Forget crusades and bloody blitzkriegs - these days the politics of aggression are all about 'regime change'. From Grenada to Panama, from Haiti to Afghanistan, the USA and pals have been ousting uncooperative governments for decades. You might have thought the next target on their shopping list was Iran or North Korea, but you'd be wrong. It is, in fact, a small Caribbean archipelago by the name of San Esperito.
You may not have heard much about it on the news, but this small dictatorship is a key link in the global narcotics trade, and more recently the president has been suspected of harbouring nuclear ambitions. Unfortunately, with the US army's attention focused elsewhere, the normal level of response has had to be, er, scaled down somewhat. Forget your shock and awe, this time it's pretty much just one guy - CIA agent and Latin lothario Rico Rodriguez.
It may not sound like the most convincing response to a WMD threat, but rest assured, San Esperito is entirely fictional. What's more, Rico has one or two tricks up his sleeve, including the ability to commandeer over 100 different types of vehicle (from mini-submarine to Boeingsize jet), as well as leap from one to another and fly through the air like a Latin Caped Crusader (with the aid of his endlessly respawning parachute). With these tools and a little help from his CIA buddy Sheldon, Rico has to drop in, stir up the existing rebel forces and foment a revolution. It's all deeply implausible and rather silly, though in its defence, Just Cause is a very, very silly game.
"It's very tongue-in-cheek," says Christofer Sundberg, founder and creative director of Avalanche Studios. "There's lots of humour in the script and the game. It's really kind of boyish, with fast cars, nice girls, stuff like that. It's not Rainbow Six and it's not Benny Hill, but it's somewhere in between." It's also a game that's been variously described (by us) as 'GTA in the jungle' and 'Boiling Point with a short attention span'. Based on our latest handson encounter at Avalanche's Stockholm HQ, we can only confirm these assessments.
In case you missed the last bulletin, Just Cause is an immense free-roaming action game set in a seamless jungle environment roughly the size of Bedfordshire (1,024 square kilometres to be precise). The setting echoes that of Far Cry, with lush foliage, mountainous islands and tempting blue waters, while the game design is very much in the GTA mould - you have a clutch of essential missions that propel the storyline (21 in total), a vast pool of side-missions that are used to build up your resources and weapons cache, and endless opportunities for freeform horseplay.
"The only part of the game that's hard-scripted is the first mission," says Sundberg. "In it, you HALO-drop down to the beach, then stand in the back of a truck shooting while you get a bit of a tour of the island. But after that it's completely open - you can go anywhere you like, use any vehicle you like, pick up any weapons you like and do pretty much anything you like."
GRAPPLE ME GRAPENUTS
In practice, this means two things. One is messing about with the many different vehicles and the excellent grappling hook device, a new addition to the game that's instantly become its most appealing gadget. Fired at any moving vehicle, it allows you to latch on and hitch a ride - much like parasailing, but behind any truck, boat, car or indeed helicopter. It also allows you to reel yourself in and hop aboard the craft, an act which has significantly expanded the possibilities for insane stuntwork.