Just Cause 2
Although the original Just Cause impressed with its vast open-world and exotic setting, the game proved slightly too repetitive for most gamer's tastes. Visually too, JC failed to measure up to its sandbox contemporaries, never looking anything more than functionally nice, if you catch our drift.
Good news then for fans of Just Cause and the game's swarthy Latino uber spy superstar Rico Rodriguez - the sequel is looking to outstrip its predecessor in just about every department, adopting the bigger, better, faster, louder, harder, meatier, genetically-modified, steroid-enhanced approach to building a superior follow-up.
Despite proudly boasting an impressive draw distance that stretches as far as the eye can see, achingly gorgeous environments and a remarkable attention to detail lacking from most open-world titles however, it's more than likely that JC2's ardent devotion to mission variety will likely win the game the most plaudits.
Addressing the criticisms levelled at the first JC head on, Swedish developer Avalanche has iterated its powerful proprietary Avalanche Engine to version 2.0, allowing for a much larger world than before. 400 square miles is the figure we're given by Squeenix's PR people, which sounds slightly excessive if you ask us. Perhaps they meant square kilometres.
Visiting what was once Eidos' HQ in London - the offices now bear the Square Enix Europe brand since the Japanese giant bought out the ailing company - we're led past Rhona Mitra's iconic Lara Croft costume carefully stowed in a glass cabinet, through reception and into a room where the game is rigged up and ready to go.
Beforehand, we're given a hands-off demonstration of an action-packed rescue mission, which sees Rico having to locate and extract one of his important contacts - a drunken Swedish operative by the name of Karl Blaine. The objective is the perfect intro to Just Cause 2's Hollywood action movie inspired lunacy, featuring an intense gun battle (during a casual dialogue between the two characters), a head-to-head with a tooled up helicopter and multiple teeth-rattling explosions.
As we eventually sit down to play, we have to admire the fearless, slick ex-CIA agent Rodriguez. Not only is he cool and calm in a heated gunfight, he'll also happily leap off a vertigo-inducing cliff edge with nary a thought for his own preservation.
Fittingly, our hands-on session opens on top of a dusty precipice, which we're encouraged to brazenly leap off of. Thankfully, Rico is still sporting an ever-lasting supply of parachutes that can be deployed at any time, so a safe landing is (almost) always guaranteed. Taking Rico to the brand new sunny climes of Panau island in south-east Asia, our hero is now rocking a fully integrated parachute and grappling hook combo that allows him to tether objects or enemies to any object and traverse around his environment at speed like a gun-toting Spider-Man (with a parachute). The scope for experimentation is enormous as you connect baddies to explosive barrels, suspend them from tall masts or catapult them from great heights or over great distances.
Chaos is the watchword for Just Cause 2 and as such there's more than ample opportunity to create it using the array of weaponry at your disposal and the hazardous incendiary items carelessly scattered around the environment. Anything bearing the crimson star of Panau's ruthless dictator Baby Panay represents a target and destroying water towers, pylons, propaganda stands or any marked object increases your chaos gauge, eventually unlocking additional missions for you to attempt.
Our introductory mission takes us to a heavily guarded base, where we decide to implement a loud in, loud out approach, flying in by attack chopper, attracting far too much hostile attention for our own good, which immediately shows up on the heat gauge.
After a few hasty deaths, we call in the black market weapons merchant to upgrade our guns and treat ourselves to a jet propelled light aircraft. Shooting off the edge of the aforementioned dusty precipice straight into flight, we zip across the island at speed until we're directly over the military compound where we eject from the cockpit, deploying our parachute, floating into the danger zone all guns blazing.
Brilliantly, our ludicrously brazen strategy pays off, getting us in close to the surface entrance to an underground installation where Rico needs to plant an explosive. Getting in is easy and planting the bomb simply requires a quick button prompt matching mini-game, but getting out is a taut race against time as the timer rapidly ticks away. We zip our way from wall to wall as fast as we can, trying to dispatch as many of the remaining guards as humanly possible on the way. Escaping in the nick of time, we have a brief second to turn and admire our handiwork as the bunker is transformed into a smoking crater.
It's not quite over yet though, as we have to give chase to a convoy of escaping bad guys while hanging from the bottom of a helicopter (as you do). Grappling our way from the air onto the rear jeep, Rico can climb pretty much anywhere he likes on the moving vehicle before sidling up to the driver's seat to pull the hapless goon from the wheel.
Deciding to leap onwards, gaining on the front of the convoy, we shoot out the tyres of the pursuing jeep and plant a remote charge on the only other one remaining. One deft zipline over to the lead truck and a quick press on the detonator sees the rest of the pack going up in smoke, leaving us to deal with our target before finally driving to safety in the commandeered vehicle. Wow.
Our first mission accomplished with stylish aplomb, our next objective appears on the map in the northernmost region of the island. While we could make our own way there via car, truck, motorcycle, plane or helicopter, it's actually far quicker and more convenient to call in an extraction to make your way across the sprawling distance of varied and expansive terrain.
The finished game will feature snowy mountain regions, sun baked deserts and verdant jungle, which is where our next mission takes us. Jumping from the hovering extraction helicopter, the parachute comes into play once more as we majestically glide down to a beach, where a sexy red speedboat awaits.
Pouncing behind the speedboat's wheel, we race to the waypoint through sparkling azure waters. Bailing out as we hit the shore, we anchor a zipline to a tree that pulls us in as we unfurl our chute once more and drift to safety, leaving behind the blackened flaming shell of our once shiny boat. Nice.
Jumping atop an external elevator to scale the high-rise tower to reach a set of broadcast dishes that need adjusting in order to send out a message for a rebel faction we're working for, it's only a matter of seconds before we're at the summit of the vertiginous structure ready to crack more heads.
Quickly rotating the dishes into the correct configuration, we take out the patrolling guards and then make our way to the uppermost radar array, which needs to be blown to smithereens (naturally) to successfully complete the objective. Placing charges at two weak points, we then make our way to the edge of the radar's antenna, before leaping off and blowing the explosives causing the camera to position itself in front of Rico in a fantastically cinematic moment reminiscent of a massively bombastic action movie. Eat your heart out Jimmy Bond.
With our hands-on time over all too quickly, what little we've seen of Just Cause 2 is hugely encouraging. Will it be everything we could possibly want from a Just Cause sequel? Just maybe - and no doubt more besides.
Just Cause 2 will be skydiving into view come March 2010.