Just Cause

Developer: Avalanche Studios | Released: 2006 | Genre: 3PS, Sandbox

This is a post in a nostalgic series with transcriptions of my diary sessions of the games I played many years ago, translated and adapted from Danish. There will be spoilers in these diary sessions.

This is about the first game in the series.

February 10, 2013

It actually surprised me a bit when I discovered that the game developers were Swedish, as the game was set in some fictive Spanish/Mexican/Colombian republic and had a lot of furious Spanish guitar mixed with modern rhythms. The description of the game made it sound like the bright green islands from Far Cry meets the typical game rules from the Grand Theft Auto series.

You get missions and side missions to kill targets or to dust something important, targets in the form of icons on the mini map and the larger map, and you can steal cars, motorcycles, jeeps, trucks, speedboats, police cars, even later helicopters and airplanes. There was a solid road network on the islands – more than I had thought, complete with quite a bit of traffic on the roads. As an added spice of its own, Just Cause and its sequel were notorious for the many stunts you could do. Jumping from car to car, throwing a grappling hook at other cars and helicopters, hang gliding with a parachute, even throwing yourself off high cliffs and popping an always available parachute. And there is probably much more still possible.

However, the game turned out to be too similar to the Grand Theft Auto series for my taste. No saves anywhere but only checkpoint saves at the end of a mission or in a hideout. The latter was much like in Far Cry 2, with the possibility to renew weapons, ammunition, heal, and obtain a new vessel.

The goal, in the two missions I tried tonight, caused all hell to break loose in the form of police and more after me in the most relentless way you can imagine. Sometimes I had three or four police cars smashing into mine, I was regularly torpedoed by police cars from the opposite direction, and even out at sea it was teeming with larger boats with gun turrets. Oddly enough, the two stragglers always jumped away from the boat if I swam over and went aboard with a simple key press.

The AI seemed predictable and simple – they had a very easy time running right out of their craft if I myself had stalled or abandoned a car. No need to take too much cover, or use a gun turret on a truck. Just Cause also obeyed the classic trope of the Grand Theft Auto series with the quest level. It could go up to 5 on a meter, and as far as I could tell it only dropped very slowly. I managed to complete the last mission (about rescuing a guerilla leader from a prison) while it was still at 3-4 on the meter and the stakes were high.

Along with collections (blue dots on the mini map) it all felt an awful lot like Grand Theft Auto in general. I was a bit annoyed by that as I’ve never been enthusiastic about that series. It’s all too easy to get into a hell of a lot of trouble with tons of vessels attacking from everywhere, and at the same time the checkpoints stored on the hard drive are far apart. I have to admit that I am seriously considering leaving the game. Still, I’m not going to give up just yet. I want to get a taste of converting the districts on the island by winning cities and such, try out some side missions, and what else the islands have to offer.

It seems that the islands cover a gigantic area in total, but some reviewers say that there isn’t enough stuff to do on them. The mini map has the typical problem of being too small and cramped, which means that I constantly call up my PDA to get a map of the islands. But it doesn’t really show much either.

The graphics look like something from 3-4 years before the game was released in 2006. The models and lighting actually remind me a bit of Project IGI and its sequel. The cars, boats and a single motorcycle I tried tonight steered pretty well with a slight tilt of the globe during turning, but if I turned a little too sharply, I went the opposite way into the bank.

A key made it possible to jump out onto the tip of the car’s bonnet or onto the boat, ready for some kind of stunt, but this was on a hotkey that was too easy to confuse with exiting the vessel. At one point I plunged into the sea and from here could just see my fine motor boat disappearing far into the horizon. In the first mission, I sat at a gun turret in the back of a jeep and shot cars and helicopters, and especially when the cars blew up, it got crazy with a massive explosion and seven somersaults.

Not only did the game look a bit old fashioned in terms of graphics, which just meant that it ran fluidly the entire time, it also felt too much like a half-hearted console conversion. No mouse cursor on the menu and title screen. Only keys could be used here. There was no difficulty selection either.

