just returning from dynamiting a police station, his 'wanted' level was still pretty high, so no sooner had he heeled someone out of their Buick than a squad of police vans turned up, together with a rocket-spewing helicopter.
One major road accident and at least 12 fatalities later, his Buick was belching fire. Another keystroke got him standing on the bonnet, and another saw him leap 150ft into the air to grab hold of the tail of the bombarding helicopter. Executing a rather unfeasible but majestic move, he then delicately swung into the cockpit and pushed out the hapless pilot, and a minute down the line, having worked out how to fire the rockets, the remaining police vans were burning. I swung the mouse round to watch the glorious sunset as we flew home.
WHERE'S MY CHOPPER?
Just Cause is like a bunch of rudimentary arcade games bolted together. Ridge Racer one second, Silent Scope the next, then a bit of Crazy Taxi followed by Air Combat. Everything is easy - hijacking a car, jumping from one speeding car to the next, latching onto a helicopter with a grappling hook, then parachuting out once hit by a SAM. Sometimes too easy, as you can fall 100ft and not take a scratch, or ram a car into a tree at 150mph without the paintwork even flaking. A little more simulator-like sophistication in the driving models wouldn't have gone amiss.