April 7, 2010

Just Cause 2 Impressions, or How to Make a Sandbox Game

Just Cause 2 is big. I mean BIG. And yet, it's far from boring. Even when there's nothing to explode, the detail and scenery in the game is absolutely stunning. Let Just Cause 2 be an example to every other game developer out there: This is how you make a sandbox game.

Fun fact time! Did you know that the world in Just Cause 2 is over 400 square miles large? It takes about three hours to traverse from one end to the other, but even that's skipping a lot of locales. The area I demoed was about 35 square miles, which is already bigger than most games. For comparison, here's the area I played in:

The highlighted region is 35 square miles large. It's really freaking huge, man! Here it is again compared to GTA: San Andreas, the largest of the GTA's. Oblivion is about 16 square miles. Of course, it's not the biggest map ever. It's dwarfed by Fuel (about 5,500 sq. miles), but a game world with nothing to do is no fun. Luckily, developer Avalanche Studios has taken care of that. There's a staggering 150 unique vehicles to operate or destroy if you're so inclined. There are hundreds of locations to discover, as well as many easter eggs. While I didn't find the desert area in the demo particularly interesting, the game has everything from lush jungles to tropical islands to snow-capped mountains to big cities and much in between.

Along your journey through the island of Panau, you find plenty to do in all these locations. By that I mean a lot to destroy. Your main objective of the game is to simply cause chaos (whether you do with through assigned missions or random explanation is up to you) and, while not everything is destructible, there's enough to destroy to keep things fun and interesting. But it's not only destroying stuff that's impressive, it's how you do so. You're tether (which doubles as your grappling hook) plays a large, and fun, role in this. You can attach any item in the game to any other item (or surface). Tether some guy to a tank of nitrogen and puncture the tank to watch the guy go flying. Attach your enemies to your car and drag them to death. Grapple your enemies off towers so they fall to their death. And speaking of the grappling hook, one of the most entertaining things to do is grapple on to stuff. You can use your hook to scale mountains or buildings, to quickly pull yourself around, or you can grapple and pull out your parachute for an instant get away. The parachute, by the way, can be opened up any time and used infinitely. This is especially cool because you can free fall from anywhere without worrying about death.

Let me briefly explain all the things you can do with vehicles. You can grapple on to them from afar either automatically kicking the person off (open roof like a bike), land on the roof (like a car), dangle from the bottom (air vehicles), or, presumably, parasail with water vehicles. Once on top, you can throw the other person out or simply go for a ride and shoot passersby, or if it's a hostile car you can take cover by hanging onto the hood and shooting the occupants or initiating a quicktime fistfight with the driver. You can also "stunt jump" to other vehicles in motion when your on top of one or parachuting down.

There's a lot to explore in Just Cause 2 and a lot of ways to do it. As much as I enjoyed the demo, I'm itching to go and explore what the whole big world has to offer. I would recommend buying Just Cause 2 simply based on my limited time with the game. It's that fun just to screw around and explore the world. I highly suggest you read this article (linked here again in case you missed it before) because it's extraordinarily interesting and gives you a great sense of scale, detail, and variety in the game.

Oh, and there's this:

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