Just Cause. I've been rolling those words around my mouth for a few minutes, trying to figure out their meaning. Are they really saying there's "just cause" for blowing up helicopters, running over jet-skiers in a speedboat and exploding everything in sight? Or are they attempting an elaborate pun? Is CIA hero Rico Rodriguez doing it, y'know, "just 'cause" he can?
I'll go for the first option, because the second one makes Rico sound like a bored teenager out to get an ASBO, and they wish they had his skills.
You first take control of Rico in mid-air. All around are blue skies; below, green forests and azure waters. Rico is free-falling, the cross around his neck flapping around, his death-black clothes rippling in the air. I've been here before: Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter began with an extreme plummet into a danger zone too. The difference? That it was GRAW's high point. Just Cause is just getting started.
Rico's remit is regime change in San Esperito, a South America republic with a dictator the people (and the CIA) would rather not have. San Esperito covers an archipelago so large you could lose Oblivion in the top corner and still have room for San Andreas and Liberty City, and it's all stretched out below as Rico plummets right into battle. But as well as swallowing San Andreas whole, Just Cause also devours the third-person, freeform action genre GTA had made its own.
Control kicks in and the game begs me to let loose the parachute. I do so and my action-packed Milk Tray advert descent snaps into a serene, postcard view. Here's where the fun begins: Rico's parachute can be deployed as often as you like. Developers Avalanche have hit on a formula here that they have built much of the rest of the game around: infinite use = infinite fun. It makes perfect nonsense, allowing you to turn uncontrollable death-dives into precision assaults, which is really useful if you're targeting someone in a moving vehicle.
Rico's grappling hook, his parachute, and the infinitely spawning boats, bikes and cars give you so many opportunities to get from point A to point B that you'll never really be without a method of travel. You also have access to whatever you can pick up along the way: cars that trickle along the highways, and airports and army bases with lax security, are all fair game. Go in and jack whatever you like. It's the same case with guns: you can pick up stashes at safe houses or just take them by force.
A series of insanely fun missions string together Just Cause's flimsy story of rebellion and uprising. Rico's main aim is to help the rebels take up arms against the government, and he uses the locals, willingly or unwillingly, to assist. He can stoke up the fires of rebellion in the suburbs, or in the game's main missions he'll play one cocaine faction off against another to undermine the government's control of the region. It sounds serious, but the game's extreme core of explosions, ridiculous driving-and-flying action and fairly stupid AI makes for some ridiculously entertaining chunks of gaming.
OK, an example: in one mission there's a Nazi train full of rockets that Rico needs to destroy. So Rico is given a missile-firing helicopter and the mission target pops up on the map: a small moving star. So you take the chopper into the air and trace a route to the train. Pretty much every mission in Just Cause can be solved by taking a helicopter to it and firing until it says "Mission Completed". This is a failing in the balance of the weaponry - although if you're strong enough to resist the lure of the choppers there are usually several approaches to the challenge. But back to the Nazis.