Same Game, Different Name or The Secret Origins of Just Cause 2

I couldn't shake an eerie sense of deja vu; a strange nagging sensation in the back of my skull was telling me I'd done all this before.

Programmer Dave: All the good ideas have gone, Jim! They’ve been done already!
Programmer Jim: Don’t worry Dave, we’ll do what everyone else does and rehash some of the old ones.

And thus, Just Cause 2 was born. Or something like that.

Just Cause 2

 

You see, when I recently played Avalanche Studio’s destroy ‘em up on both my XBox 360 and the OnLive service, I couldn’t shake an eerie sense of deja vu. A strange nagging sensation in the back of my skull was telling me I’d done all this before.

It took me a little while to place the origins of that unease and to realise that Just Cause 2 was basically just a HD remake of Activision’s excellent and oft overlooked Amiga/Atari ST gem Hunter. Let’s take a look at the evidence, shall we?

Just Cause 2 takes place on a cluster of war-torn tropical archipelagos. And while Hunter’s 16-bit primitive, filled-polygon, 3D graphics perhaps do little to reveal their geographical origins, their maps speak voluminously othere similarity:

Hunter mapJust Cause 2 map

Snap.

More than any other, the one element that made Hunter strike a chord with me was the feeling of freedom. Post Elite, but long before Grand Theft Auto, Hunter dumped you in a world with a pistol and a dapper green cap and said “Right, off you go then!” With nary a signpost nor held hand. And I lapped it up. Of course, I spent more time titting about attempting to run over rabbits in tanks than actually persuing any of the game’s preset goals, but that’s the beauty of great design: it was just fun being in that world, seeing what you could find and discovering how to use it to kill ducks.

Whilst playing Just Cause 2, I suffer from the exact same affliction: during an typical play session of two hours, I’ll spend the first ten minutes accomplishing a task from the mission map and the following one hour and fifty minutes trying to fly a plane upside down under a suspension bridge. Snap.

 

Another enjoyable aspect of Hunter was finding new weapons dotted around the game world and finding devious ways to use them to distribute misery amongst your enemies (and wildlife, naturally). From the pistol to the machine gun and bazooka, graduating from grenades to timed mines and discovering vehicles which came preinstalled with their own weaponry, Hunter always kept the experience fresh thanks to the hidden caches of loot discovered, seemingly on every single play-through. Looking at the back of the box, Just Cause 2 clearly pitches tent in the same camp, but lacks the full set of tent pegs. Why is the ammo limited so? Realism? The game does not seem to have such qualms when you are grappling between two aeroplanes in full flight at 3,000 feet, and rightly so. Grappling between planes is fun, so why not let the player do it? But blowing stuff up with rockets is fun too, so why only let me do it twice?

Such quibbles aside, Hunter and Just Cause 2 both leave it to the player to decide which combination of weaponry and vehicle will best accomplish the task at hand, leading to much hilarity during those moments where an enemy is grappled to a launching gas tank (Just Cause 2) or an errant bicycle crashes into a tank, causing both to explode (Hunter). Snap.


Just Cause 2 played by the stupendous JimPlaysGames (subscribe, he’s great).


Hunter 2, courtesy of watchTechNews (is it still courtesy if you steal the video without asking?).

Now do you see? Tell me that Avalanche Studios weren’t playing a bunch of Hunter when they were kiddies and I will call you a fibber. For all their similarities and Just Cause 2′s obvious improvements to the physics engine which opens up countless opportunities for experimentation, Hunter has it trumped in one very important department. Whereas Just Cause 2 is little more than a sandbox built for destroying, garnished with a sprinkling of nonsense plot, within Hunter there is a mission mode that is far more compelling than “just blow some stuff up and see what happens”. It’s ‘hunter’ mode directs you to assassinate the opposing army’s general, but again dumps you into the world with little direction, causing you to cautiously follow up clues as to his whereabouts and sneak behind enemy lines using subterfuge which engenders panic and violence when things inevitably go wrong. It is this mission that ultimately inspires lasting memories of Hunter’s evocative atmosphere, and, in my esteem at least, demote Just Cause 2 to a quick blast of disposable fun in comparison.

Yeah, take that 2010!