There's little in video games that I find more appealing than discovering something. Since finding the first ruin in Tomb Raider to tracking down various hidden objects in today's games or even unlocking an unexpected trophy or achievement, such a surprise can provide a real rush that provides more than enough incentive to continue playing.

I'm only 6 hours into Just Cause 2 but I find myself thinking about this game all the time, and that's quite an achievement since I'm otherwise preoccupied with the excellent Battlefield: Bad Company 2 online. In fact, I think I've only completed two missions (three at the most); most of the time has been spent exploring this game's massive, beautifully realized world.

I mainly just want to relate a series of events from my playthrough last night. As always, a warning for SPOILERS, though I don't think this gives too much away as it was outside of any mission. Still it would be hypocritical of me to blog about the joy of discovery only to spoil that sense of wonder for those who want to explore the map and gameplay on their own. So consider yourself forewarned.

I used a speedboat to try to get to the financial district but on the way there I found the city's airport and took a detour (I'd heard you can fly a jumbo jet in this game, among other aircraft). The tarmac was surprisingly devoid of activity so I leaped into a jumbo jet and taxied to takeoff. (A word of warning, turn slowly, otherwise the turning radius will get you stuck; there's no reverse for these aircraft.)

After I liftoff, I fly around to get the lay of the land. I notice a relatively large island in the distance so head for it. Upon closer inspection, it's shrouded in clouds. A fierce storm envelops it and towers that appear built as electrical conduits attract lightning strikes. The setting is ominous, including the score. I have expect to find the island overrun by Dr. Zed's zombies ala Borderlands.

Sure enough when I get close my plane explodes, possibly from lightning though I suspect channeled from the main tower which lit up prior to the explosion. I leap outside the disintegrating aircraft and ride it almost into the ground before parachuting to safety. Rather than zombies, I find armed guards defending the facilities.


Without the telltale Panau star to indicate destructible objects, there's not much to do besides engage the hostiles or scale the tallest tower to see if I'd be electrocuted (I wasn't). However, I now can't wait to see what mission involves this island to discover the purpose of its facilities and hopefully experience some deeper gameplay, i.e. blow things up. It's a rare game that provides such motivation.

With little to do for now except fight off guards, I decided to leave. I must have run for at least five minutes through rainforest to get from the inland facilities to the shore. It should be noted that the level of detail is astounding. This game, like its predecessor, has miles of vegetation often with little to do but traverse it. Still, the care taken to make a believeable world, even in these remote locations, is impressive.

In fact, this game often rivals Uncharted 2 in terms of its presentation. The draw distance is spectacular, the textures impressively detailed, lighting is realistic (and well implemented considering the game's day/night cycle), ambient noises are deep and colors are rich. Home entertainment 3D might be in its infancy, but this game exudes it with both audio and visual elements (even the map is an impressive 3D topographic display).


But I digress. Once I make it to the shore, there are no boats to be found after about a 10 minute jog up and down the immediate coastline. So I decide to swim. It's important to have this option in a game based on an island map, but I didn't expect to be able to swim underwater. The fact that you can apparently swim for long distances (I only swam 6 km from shore; the main island was much farther) is impressive enough.

That the entire distance appears to be almost as detailed as the rainforest jungle I emerged from is awe-inspiring. In the same way that the forest ceiling was a canopy of branches and the floor was a mix of scattered trees, various foliage and ever present vines, the ocean had undulating waves overhead, a sandy bottom of varying height and a variety of coral formations. Both ceilings in fact were broken now and then by rays of light.

And just as birds fly through the air, a variety of fish and anemones populate the ocean. Unfortunately, I found only small fish in the distance I swam. I was hoping for larger marine life but found none. Still, that so many untold sq. km. of ocean have been so designed is impressive. It's not Tomb Raider: Underworld impressive, but then that entire game world isn't an island nation.


Before I forget, another aspect that's appreciated is that Rico appears to have the lung capacity of a Polynesian pearl diver. I thought he could stay underwater indefinitely until I noticed a subtle but effective O2 meter that appears over his back while swimming. It's not entirely realistic, like the game's hugely entertaining physics, but it's a fun arcade element.

Anyway, I end up commandeering a passing boat and return to the main island. Which reminds me, on the way to the airport, I decided to see what would happen if I rammed other boats. In one instance, my speedboat dived underneath the other vessel only to surface on the other side. Awesome! You can also perform barrelrolls, which of course end up with you right side up. LOL.

I haven't even addressed the main gimmick/gameplay element, namely, the grappling hook. No doubt you've already read about it so no need to go into detail here, except to say that practically anything you think you can do you can. Hijack any vehicle, scale any object, and more. This freedom, combined with incredibly varied design and an over the top physics engine, makes for a journey of discovery that reminds me why I enjoy gaming.