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Just Cause 2

It's Rico time.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

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.

The PS3 version allows for pretty much instantaneous uploads of the last 10 minutes of gameplay to YouTube.

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.

Blow up a Humvee and there's a good chance the car door will spin on one end for about 20 seconds. If it's a bug, they should totally leave it in.

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.