Just Cause, Avalanche Studios' 2006 Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2 and PC open world action game, was like marmite - you either loved it or hated it. Some loved the way you could pretty much go anywhere on a jungle island, blow stuff up and have fun stunting around with a parachute as your plaything. Others found the whole experience rather boring, with an island too big for its boots, combat so easy you could play it blindfolded and a story that was over after just four hours.
Now, with Just Cause 2, Avalanche has listened to the fans and taken note, implementing more changes than you can shake a tropical twig at, a fact we discovered when we abseiled (not really) our way down to UK-publisher Eidos' offices in Wimbledon, home of that tennis competition Tim Henman never won, to have a gander at some gorgeous new screens and lovely gameplay footage of a game we have very high hopes for indeed.
First things first, Avalanche has sorted the combat, thank God. One of the most annoying things about Just Cause was the automatic targeting, which meant you could simply run about and press fire with nary a care until everything died or blew up. Just Cause 2 has ditched that in favour of third-person free-aiming, which enables you complete control over the targeting reticule and the ability to aim at enemy limbs. Rico Rodriguez, who returns as the main character following his daredevil exploits in the first game, will find things much tougher this time around now that he hasn't got an auto-aim and unlimited ammo to play with. It feels a bit like Capcom's Lost Planet, the guide from Eidos tells us.
The AI, too, has enjoyed a much-needed overhaul. Bad guys will now shoot out the windows of cars so they can fire some shots at you before their vehicle gets close. They will shoot you from the minute they see you, we're told. They will communicate with each other, using cover more realistically, falling back when you lay down fire, call for help when you're beating their arse and, if you're pounding them particularly hard, run away. Lovely.
Eidos is extremely confident in Just Cause 2's combat and AI, so much so that we were told it will "set the benchmark". We're not sure about that just yet (every publisher tells us their AI uses cover realistically these days - we'll let you know exactly how good it is when we get some hands-on time with the game), but the changes have to sound encouraging for anyone who played the original.
The game world has been shrunk ever so slightly for Just Cause 2. Now before you get all upset and start flaming, there's a very good reason. One of the big problems with the first game was how uneventful the jungle island was. It was huge, yes (about half the size of Jamaica apparently), but you'd find yourself traipsing about the place for ages just looking for something to do. With Just Cause 2, Avalanche has shrunk the game world and packed it more densely (with over 1000 things to do in the game we're told), meaning players shouldn't have far to travel before they start getting into trouble.
We're most impressed, however, with how the game looks. What must be remembered about the first game is that it was built for the last generation of consoles - the Xbox and the PS2. It looked good (even on 360), but nothing amazing. From the screenshots and gameplay footage we've seen of Just Cause 2, it's shaping up to be one of the most jaw-dropping games ever. And that's not hyperbole.