"Just Cause 2 is bigger and better than Just Cause 1 in pretty much every way possible," says lead designer Peter Johansson, beginning our E3 demo of the game. No offence, Peter, but they all say that. Besides, Just Cause 1 was pretty big anyway - though as Kristan pointed out in his review, it wasn't the best game it could have been.
In fact, he described it as "a poor man's Mercenaries, ludicrously padded out with hundreds of entirely worthless side missions that sprawl over uninteresting terrain". Boom. But wait: "With many truly positive elements about the game to look back on, there's every chance Avalanche will be given more time to make a classic next time around." So will they manage it?
Avalanche certainly appears to have taken criticisms of the first game on board. There's no more auto-targeting, for starters; you're now free to aim at will, and come up with new and creative ways of shooting anyone and everything. Plus you get a new, improved grappling hook to play with. It's hooked up to Rico's left arm and is operated with the left trigger.
"The grapple hook attaches to anything with collision now - buildings, trees and even people," says Johansson. "There are no grapple points whatsoever, so you're really free to work on your own tactical style."
Rico's new favourite toy can also be used to tether things together. To demonstrate this, Johansson uses it to attach an enemy to a telephone pole and hoist him off the ground. Then he starts machinegunning away. The man shrieks as his body jiggles about in the air, like a puppet on a string. An electrically charged string. Made of pain.
Other inventive ways to commit murder with the grapple include tethering a man to an oil barrel, then dragging the two towards each other before blowing up the barrel and by association the man. "My personal favourite use of the grapple? You can lift a jeep under a helicopter and use it as a wrecking ball," says Johansson. We don't get to see this in action, unfortunately.
The grapple isn't just there for the nasty things in life, like hooking a man up to a blocked drain and shooting him in the legs till they look like ketchup-covered dog food. It's also handy for getting around the South-East Asian island of Panau, where Just Cause 2 is set.
At around 400 square miles the island is massive, but that's not necessarily a good thing. One of the biggest complaints about the first Just Cause was the amount of traipsing around you had to do, covering large tracts of dull terrain between missions. The gameworld in Just Cause 2 is still huge, but now there's a lot more work to be getting on with.
"To give you an idea of just how big the world is and how much there is to do, this is the entire map of Panau," says Johansson. A top-down view of the island appears on the screen. "This area here," he continues, pointing to a tiny dot in the bottom left hand corner, "Is the harbour area where you just saw me play through that entire mission." There are gasps from the demo audience. Listening back to the dictaphone recording later you can hear one person go, "Wow."
The map is peppered with hundreds of tiny icons. "All the different items you see here are activities for you to do," says Johansson. ("What?" says someone, presumably the person who said "Wow"). "Key missions, faction missions, stronghold takeovers, challenges and over 300 different settlements - every single one of them packed with gameplay and activities."