Sandbox games have really advanced in the past few years, especially since the clones of GTA were released. Just Cause 2 is what I'd call the latest incarnation of the sandbox game. It is based on a fictional island nation in Southeast Asia, where you are looking for a rogue agent. Your task is to get in with the local revolutionaries and understand the big picture in Panau.
-Insanely large, multi-faceted open world
-Many different vehicles; planes, tanks, helicoptors, bikes, cars etc
-Graphics are generally good and very believable
-Pretty large weapons cache
-Grappling hook and parachute makes the game feel like a 007 movie
-Black market feature allows you to purchase vehicles and weapons anywhere on the island
-Game is difficult even on casual
-Ammo goes quickly, leaving you on a constant hunt for bullets (and health)
-Main storyline is really short, probably 7-8 hours
-Many sidequests and challenges are cookie-cutter and can get repetitive
-Vehicles are far from realistic i.e. cars don't handle well, planes are slow
Map - 9 of 10
The size of the playable area of Just Cause 2 is mind-bendingly large. It is claimed to be 400 square miles according to the scale. And I'm inclined to believe it. The map is so diverse, expansive and realistic. There are numerous airports, military bases, settlements, skyscrapers and cityscapes to name a few. In fact, there are 368 distinct locations to explore on Panau. Topography is impressive as well, including hundreds of miles of coastline, mountains, deserts, rivers, jungles and even a Zeppelin which has a night club underneath. My only real qualm with the map is that it is so big that even with planes it will take you a good 10 minutes to traverse the full map. This makes use of a car almost pointless.
Gameplay 7 of 10
As an agent for some secret US security team you are basically the best at what you do, which is apparently cause havoc. You're equipped with two very important items: a grappling hook and an infinite number of parachutes attached to your back. Any number of things can be achieved with the parachute/grappling hook combo. You can shoot far away from yourself and pull out the parachute launching yourself into the air. You can scale a mountain with only the hook. You can attach the hook to enemies pulling them towards you. It allows for a very creative gaming experience. This is what separates Just Cause 2 from other similar sandbox games. In fact it makes me think of a James Bond movie every time I jump out of a plane.
It's clear, however that the developers fully intended for you to do A LOT of piddling around the country, because there are only seven main storyline missions. The number of sidequests with the local guerrillas is probably around 100. These take maybe 10-15 minutes each. The problem with the sidequests is there are so many that they start to run together and can get really repetitive. If you really want to explore in depth (and get the achivements), you'll go to each settlement and cause chaos. This includes destroying any number of government installations such as fuel tanks, SAM sites, statues, radars, generators - you get the picture. A bunch of achievements are associated with "finishing" a settlement. This means getting all the parts located in the settlement and destroying everything necessary.
My biggest problem with the game is definitely the difficulty of the game, which is considerable in my opinion. There are four levels of difficulty and I'm on the lowest one - casual. On most shooter games, the lowest level of difficulty means that I'll never die. And I've been killed at least a dozen times by enemies. You'll be swarmed constantly. That's not the ridiculous part either. I've been killed that many times with the fifth level of armor equipped. It appears that even though I've leveled my armor, that it really doesn't provide any extra protection. The same thing seems to happen with the guns. Leveling them up is so marginal, that you'll have to take the weapon to the max level to notice the difference. What really bothers me is this: you have four levels of heat or your wanted level. The number of guys that attack you isn't based your heat level. You'll face basically the same amount of enemies on level 1 as on level 4. The only real difference on the higher levels is that they'll pursue you more.
Vehicles 7 of 10
This part of the game definitely needed more work. Though there are 104 different vehicles including planes (some armed), tanks, helicopters and cars. Many of them have control problems. Sports cars are touchy to the point of being almost impossible to drive at high speeds. And the weight of the vehicles is far from realistic as even hitting a small bump could send your vehicle hurling end over end. That being said, there is a great variance of the types of vehicles you can drive and what can be done to them. One of the more impressive parts of the game was the ability to upgrade vehicles and weapons via the Black Market. As you go through the game you'll find vehicle parts and weapon parts which can be used to increase speed, handling, acceleration etc. But only the vehicles on the Black Market list can be upgraded, which is less than 20 total.
Along with that, the air vehicles are astonishingly slow. I figured out that the fastest plane on the game will only do about 250 mph. You might say it's fine for a game, but until you see the size of the map, you won't understand.
Graphics 7 of 10
Visuals on the people in Just Cause 2 are average, probably at best. But the rest of the map is gorgeous. Textures are very detailed and have the brilliance of a plethora of colors. Water in particular has a reflective quality I've only seen in a few other games. In fact, the ocean floor is littered with rocks, seaweed and reefs. The most amazing part about the graphics is that there are no loading times while you're just walking around the island. Animation is very smooth and for the most part realistic.
Just Cause 2 takes the size of a sandbox to levels never before reached. It is a fun mess around game where you could drop hours just exploring or just do a couple of missions and quit. The sheer size of the map is something that anyone who's into sandbox games should see. So here's the gist of it: very good weapons cache, ability to upgrade vehicles and weapons, grappling hook and parachute make the game quite unique, tons of stuff to do and beautiful scenery as well. Unfortunately, the sidequests can get repetitive and the difficulty will definitely turn more casual gamers away. Also, most of the non-flying vehicles seem almost superfluous because of the size of the map. So it's not a perfect game by any means, but has probably a good 50-70 hours of playtime which not a whole lot of games can say they have.