On Screwing Around


Just Cause 2 is now a real thing people are playing. And, more gratifyingly for me, a much yakked-about Big Deal in the way the first never was. This is the sequel to a unique and majestic game that I haven’t stopped playing in the four years since it came out, but one so many people were maddeningly dismissive of. However deliriously excited I got for the sequel, I was never confident it could vault the bizarre wall of apathy some people erect around phenomenal works that come from unrecognised sources.

It’s gone down so well that – and you couldn’t say this of the first game – there may actually be people in the world who like it more than me. Not by a lot. It’s the ultimate screw-around game, and I love screwing around; I spend 80% of my gaming life doing it. I have answered the question “What are you doing?” with “Stabbing this explosive barrel to see if that makes it blow up.”


Just Cause 2 makes me realise that, in a lot of those cases, I wasn’t screwing around in a sandbox. I was blundering drunkenly onto a movie set, punching the love interest and setting off the pyrotechics. Here, though, I’m screwing around with things that were pretty much put there to be screwed with. Avalanche had a feeling I might tie a tank to a passenger jet at take-off, so they made sure I could.


It’s an amazing feeling, and no game has ever really catered to it like this. Played at its best, Just Cause 2 is raw science: curiosity, experiment, volatile result. But it is catered to. These elements were put here for me to mess up, and for that reason none of them are important. I am a destructive child whose attentive parents have given him things they can afford to lose. Toys.

I can tie a tank to a passenger jet, but it’s a tank and a passenger jet. The game has more, and they’ll spawn in seconds. I’m interested in the physical result of my tinkering, but I already know the real result: nothing. Nothing can ever happen. They can’t give me anything significant, because they know I’d tie it to a ski lift until it split in two. Missions can make a helicopter the objective, but that doesn’t make it important – it just bolts on an arbitrary failure state. Missions provide a sort of ‘serving suggestion’ for the mayhem, but they don’t spice it up.


So I’m in the playpen. On the up side: woo! Playing! On the down: I kinda want to fuck with the grown up stuff after a while. Because I’m not just a child, a scientist, and a brat. I’m a tempest of genuine malice, a power-thirsty psychopath with a crowbar of dysfunction. I want to tinker, but not just with the Mechano set. I want to break the car.

I’m not saying I need more power in Just Cause 2: I’m already a demon, and the mods make me a God. I want things to have power over. The Colonels are a start: named, unique, significant, killable. But I don’t want to “lower military morale”. Some of the stuff I’ve done in this game would scare nations. I want that popup text to read “Holy fuck. What have you done. Everything is dead.” I want to conquer whole regions when this stuff happens: not easily, not through superpowers, and not right away. But I want whatever ridiculous stuff I screw around with to have an effect I can point to.


These aren’t reasons I don’t like the game. I’ve played it seventy hours, it surpasses one of my all-time favourites in nearly every way, and it’s the most astonishing piece of technology my machine has ever crunched. This is just to paint a picture of where I’d like to see stuff like this go next. Avalanche have conquered the screw-around game to an extent it would have taken backward cinephiles like Rockstar a decade to catch up with. Now I’m interested in the fuck-it-up game: something where I’m allowed to break what they can’t easily replace, and throw a spanner in a machine so large it does something more violent and terrible than explode and respawn.


43 Replies to “On Screwing Around”

  1. I was pretty much oblivious to this game until a week or so ago. And then I read the “Six things you have to try in Just Cause 2” article on PCG and watched the videos. I saw the one where a bunch of soldiers are tethered to the helicopter to create a giant living screaming nursery mobile, and I knew I had to get this game. THEN I learned that there’s a flyable hot air balloon tucked away in the world, and I thought of combining it with those dual grenade launchers, and got very excited. IRL I occasionally mess around in hot air balloons, but I’ve never been allowed to take up even a single grenade launcher. Finally my dream can come true.

    The only reason I haven’t bought it yet is that I’ve got a university degree to mostly finish over the next month. Roll on May…

  2. I notice you have used the multi-grapple external modification.
    Good for you. They can’t tie us down to just one cable (Pun intended).
    If at all possible, Just Cause 3 better have 2-4 player coop AT LEAST.
    Sure, you can tie a tank to a helicopter, and drive away. But can you use BOTH at ONCE? Flip a tank upside-down, land a jet on top of it, and take turns being the top and bottom gunner? These things are currently only marginally possible in JC2, and only because you can get out and switch around in mid-flight. But god help the army who sees me driving a jet with a tank with my buddy inside tied to it and a parasailing friend with an attack chopper. Whether or not we even LAND that beast, we are going to fuck their shit up.