Our hero was called Rico Rodriguez and was dressed all in black. I met up with Sheldon, a gravelly voiced fellow in an orange tourist shirt, and in the first refuge I also met a blonde lady, Kane, who immediately slapped Rico as a thank you for the last time – apparently he had ditched her once. Incidentally, it was here that I got my second mission to free a guerrilla leader from prison.

February 11, 2013

Played a few missions and a side mission today but then decided to quit the game. It just didn’t click with me in so many areas. It was too chaotic and busy. There were tons of police and military everywhere and it was easy to get confused, and the graphics was frankly too poor.

Besides Project IGI, which I mentioned in the previous session, the people, cars and the “boxy “houses in the cities also remind me of Urban Chaos. If only the game had also had its charm.

I made sure to try enough to know what the game had to offer. I took a mission where I helped a guerilla gang liberate two cities. Here I had to shoot cops and blow up blockades, finished by raising our flag in the center of the city. The fourth (and last mission for me) was to catch up with a VIP in a limousine. Just as I expected, the whole mission failed if I didn’t hurry up. I’m just so damn tired of deadlines. However, one do-over started from a checkpoint half way in my car, so it wasn’t all bad. I tried to jump from car to car along the way, and inside a town I managed to yank him out of the car and then plug him.

I also picked up several trunks (collections) and this could earn points with certain guerilla gangs when a certain number of them were collected. A side mission for one of them was just to drive over and pick off a guy who was standing with another guy and their motorcycle by a lake. Easily managed. I also sought out an airport and tried flying in a motor plane, then hung unrealistically from the wing and parachuted.

But like I said, the game didn’t really do it for me. There was way too much that reminded me of Grand Theft Auto III. There was too far between saves on the hard drive, and it was too easy to die in certain situations. Sometimes I just had to walk across the street and get run over by a car. The islands were frankly way too big for what the game actually offered. Some of the cars drove like crap. The story with Sheldon and Kane was B-movie material. And the mini map rotated – that confuses me.

The motorcycle and some normal cars were okay, but a jeep ferried around the roads like I was driving around on a big bar of soap. I also thought you ran out of ammo too easily, and the thugs and gang members I killed didn’t drop enough in return. This meant that I had to switch from rifles to pistols in the heat of battle – way more than usual in shooters. And to top if off, I could shoot my allies in a liberation of a city so they started shooting back at me in return. In most matches, the opponents did so little damage with their firearms that it didn’t make much of a difference, but on the other hand, there was absolutely no tactics of any kind. Everyone was running around and shooting at everything and everyone, there was always an awful lot of thugs, rebels or civilians around, and the fact that they were wandering around like that made me fired up myself to do the same. Far too arbitrary and chaotic.

There was a good use of motion blur during high speed chases in a car or on a motorcycle. The fact that it also leaned a little when turning gave a good effect overall. I saw on the internet that the version on Xbox 360 had much better shadows than on PC – for once it was the other way around. My parachute never got stuck on trees or lampposts when landing, which was very nice. The game also had a status display in its PDA, and here I could see that despite only two hours of total play, I had still managed to kill 140 stragglers, 28 soldiers, 8 rebels and 4 civilians. That might give you an idea how crowded the game was with people everywhere. It was as bad as the Grand Theft Auto series itself.

The fact that the game had checkpoints was somewhat mitigated by the fact that you could send for a helicopter from your PDA, so that you were brought promptly to one of the unlocked refuges. You could even get a vessel lowered – initially, however, only a motorbike. I didn’t try to use the grappling hook very much – only a little on a couple of cars and then out with the parachute to do paragliding. No doubt I could do a lot more tricks with that grappling gun. I never got to try helicopters, neither to lift myself up with the hook nor to fly one. You can’t cover everything in less than three hours.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Just Cause
2006 Avalanche Studios

(2h 45m)



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