For a game named after the real-life 1989-90 U.S. invasion of Panama, you might expect it to cleave to a somewhat realistic depiction of political espionage and endogenous warfare. But after about the 16th time you’ve leapt from a burning building, grappling-hooked onto an enemy helicopter, flown said helicopter into a bridge, and parachuted safely onto a speeding boat, you begin to realize that it’s more concerned with awesomeness than authenticity.
Which really is what makes it so fun. The story is pretty simple: Rico Rodriguez, our accented but otherwise personality-free protagonist, is airdropped onto Panau, an idyllic Southeast Asian island nation with desktop-background vistas, tasked with overthrowing its iron-fisted despot. To that end, you will steal, shoot, kill entire commando units, and destroy as much government property as you can get your hands on. Think of it as Grand Theft Autocracy. It shares the same gonzo, anything-goes spirit as that other sandbox-game franchise, even if the gameplay doesn’t quite reach the same heights.
The island world is expansive, detailed, and vastly explorable. It would be easy to sink many, many (many) hours into uncovering all the secret items and missions stuffed into every shoal and atoll. But even if you’re more linear-minded and willing to ignore those extraneous bits, it’s still necessary to do a healthy amount of trekking. In order to advance the story you have to amass enough “Chaos Points,” which are doled out for completing tasks and, primarily, blowing stuff up. The variety of means and methods to wreak your carnage helps keep the mindless destruction from getting too mindless, but there are the occasional lulls where GTA always kept the momentum going and the blood flowing. The controls take a bit of time to get used to, but once you are skilled enough to start pulling off the ballistic, multi-vehicle, inferno-escaping stunts that make True Lies look like a Merchant/Ivory production, you realize that the wait was more than worth it. B+