Remember the item collection aspect from the last game? What a massive waste of time that turned out to be - a sprawling, tedious goose chase that didn't really reward you for the huge effort involved. That criticism doesn't apply any more. Every vehicle part contributes, every health meter-extending armour pack helps the cause - the carrot-and-stick temptation to search every nook and cranny of the island (mercifully broken up into mini treasure hunts in each settlement) can be overwhelmingly compulsive, and Just Cause 2 is all the better for it.
ON A MISSION
It seems like every conscious effort has been poured into making up for the original's weaknesses - and it's none more evident than in the improved missions. First time around your patience creaked and groaned under the sheer weight of "Hey! Seņor! Fetch me this car!/Find this package!/Kill this man!" missions. It was enough to drive you batshit insane - and the kind of grind that, for most people, was enough to make them stop playing. Admittedly, the game does still have its fair share of these missions (find us an open-world game that doesn't) but the improved spaces in which they play out makes all the difference.
Panau has far more in the way of interesting buildings, villages and installations to explore. Military bases, oil refineries and rigs, ancient temples, dockyards, cities that don't look like a bunch of cereal boxes sellotaped to a crappy car park - it's amazing what decent architecture will do to increase your enjoyment of a mission.
The result is a range of objectives that feel more deliberate in their planning, less random and throwaway than before. On a basic level you might be doing the same kinds of things, but the bigger variety in settings keeps things feeling fresh. One minute you're storming a mountain fortress, then you're speeding across sand dunes on a dirt-bike, the next you're scaling the towering gantries of Panau's Space Centre. We think you get the picture.
POINT AND 'CHUTE
As if they hadn't done enough, Avalanche have also refined Rico's controls - specifically his grapple hook. While certainly handy last time around, it's now much easier to use, and much more integral to the game. Locking onto vehicles, specifically helicopters, is now super-simple. You can attach it to any surface to zip-line towards it (allowing you to scale buildings) and the improved range makes it possible to cover distances that would otherwise be laborious on foot - a godsend, as you'll often find yourself with plenty of ground to cover if you lose your vehicle somewhere away from civilisation.
Even better, you can now launch yourself into the air instantly by zip-lining and opening your parachute simultaneously. While this has its practical uses for travelling around, it's also an extremely handy tactic for getting out of scrapes, allowing you to get up and over a building when you'd otherwise be soaking up bullets like a bloody sponge. It's fun, too.
Such a range of movement options proves extremely liberating and opens up a wealth of combat strategies to the player. You can claim the high ground easily. You can escape in seconds and, hilariously, you can pull down enemies, like snipers, from their vantage points in the blink of an eye.
Which is a good job considering that our only serious gripe with Just Cause 2 turns out to be the actual gunplay itself. While by no means a deal breaker, it isn't anywhere near as accomplished as what's on offer in the rest of the game. The lack of a cover system, for example, is probably our biggest bugbear. As a result, combat isn't as solid or as robust as we've grown accustomed to, feeling a little impersonal, and in a way less meaningful. Aiming is wishy-washy, almost slippery, lacking in weight and punchy confidence (a criticism that can easily be levelled at the car handling as well, incidentally). Like we said, it's no deal-breaker, but compared to how well the rest of the game has been executed it's conspicuous by its lack of overall refinement and will often drive you to distraction in the game's later, tougher missions - particularly when you have to contend with some rather cruel checkpointing, which forces you into repeating whole sections of a mission over... and over... and over again.