  3. Shit story.
    Shit voice acting.
    Shit characters.
    Okay gameplay.
    Boring world.
    Great sandbox.
    Rockstar did better.

    The grapple hook is nice, though.

  4. I think that picture of you swinging around on the helicopter really explains what JC2 is about.

  5. @CheeseLord
    GTA IV:
    Shit story.
    Great voice acting.
    Shit characters.
    Okay gameplay.
    Great world.
    Boring sandbox.

    To be honest, I think JC2 alone is going to persuade me to get Win7.

  6. @Lack_26
    I’d be tempted to say that GTA4 had decent gameplay, good story and good sandbox.
    San Andreas was even better in terms of freedom.
    JC1 and JC2 just feel so unpolished, they feel like a bunch of gimmicks attatched to a bland third-person shooter. The story gives no direction. The world looks like it was copied-and-pasted with slight changes in color.
    JC2 is a good game and has lots of pointless things to do, but San Andreas and GTA4 just had so many more things to see, and slightly less pointless things to do.

  7. Oh yeah, and JC1 is the worst game that I’ve ever spent $20 on. If I could get those $20 back I would, but the game is so shit nobody will buy it, even on Ebay.

  8. There is a glaring disconnect between what the on screen text tells you when you kill a general or blow up a pipeline and what actually happens. I never got a sense that military morale was lowered, or that I’d disrupted oil distribution (there are as many cars running as ever – even if i destroy petrol stations.)

    Also, at this point, the civillians indifference towards me is comical – I’ve probably made life much harder for them than I have the government.

    All that said, when I do blow up a pipeline and Rico says “take that, pipeline jerks!” all is forgiven.

  9. That saminess and lack of consequence is the major reason I don’t quite buy Tom’s description of Just Cause as ‘a unique and majestic game [… which] so many people were maddeningly dismissive of’. Everything was the bloody same everywhere, meaning that you were trapped in a small room with a quite good gimmick attached to a buggy, mediocre action game. Just Cause 2 appears to have taken the big next step by creating genuinely different environments and reducing copy-paste syndrome – now when you travel, you wind up somewhere else! Different sights and sounds, different vehicles and targets, different goofy little Easter eggs to uncover. It’s the reason I’m excited for Just Cause 2.

  10. Oops, also:

    Now I’m interested in the fuck-it-up game: something where I’m allowed to break what they can’t easily replace, and throw a spanner in a machine so large it does something more violent and terrible than explode and respawn.

    Has anyone done this as well as Bethesda with Fallout 3? I can’t even think of any other examples right now, let alone good ones.

  11. @CheeseLord,

    Yeah, I was a bit harsh on GTA IV, I was just a bit disappointed by the level of freedom compared to San An, I never got the same feeling of ‘Let’s do stupid stuff’ that I did with the earlier GTA’s. It’s a great world, I just feel that that’s all it was, there was never that much to do with it.

    Now, if you put a grappling hook in it then I would be happy.

  12. To be fair, I honestly think that Red faction: Guerilla was a better Sandbox game than Just Cause 2, in some respects and certainly it allowed you to screw everything over in such an apocalyptic way that you couldn’t really fix it.
    Mind you, that was also just because you had the hammer of the gods at your disposal, and enough high explosives to level a small city.

    Now what I want to see is the complete destructive nature of Guerilla (I still have no idea how to spell that properly =P) and the massive world of Just Cause melded together, it would be glorious. And of course the power of hammers and grappling hooks would be united at last. A wonderful union to be sure.

    Oh, and @Gamergeneral: You sir, should be a game developer, a visionary in your field you will be.

    @CheeseLord: Surely there should be an “in my opinion” or “I think” in front of your statements, rather than just decreeing that Just Cause 1 and 2 are terribad. And Rockstar? Feh, Realtime Worlds: Crackdown, a better game than any of the GTA’s. *is controversial, yet to lazy to back up his opinion*

  13. I’d say the awful story, comically bad, borderling racist voice acting is all part of the 80s action flick charm.

    Quite simply, I haven’t hid this much fun in a sandbox since San Andreas, and that was a LONG time ago.

