Size doesn't matter. Its what you do with it that counts. That's what we learnt from the original Just Cause, a sandbox espionage thriller that looked like a Travel Agents Summer Holiday poster but was sadly about as deep. The game's sun-soaked isle might have all the eye-catching appeal of a catwalk supermodel and had about as much meat on its bones.
Still, playing an undercover agent sent in to initiate a regime change by blowing stuff up had its moments and Just Cause turned out to be a fun gig. That it was one of Xbox 360's first sandbox adventures meant we forgave San Esperito its faults and spent a good deal of time messing about outside the routine-heavy missions.
Fast forward a few years and we're living in a post-Grand Theft Auto IV world. A bevy of action-adventure titles have redrawn the boundaries again of how you can interact with the gaming world -covering systems, realistic physics, smart AI has all bled into one cohesive experience. The stakes are higher, which might explain why Just Cause 2 was pushed from a release last year to this Spring as last few months worth of polishing went into the title.
And the game world does look beautiful - the island Panau looks more impressive than its predecessor. A nighttime parachute drop reveals a large smattering of twinkling lights on the continent below us, promising a hike in settlement numbers to explore and blow up if necessary. One quick recon later, we spot planes in the sky we want to hijack, construction cranes atop skyscrapers to freefall from and many mountains to try to bike up.
The mix of missions we complete to get a sampling of what the country has to offer proves that Avalanche is sticking close to its original for the template anyway. We storm various power plants and forts, escorting and protecting technicians all the while. We race a small plane through jungle tops and circular checkpoints, then grapple a town square statue onto a jeep and drive off, toppling the concrete carving onto a pursuing patrol.
As with any exotic getaway, we're going to need some time to see behind the attractive landscape and work out what the island has to offer in the way of adventure. Just Cause 2 has to give us a lot more than a pretty smile to keep us interested, and currently we're undecided whether its anything more than a cheeky weekend break.
The grappling hook, Rico's essential tool for pulling himself onto helicopters, scaling walls or generally being a nuisance to the authorities, could make or break the game. In theory it's a lovely little device, letting you yank military goons off catwalks or attaching them to explosive rockets and seeing them soar off into the sky. However, the execution of using, holding or tapping the LB button is something we're not sold on just yet. A few hours in we're still fiddling with that least used on controller buttons and pulling ourselves into danger rather than pulling it away from us.