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.