You never forget the moment you fall in love. Whether it's when your heart turns over inside you while she completes that Back to the Future quote you just started, or as your eyes meet across the arena at the local Demolition Derby, it's a memory that will stick with you until the very end.
Destiny can be tricksy, too: my friend Jo realised he had fallen for the woman who would become his wife at the exact instant she backed a car over his foot, and I in turn knew I was hopelessly in love with Just Cause 2 - or at least the latest preview build - when I was knocked off the roof of my speeding VW Beetle by the rebounding mass of Humvee I'd just tethered to a passing palm tree.
We've already written about Rico Rodriguez's magical arm-mounted grapple hook at length, but its seemingly ceaseless brilliance bears reiterating - not just because it's Just Cause 2's main instrument of playful chaos, but because there are a lot of very decent games coming out in early 2010, and I really don't want anyone to forget that, in one of them, you can essentially crazy-glue a baddie to the undercarriage of a passing jumbo jet.
Like the very best of in-game gadgets, the grapple's fun to use if you have a specific strategy in mind, and even more fun to use if you don't: and that brings me back to that VW Beetle.
So there I was, then, being chased across the island paradise of Panau by military jeeps - I forget why, exactly, but it hardly matters with this game - and I'd just run out of ammo. This, as it transpires, is only ever a good thing. Just Cause 2 is one of those run-and-gunners where you actually won't feel like you're playing it right if you just run and gun.
There are so many toys and tactics available to you at any one moment, that you're almost certainly cheating yourself out of fun by opting to simply blow someone's brain out with a few bullets. Headshots? Why bother? At least string your target upside down from a telegraph pole first, eh? Maybe drag them through gravel behind a Tuc-Tuc? Or fling them over a large drop by knotting them to a punctured gas canister as it whistles past?
Whatever your poison, I was in a bit of a scrape: enemy troops were closing in and I had nothing to fire at them with. The only option, then, was to stick one end of the grapple hook to the nearest Humvee fender, and then whack the other end into a part of the scenery - a bridge strut, perhaps, so they could bob about like militaristic Christmas ornaments before disappearing over the edge of a ravine, or even the ground itself, where they would suddenly yank to a stop, perhaps backflipping into the air and wiping out some of my other pursuers in the process.
Or that palm tree, where they'd knock me from my perch, leaving me to get run over by a local driving - oh good - a tractor. That's the thing about Avalanche's latest - the really good thing, as it happens: even when a plan goes wrong, you're generally laughing too hard to care.
And there's a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong, with a rich seam of story challenges, dozens of side quests, and literally hundreds of settlements scattered over the island of Panau, each one an explosive sandbox offering an open-ended invitation to cause chaos. And even the simplest of agendas can take you in directions you rarely foresee.
Take the game's opening mission. Arriving by chopper under cover of nightfall with an assignment to take out a rogue CIA operative, you're lofted, ostensibly, into the humblest of fetch-quests, parachuting out of the sky to retrieve four classified data disks that have fallen from the helicopter when it was struck by a missile. It sounds, frankly, like a bit of a yawn. It really isn't.
The data disks have fallen into an enemy military base, and while they provide a handy route for you to follow once you've hit the ground and started picking your way through the darkened installation, you're instantly given plenty of other things to entertain you as well.
Combat is introduced in stages - a few enemies standing near explosive barrels, a few more lingering on the edges of precipices - and while you could just take them out with the game's chunky range of SMGs and grenades, you'd be much better off getting creative.
Why not tether two soldiers together before blowing them both into the air, or grapple-zipline into one and send him sailing over a cliff, attaching an unfortunate friend to his ankle just before he drops out of view forever? (That's how my uncle died. True story.)
Before you know it there are turrets to destroy, optional silos to blow to pieces, and you can even ride a tank over a ravine and into a mass of troops waiting below to see where that gets you. (It gets you dead, incidentally, but amusingly so.) None of this is new, particularly, but the grapple, your never-ending parachutes, and Avalanche's breezy attitude to explosive mission creep makes it feel new.
The first mission is kind of a tutorial for weapons, grappling and vehicle handling, of course, but only very vaguely, and only in the same way that falling downstairs is kind of a tutorial for gravity. The developers throw set-pieces together with such freewheeling abandon - or, better yet, they invite you to create your own - that it's a training exercise you could happily play through ten or eleven times, finding different ways to get through on each occasion.
In the muddle of accidental hilarity, it's easy to overlook the details, too. Details like the way that targeting has been tweaked since the original game, with less of an autolock, so you feel like you're actually doing some of the work for yourself this time. And like the health gauge, which gives you just enough of a recharge to keep you alive between medkits, while simultaneously making sure there's still a pleasant sense of urgency as you move through locations taking fire.
In other words, if you're expecting that, given the buggy first instalment - and with such scope for any kind of madness to unfold - Just Cause 2 might not be a very polished game, on the strength of the first few hours at least, it's looking pretty smart: the map is entirely fuss-free as you place markers, the GPS works admirably, no matter how far you stray off the path it's set for you, and air drops are no longer an open invitation to expire beneath a heavy crate.
And the script is brilliantly knowing, filled with rich slices of cheesy dialogue for Rico - "Waste not want not," he says as he amiably shoots someone with their own gun, bringing a thrifty touch of homespun wisdom to the business of all-out slaughter - and hilarious radio updates from the island's government-run broadcasting company, who, at one point, cover up your wholesale destruction of an oil refinery by blaming it on the work of an undetected mini-volcano which has since disappeared.
Just Cause 2 is so much fun from the very start, in fact, that you could almost begin to worry about its chances as a full-length title. When Avalanche is willing to throw so much into the game's first few hours, can it really hope to keep pace with itself over the next twenty?
Very possibly. If the minute-to-minute game caters to your mad bomber tendencies, the hour-to-hour stuff is targeting the obsessive-compulsive within you, with regular bombardments of stats bursting onto the screen - number of people killed while tethered to a wall, number of people blown to pieces in a crowd - while there are weapon parts to hunt for, black-market guns and vehicles to unlock and upgrade, and plenty of RPG-style meters to watch fill up as you inch towards opening the next story mission.
If you're looking for a game that gives you five minutes of easy spectacle while you wait for your tea to brew, then (and warm the pot first, right? We're not animals) while also providing that magical, illusory sense of actually achieving something over longer sessions, Just Cause 2 is on track to be exactly what the doctor ordered. Before you strung him to a motorbike and drove it off a cliff, obviously.
Just Cause 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 26th March 2010.