  14. @Lack_26
    My first GTA was GTA 4, but I have to admit that San Andreas is a masterpiece. The Bionic Commando-esque grapple would be epic in GTA.

    I don’t think JC2 is shithouse, it has numerous redeeming qualities which I failed to mention, I was pointing out how false Tom Francis’ view was.
    Just Cause 1, however, was epicly shithouse.

  15. I don’t know. The more I hear about this game the less I think I’d actually enjoy it. Whats the point? Why am I doing all of this? What do they possibly do to make me care about the game, other then make it fun. Because sometimes the “its fun to screw around” factor doesn’t work.

  16. Sorry, but I can’t trust the opinion of someone who uses the phrase “epicly shithouse.” I am sure there are some dark corners of the internet where “nounly noun” is an acceptable structure for an adjectival phrase, but I don’t want to visit them. JC2, welcome to my Steam library.

  17. @DoctorDisaster
    Unlike you I actually have a life, I typed my post up in a hurry. “Epic” is both an adjective and a noun, by the way. Welcome to the 21st century.

  18. I’m guessing you played this with an xbox controller or something.

    I got the game for pc and it being a console port trying to play with a keyboard and mouse was absolutely horrendous. The controls were so frustrating. I gave up after and hour and a half of gameplay. I just couldn’t take it

  19. i like this game, its also fun to play with friends. me and some buds were at a friends house and he wen to the bathroom. when he was gone we spent like 2 million dollars on planes and cars and just smashed into stuff

  20. @Cheeselord

    GTA4 was so damn restricting, They sucked all the fun out of the game for “Realism.”

    The whole point of the GTA games (For me, anyways) was the over-the-top crazy things i could do. SA is the pinnacle of the series in my book.

    Just Cause 1 was a decent game, it was generic, but it had a huge world. I sensed that the dev’s wanted to do a lot more with it than they were able to. Just Cause 2 improves 1000% on the original. It’s great, It is one of the greatest fuck-around games of all time.

    If they incorporate the elements Tom was talking about in a previous post about it, for the third. Then it will be the greatest sandbox game of all time (for me).

    That said, as of right now, Saints Row 2 still takes the cake (for me). Oh man, If i had the Dual Hook in Saints Row 2, that’d be madness.

  21. Goddamn realism, I was telling a friend about how to take a helicopter out in JC2 (grapple onto it, beat up the pilot, fly it into something explosive). Their response: “Omg, so unrealistic!”.

    Much better then BC2 where the method of taking a helicopter down is to shoot rockets at it and pray imo.

    That said the grappling hook is probably the most fun way of moving around since the portal gun or Faith jumping about.

  22. @Calhoun
    I never found GTA4 very restricting, it has the best world created in a video game I have seen. The level of detail is amazing and the physics make it all the more fun. The amount of control over vehicles (especially bikes) was great. In my eyes GTA4 literally has a “living, breathing world.”
    JC2 has a bigger world but there’s nothing going on in it, all the jungles and buildings are identical and the AI is retarded. These problems are present even more so in JC1.
    I never found Saints Row 2 very entertaining, everything it does was done better in GTA:SA, GTA4 or Red Faction: Guerrilla. But perhaps this is just a difference of opinion.

  23. I appreciated the driving, world and co-op fuck around in GTAIV but that’s it. I personally feel the story was just dull and the missions for the most part a chore. Oh and the music through the end credits was good.

    Soon after ordering JC2 I was thinking “Why have I bought another sandbox?”. After stealing a fighter jet and climbing as far as I could into the sky then jumping out and free falling for what felt like atleast 5 minutes before landing in a lush flower carpeted meadow, it all clicked.

    Any game that lets me attach a Jeep to my chopper and spin the occupants around while they’re still firing at me, and then smashing them into another chopper gets two thumbs up from me.

  24. That second image… you included the ROFLCOPTER HERE?!
    i am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO getting this game.

  25. I think Co-Op would be amazing.

    Especially if you could attach grapples to teammates. And with the Multi-grapple mod, you could do some serious damage.

