When I was little, I wanted to be a dictator. And that was it, plain and simple. It had nothing to do with ideologies, administration, government, laws, national security, cigars or those hip little caps teenagers wear down at the National Theater of Bucharest. It was, plainly put, a naive impulse to gain control of everyone’s lives without repercussions.
I didn’t see Stalin as being a cruel beast or Hitler as a tiny dictator from the former’s era. Mao was still unknown to me and everything I knew about Fidel Castro was that he was wearing a trademark cap. Ceausescu who? Which Franco? What’s a Pol Pot? In my mind, everything was just dandy.
It would be a lot later that I would find out you don’t just become a dictator. Others put you on the job. They often don’t even speak the same language as you. Once I developed a consciousness and started getting fragments of how real life really works, outside of the sandbox down at the kindergarten, an inexplicable jab struck me. As a child, you get lost in the maze of your own fantasies and don’t allow adults, more cynical kids or chubby caretakers to break your aspirations.
But the malicious truisms that seem to be required only by the uncertain shattered my tyrannical dreams. One at a time, major plot holes made their way into my plan until, crippled by the lack of a plausible support, my entire film faded out before the intro credits.
Then I discovered Just Cause 2.
„When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.” – Victor Hugo
Welcome to Panau, a dictatorial republic populated by various Asian races and lead by an individual whose miniature stature determines him to erect statues of himself virtually everywhere to compensate. The country of all bananas, full to the brim with military bases, propaganda installations and an infrastructure vastly superior to our own.
Despair not, for you are here not as docile tourists. Rico Rodriguez, the professional revolutionary from the first game is back. We’re not talking about any Che Guevara either – Rodriguez is no blooming, tender romantic visionary of the leftist nuttery, chasing hippy stuff like the nationalization of public transports. Sent by the Agency, the US’s international hand, set to spank anyone who turns their back on it, Rico is up to his usual antics: he has to remove little „Baby” Panay from the country’s reign and serve it to his bosses on a platter.
Saboteur, assassin, pilot, wheelman, skydiver and demolitions expert – you’d say that Rico has all the knowledge he needs to systematically break Panay’s military enclave apart. But he wouldn’t be able to hijack a school bus if he didn’t have a grappling hook and a parachute at his disposal.
The hero’s athletic prowess is not entirely out of the ordinary, but the aforementioned gadgets allow you to travel quite fast through any landscape, while the quick-travel system comes in the form of a plane that can extract you to any previously-explored location. That and deliver weapons and vehicles in exchange for generous amounts of cash.
There are over 100 aerial, aquatic and land vehicles. Which, by the way, are not difficult to pilot, quite the contrary – easy to maneuver even at teeth-clenching speeds, the only obstacle in the way of the arcade mechanics’ perfection being the collision system: boats ricochet off the smallest of obstacles very unnaturally, just as the cars.
Even so, the moments in which you’ll be able to feel the mishaps are tied to a few of the 75 racing challenges, because otherwise it’s not often you’ll have to cross strips of land by boat. I suggest, however, that you don’t dodge these challenges, because many of them are innovative and gritty. They not only use the transportation, but also the player’s abilities of controlling the character in a freefall or by parachute and contain routes and themes that are very diverse, from dashing through narrow alleyways in the Panauan metropolitan areas to exploring swamplands in the map’s far corners in a motorboat.
The central element is not the racing, obviously, because only in a Paul Walker / Vin Diesel movie will a coup d’état be possible using a V8 instead of a V4. Thus, you’ll divide the approximately 100 game hours running missions for the Agency, the three competing factions and hunting down upgrade boxes or demolishing government installations.
Reading the previous paragraph, you might think I’m talking about another recent sandbox game, The Saboteur, and with certain side comments, you’d probably be right. Just Cause 2 is very similar to Pandemic’s last title, but makes up its own niche through three-dimensional fights – we are, after all, talking about a super agent that hijacks helicopters, leaps from planes and climbs skyscrapers, about tongue-in-cheek humor and very lush vegetation.
In other words, Just Cause 2 is a more bombastic Saboteur and, in a certain way, more dynamic, although not as atmospheric. But don’t worry, it doesn’t take itself seriously. With a boss that’s extremely similar to the most recent republican ever to lead the White House and missions that ask you, for instance, to save the sexual slave of the insular commies’ leader, it’s very hard not to laugh at the devastating antics that the Swedish producers have us complete. Even so, I can’t help but notice an acute lack of personality in the protagonist, who has no opinion or attitude during the briefings and most of his remarks throughout the game are as gray as elephants.