Just Cause

Para trippin'.

Just Cause is the kind of game that makes even James Bond's more improbable antics look positively sane. Rather like our favourite cocktail-shaking military spy, the game's hero, Rico, comes equipped with all sorts of high-tech gadgets, can fire all manner of stupidly powerful weapons - but with sillier hair. But it all goes a bit crazy, as you soon find out.

For a start, Rico has a parachute which allows him to casually jump out of planes and land directly on the roof of a speeding car with ease, or whip out his grappling hook to grab the back of a vehicle, then open his parachute and rise up into the air for a bit of motorway paragliding. As you do. But our particular favourite sees Rico shoot his grappling hook up to reach a helicopter, pull himself up to grab onto its tail, and then simply leap into the cockpit.

All in a day's work, it seems. Now we just need the cocktail.

In short, Just Cause is the kind of unhinged action game that lets you do stuff you wouldn't be able to do in real life - whether that's driving cars at ridiculous speeds, shooting planes down with giant guns or, you know, paragliding down a motorway. And we can't help loving it for it.

Set on the fictional island of San Esperito, the game world measures an incredible 32 by 32 kilometres, or 253,036 acres, and is made up in 34 provinces. In other words, it's huge; the "biggest world ever in a game", according to Eidos, with the exception of some flight sims. The capital city alone, they reckon, is equal in size to GTA's Liberty City.

It's a tropical paradise, complete with lush jungles, sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. Oh, plus corrupt police, homicidal guerrillas and a mentalist dictatorial regime. Rico's agency has decided it's about time said regime got turfed out, and that he's the man for the job - so the start of the game sees you parachuting in from a carrier plane high above the island.

Free as a bird

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Meet Rico, a man who's afraid of nothing. But never remembers to turn the gas off.

As you descend into freefall, you get your first taste of the sense of freedom offered by the game. Rico's parachute features some kind of crazy new CIA technology that allows you to release and retract the 'chute at any point. The 360 degree camera allows you go get a full view of the island, and a feeling for just how much ground you're going to have to cover.

On landing, you'll notice a high level of detail to the environments - in the Xbox 360 version, which is the one we got to see, you can zoom right in to see individual blades of grass, if you like that sort of thing, and there are some great light and shadow effects. The island also has a full, randomly generating weather system (unless you're playing the PS2 version), complete with rain, thunder and lightning.

But who cares about all that nonsense? There's work to be done. There are 21 story missions, which might not sound like an awful lot, but then there are the nine racing missions, 13 collecting missions and 112 side missions. Oh, and 135 missions which see you "liberating" the likes of military strongholds, government bases and drug barons' villas. So nearly 300 in total, then - which is in itself a silly number.

Your first priority will be to work out how to get around the island - which generally involves nicking yourself a nice vehicle. There are nearly 90 different types in the game, and while most of these are 1950s cars, you can also expect to see lorries, motorbikes, tanks, jetskis and the like.

But don't go thinking it's simply a matter of pulling off a quick carjack and driving off at speed. That's perfectly possible, of course, but why not make things a bit more interesting by pressing the A button to adopt a "stunt position" on the vehicle's roof? Yes, very silly, but rather cool all the same.

From that position, you can release your parachute, if you so desire, and go soaring up into the air. And once you're flying, you can use your grappling hook to grab on to the vehicle, which will then pull you along. Best of all, you can then retract the grapple before releasing it to grab the car in front, repeating the maneouevre to pull yourself right along the road using all the vehicles you can see like some kind of funky monkey bars. Ace.

Action stations

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Makes a nice change from the tube, anyway.

Once you've reached the location of your mission, as indicated on the map and by arrows in-game, the fun really begins. To demonstrate this, Eidos showed us a mission where your task is to intercept a drug dealer arriving at the airport, and get rid of him so you can take his place and get in with the local cartel.

Now, the simplest way to do this, of course, would be to get yourself a vehicle, race after his car, and shoot the beggar. But where's the fun in that? Instead, you can use your parachute to land directly on the car he's in, then kick out the driver and take his place, so that the drug dealer is now your prisoner. Nice.

Once again, you could just shoot him at this point. But why bother when you can put your foot down and drive straight towards the edge of a cliff, leaping out and releasing your parachute at precisely the last moment? Thus leaving the car and its passenger to meet a grisly end on the rocks below...

Of course, things don't always work out they way you might have planned, what with the police, the drug dealers and the guerrillas to contend with. If you find yourself in a tight spot at any time, you can call for an extraction via your PDA. This will send up a smoke flare, and a helicopter will pop down, pick you up and return you to your safe house, where you can stock up on health power-ups, guns and ammo.

As you might expect, there's a wide range of weapons to choose from - the best one we saw was the rocket launcher, which is handy for blowing up helicopters and causing absolute carnage on the streets.

But if you get tired of all that carnage, or of completing all those missions, it looks like there's still fun to be had just exploring the island, what with it being so vast and varied. According to Eidos, environments include an oil rig you can base jump off and a volcano with a whorehouse in the middle - can't wait to see that one.

Or why not go for a swim off one of the island's glorious beaches? Once again, the level of detail here is amazing - pop your head under the water and you'll see ridges in the sand, tiny fish swimming out in and out of coral reefs, evil-eyed sharks and even sunken wrecks. And if you're feeling lazy you can always hoon around on your underwater scooter.

Take your pick

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'Wheeeeeee!' Or perhaps not.

Of course, your idea of fun might not be mucking about in the sea, scooter or no scooter - but the point is, Just Cause is designed to offer loads of different options. If you like zooming around in fast cars, you can go right ahead; if you're a Pilotwings fan, you might find the parachute becomes your preferred mode of transport. If you get bored of one mission, you can just leave it for later - there are plenty of others to choose from. Of course, you'll probably want to try out the old grappling hook-helicopter trick at some point, because it's just great fun.

Which, by the looks of things, pretty much sums up Just Cause. It's all about mucking about with big guns, experimenting with your parachute and grappling hook, working out which vehicles get you where you need to be fastest, discovering exciting locations and generally exploring all the game's elements - and having a great time doing it all.

And from what we've seen so far, it all works well; there were some issues with collision and vehicle handling, and at times it seemed we were spending too much time getting from place to place and not enough in the heart of the action. But Eidos assured us we were playing an old build of the game, and that these problems have been ironed out for the finished version. So if you've had enough of gritty urban gangbangers, hyper-realistic shooters and fancy something a bit more unhinged, Just Cause looks well worth keeping an eye out for.

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