A lot can happen in five years, and the differences between Just Cause 2 and Just Cause 3, released in 2010 and 2015, respectively, illustrate this. Just Cause 2 was and is an excellent game for video game players, and arguably should be in most gamers’ collections. While it does lack a little in the narrative department, Just Cause 2 broke ground for its sheer freedom, beautiful environments, and the ability to cause neverending chaos. So how does its baby brother compare? Let’s take a look at the differences in several categories.
A good narrative is a must for most games, right? Excluding some simpler games, to the tune of Tetris or Pac-Man, most games feature at least some motivation for the characters within games to do the things they do. In Donkey Kong, the arcade game, Jumpman must rescue Pauline from the titular ape. In this, both Just Cause 2 and 3 do indeed have narratives- however, if you are looking for masterpieces of plots, the Forest Gump of video games, it is unlikely you will find it anywhere in the Just Cause franchise. These games are best compared to thrilling action movies from the 80’s- Yes, their plots do exist, but most often these stories exist to give us badass characters that do badass things, like shoot guns, drive cars ridiculously fast, and blow things up. If these criteria determine what is and what is not a good video game, then the Just Causes are brilliant. The plots of all three titles in the Just Cause franchise follow the same basic plot: Go to a place, remove dictator from said place. That’s pretty much it. Compared to Just Cause 2, the story of Just Cause 3 actually delivers a bit more meat, especially considering that the setting of Medici, a fictional Mediterranean nation, is protagonist Rico Rodriguez’s homeland. The game’s story connects the protagonist and setting much more closely, for rather than being an operative sent to a foreign land to depose a dictator, the player has to free their own home from the forces of oppression. In short, in terms of story, Just Cause 3 does indeed pack a little more on- if truly only a little.
From the beginning, the setting of both Just Cause 2 and 3 are quite different. Just Cause 2 is set in Panau, “southeast Asia’s best-kept secret,” according to a character from the game. Just Cause 3, as mentioned before, is set in Medici somewhere around the Mediterranean. However, the most major differences come not from the size and shape of the maps and landmasses itself, but from the different cultures in both locations. While Just Cause 2 has obvious Asian culture, tuk-tuks, and rice paddies, Just Cause 3 offers a much more European feel with fields of lilacs, vineyards, and a bizarre mix of both Latin and Italian cultures. Both game settings look very alike, with islands of varying size, but it is also quite obvious that the graphical differences between Just Cause 2 and 3 make JC3 feel much larger. It blows one away to stand on the tallest point of a particular island, look at what you haven’t yet explored, and realize, “Wow. There’s still so much stuff left!” This is a very, very strong point in the Just Cause franchise- the sheer amount of stuff there is to do. Just Cause 3 does its predecessor proud here.
Quite obviously, Just Cause 3 is a vast improvement over Just Cause 2. Moore’s Law, and all that. In fact, until recently, Just Cause 3 wouldn’t even run properly on the PC I had used for many years. It was only after building a brand-new one that I was able to enjoy the game at a pace faster than that of a slideshow. While Just Cause 2 was a beautiful, environmentally stunning game for its time, and still is when compared to some other games… Just Cause 3 simply knocks its older counterpart out of the ballpark, and probably into a different sport entirely. Just Cause 3 is a stunning game.
Hey, Just Cause 3…. Your 80’s is showing.
The differences in gunplay between JC2 and JC3 are surprisingly different. In fact, forgiving the completely different weapon set, the shooting mechanics of Just Cause 3 feel much more lifelike than in Just Cause 2. Bullets will no longer cause enemies to fly back when killed- obviously with the exception of high-explosive weapons- which actually brings in an interesting side note: The physics regarding bodies and ragdolls in JC3 actually feel real. Enemies drop or stumble to the ground when shot, rather than nearly float to the ground as if the fight was taking place on Mars, with 1/3 the gravity of Earth. It is also apparent that it is a bit harder to actually use weapons in JC3. First of all, you must unlock the ability to use precision aim. While this is actually a gripe I have about this game, it is at least the first upgrade to be unlocked for weapons and gunplay in general. It feels more difficult- One must really aim and use good judgement in order to place effective shots on their targets. The amount of zoom in JC2’s precision aiming made headshots a breeze, particularly with a mouse. Now, you have to work for your marksmanship, and that’s a very good thing.
