Just Cause takes place on the (fictional) Caribbean island of San Esperito. The player can drive nearly every vehicle under the sun, as well as climb about on them while moving at high speeds and jumping onto other nearby cars, trucks, tanks, helicopters, etc. Notable for the inclusion of a grappling hook, which allows Rico to rappel onto moving vehicles from a distance, and a parachute, which allows for all manner of aerial stunts.
The game provides examples of:
- Banana Republic: The dictatorship of San Esperito.
- Big Bad: General Mendoza.
- Car Fu: The bulk of the possible stunts fall into this category.
- The Cartel: The Rioja and Montano factions.
- Color-Coded Armies: La Résistance is Green, Mendoza's army is Grey, the allied drug cartel is Yellow, and the enemy drug cartel use violet.
- Conspiracy Placement: The vehicles provided to Rico by the allegedly top-secret Agency all bear a black paintjob adorned with a large Agency seal.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: While there's action to be had, the game lacks the gratuitous explosions and wanton destruction the later games are famous for.
- Excuse Plot: You're there to overthrow an evil dictator. Politics? What politics?
- Flat Character: The writer, Christofer Sundberg, has said he felt Rico was this and the game is an Old Shame.
- The Generalissimo: Salvador Mendoza; he did not get much character development, but he definitely looked the part.
- Guns Akimbo: Only with the standard revolvers.
- Grappling-Hook Pistol: The first version of the game is a primitive implementation compared to the sequels. The grapple occupies a weapon slot (and needs to be selected), and can only latch on to vehicles (where Rico can either paraglide or reel in to hijack).
- Revolvers Are Just Better: Rico's standard guns are a pair of revolvers with infinite reserve ammo - weak, but useful for saving ammo for your other guns.
- Soft Water: Played straight.
- Spinning Paper: The cutscene after killing Kleiner (a Nazi scientist) is a propoganda article about the Arms Fair gun money helping children, and an article about terrorists attacking a train.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: When Rico confronts Salvador Mendoza on his plane, Mendoza claims, "I must warn you, I have seen Air Force One six times, and I assure you, the President always wins." Rico quips that This Is Reality; in reality The Good Guys Always Win, and he's the good guy.