    From what I’ve got from the game so far, they need to add a LOT more easter eggs. They’ve got easter eggs, and that’s great, but they need to add some more really difficult achievements. one thing in San Andreas that disappointed me was the lack of Bigfoot. There were rumors going around that he was in there, and I was young, willing to believe anything. I spent almost 2 days, more or less non-stop gametime, searching for a nonexistent creature. And I had fun while doing it. Walking around, constantly looking around, rocket launcher in hand in case worse came to worse.

    I think if nothing else, Squeenix should be adding stuff like that. The game world is so massive, that for people who get bored with grappling and blowing stuff up, they can explore it. The world feels empty in some parts.

    Basically, the world feels like it has people who are indifferent to you, people who are your “allies” and people who shoot you on sight.

    But what if there were various things out in the mountains, desert, forest, deep water that were just there to be discovered. No special achievement for killing them. They simply run away. In order to make it seem like a real feat to see them, they’d probably have to have various spawn locations, and switch between them every so often. Even though I don’t believe in a lot of the “bigfoot, Chupacabra” stories, I love the idea of them.

    The game setting is so varied that you could have various ones. Bigfoot here, Yeti or group of yetis there. Maybe a giant Nessie locked away in some body of water. Maybe looking up you’ll see a Mothman flying overhead.

    Regardless, enough of my odd desires for a game.

    As for GTAIV vs San Andreas, SA is easily my favorite GTA game. I loved Vice City, and IV’s physics and other things were better, but the world San Andreas had made for a setting more…realistic than a simple city. Maybe it’s because I live in a somewhat rural area, but the world is more than big cities, and there are GTA like problems everywhere. Weed is usually grown in rural areas, and GTA San Andreas touched on that.

    I’ve yet to buy GTA 4, and won’t buy the next one unless they decide to make it a more varied area. The idea of San Andreas combined with the gameplay and physics of GTAIV makes me happy though.

  26. Hah, pretty much this exact argument takes place at 33 minutes in The Idle Thumbs Podcast episode 4. One point I hadn’t seen here is the positive/negative dimension of dissonance between screwing around and a world that encourages or discourages it.

    I also hadn’t thought about screwing around as being an especially relaxing activity, which is pretty funny in retrospect. I guess sometimes you just want to float down on a parachute for half an hour, and when that’s what you want it’s nice not to have Mr. Story ringing your cellphone.

  27. I agree with CheeseLord, JC1 was an utterly terrible piece of shit but it was kind of fun to fuck around in it I guess.

    JC2 is better, not the best though.

  28. Also, ehh, Ninja, serious case of calling something better than something else you’ve never experienced there. You seriously said “I have not bought GTA IV” and then called San Andreas the better game.

  29. Of course. But two words: ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’. For example, I know that the weight-training RPG grind bullshit in GTA:San Andreas would infuriate me. Also that getting kicked in the nuts by a biker would hurt. I’ve tried neither experience, oh the hypocrisy.

    Also, after tl;rambling wishlist;dring it the first time I read Ninja’s actual comment. ‘I loved Vice City, and IV’s physics and other things were better[…]’ implies to me that he has in fact played it.

  30. Just tried out the original Just Cause earlier. So you have this parachute. And like, you can just leap hundreds of feet into the air by opening this parachute while you’re on a bike – the drag creates lift and you’re away. And it’s great. I’m not seeing the problem with this game here.

  31. http://www.pentadact.com/index.php/2009-10-25-whats-wrong-with-just-cause

    Interestingly – to me – the impression I get is that Just Cause 2’s mindshare actually does derive from pleasing the entitled dullards Tom was semi-reacting to there. JC2 doesn’t add huge amounts of hand-scripted content, but I get the impression that it reached some critical mass of ‘any’ content outside of the missions – different places to go and things to find.

    Either that or people’s brains just needed two tries to get it.

  32. There was one moment in the game that was awesome in concept and fits in the “Fuck it Up” category of game, which was the mission that involved the island in the upper left. I won’t go into it too much for those that haven’t done that mission yet, but if the major set piece there had been transplanted to a more prominent location (and maybe tuned down a bit), I think there could have been even more catharsis involved in its destruction (or better yet, in its assimilation).

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