While some may disagree, I feel that driving in Just Cause 3 has actually taken a dive from its earlier version. Driving in Just Cause 2 felt very nice and very believable, with vehicles handling as you would expect them to, at least from the perspective of a video game with a lot of area to cover. Everything about the driving mechanics in JC2, whether it be driving, flying, or boating, was very nice. Flying in particular was a great experience, because the aircraft handled, again, as one would expect them to- one could even venture that JC2 could hold its own against games like Kerbal Space Program, where aerodynamic design is a core principle of the game that must be accounted for. The major difference is that JC2 gives the player lots of beautiful mountains, beaches, and oceans to explore and fly around in, but in Just Cause 3 vehicle mechanics have degraded somewhat. The first time I drove in JC3, it was actually confusing as to how it could be so vastly different- sure, it improved as the game went on and the opportunity for practice is given. And, actually, the drifting mechanics in JC3 are a bit more enjoyable than they are in JC2, but that is one of the only areas in which the vehicle mechanics have improved.
Upgrading Rico’s abilities has been given its own, shorter category because it is worth mentioning how different the mechanics are between the two games. In Just Cause 2, player abilities remained the same from start to finish- Once the player could use the parachute and the grappling hook, it remained. You could, however, upgrade both weapons and vehicles by finding weapon and vehicle ‘part’ collectibles scattered absolutely everywhere in Panau. In addition, you could score parts from completing missions and challenges- This gave incentive to not only progress through the story, but take time off and explore the islands to help improve your own performance. In Just Cause 3, however, you are forced to complete specific challenges to unlock ‘gears.’ The major downside to this, not mentioning being forced to play activities to enhance Rico’s abilities, is that the ‘gears’ obtained from a specific challenge only applied to a specific area. For example, to upgrade Rico’s shooting ability, you have to complete shooting challenges. It makes sense, and does make the player actually practice their various skills in order to be rewarded with enhanced abilities, but for some players it can seem an unnecessary restriction of freedom.
Finally, it is time to talk about the biggest staples of the Just Cause franchise: The special superspy gadgets that Rico can use to fight, travel, and cause chaos.
Firstly, the grapple hook- perhaps the most important gadget to come from the Just Cause games. In Just Cause 2, Rico could hitch two things together with a tether, as well as pull himself around and slingshot himself while parachuting. The grapple hook was a fantastic addition to a great game…. But once more, Just Cause 3 absolutely outdoes itself. Instead of just one total tether, Rico can utilize a maximum of SIX tethers. Not only that, the player can actually retract the tethers in on themselves, allowing a huge upgrade in usage for the grapple hook. The JC3 approach is miles better than JC2, hands down.
The parachuting and free-falling mechanics are largely the same, with Rico somehow packing an infinite amount of parachutes into what seems to be his back pocket, that never get tangled or fail, but there is a huge new addition that completely changes how the player can explore the environment: The wingsuit. Just like its real-life equivalent, users can’t just rocket around, flying without an airplane- Rico can only glide. However, you can reach impressive distances, especially when using the grapple hook to slingshot yourself around just as you would whilst parachuting. It’s a faster way to move horizontally in a very horizontally-gifted franchise like Just Cause 3.
When comparing the two, it’s a story told of countless other sequels. Yes, by its very nature of coming later and more recently, there are going to be improvements galore based on what the old game lacked or could improve upon. In that, Just Cause 3 is a fantastic successor to a great game series- It packs punches in graphics, gunplay, pure playground-ness; All the areas in which you would expect great things from the Just Cause franchise. However, like many sequels before it, there are just a few things you miss from the old game. Sometimes, games just nail certain mechanics, and any change to that can take away from the fun of the newer versions. Just Cause 3 did its older brother justice.