Let's get the inevitable Grand Theft Auto comparison out of the way quickly, eh? Just Cause is like GTA, but not in the cynical, cloning way that so many sub-par gang-and-gun titles tend to be. Yes, the mission structure is similar - story-advancing tasks supplemented by on-the-side jobs - and the basic gameplay blueprint, mixing on-foot and driving sections, is identical. But rather than challenge GTA on its own, heavily-fortified turf, Just Cause shifts away from Rockstar's urban sprawl and aims for something bigger and more spectacular.
"Bigger?" you ask. "Surely you don't mean bigger than San Andreas?" Yes, we do, and in more ways than one. Firstly, Just Cause has a playable map around 20 times larger than San Andreas - an awesome statistic, when you think of the hype generated by the latter upon its release (see 'Does Size Matter?'). Then there's the aim of the game itself, which skips the whole 'making it to the top of the underworld' schtick and has you taking over an entire nation.
IT'S RICO TIME
Playing as CIA operative Rico Rodriguez, You're sent to the fictional South American country of San Esperito, with orders to remove President Salvador Mendoza. Given a free hand by Sheldon, your obnoxious American CIA handler, you're authorised to destabilise the government by helping guerrilla rebels and drugs cartels, and generally take advantage of the massive wealth and resources of the US military (at the last count worth 500 billion dollars a year). Is it politically sound? Sweet Jesus, no. Is it good fun? Yes - but perhaps not as much fun as it should be
The reason is inconsistency. The framework is brilliant, the idea is mouthwatering - but Just Cause, perhaps too geared towards the bigger picture, falls down on the fine details. Take the beginning. A brief cut-scene lays out some basics before Rico jumps out of a plane, and suddenly you're in control of his freefall descent. The problem is that with no clue as to where you're headed or when to release your parachute, instead of an exciting, James Bond tinged opener, it's a bewildering mess. Our first go saw us land in the ocean 400 metres away from the landing zone. We then had to swim to the rendezvous - slowly - while Sheldon peppered us with a small, repetitive rotation of insults for taking too long.
There are other basic problems. On-foot controls are a little spongy, with body movement and camera control - each mapped to one of the analogue sticks - failing to gel perfectly. Added to occasional glitches in collision detection (see 'Glitch and Glamour') this often causes moments of disorientation when running and turning. To compensate there's an auto-aim feature, which zeroes in on whichever enemy is nearest the centre of your view. Theoretically you can cycle through targets by tapping p, although in practice you have to shift your view until your chosen mark is in your sights - obviously not ideal in frantic battle situations.
Worse still, you'll often find yourself being hit by unseen enemies just outside the range of the auto lock-on, who are then very difficult to spot. You can press R3 to enter a slightly zoomed-in shoulder cam, but the emphasis is very much on the 'shoulder,' which obscures about a third of the screen and makes tracking multiple targets difficult. And, when you do finally tag someone, you see the stock animation of the corpse flying backwards through the air. It's used for every single person you take out, looks dreadful to begin with and only gets worse with repetition.