Apologies for the title. It’s geting late and something like ‘JC2 – thoughts on’ or ‘retrospective’ or ‘post play analysis’ sounded way too serious for something as frivolous as Just Cause 2.
I finished the game over the weekend, having completed all faction and agency missions. It has been quite a ride. However when rolling down a highway in a tank shooting up all the traffic just to see if anybody will stop you only provokes ennui… well, in the words of Just Cause 2 anonymous bark #126: “It’s time to end this!” Here are some my final thoughts on the game in the hope that I can stop playing now. At 55% completion. I know that the rest is just busywork. Who needs that? Right?
It was only gradually that the satirical intentions of the developers dawned on me. Yes, the whole thing is ridiculous and preposterous from the get-go but that’s what we’re accustomed to, right? Does the story then work as a satire of American interventionism? Not really. Partly because it doesn’t work as a story. It goes in fits and starts down the ‘something big is at stake’ road and on to the final confrontation with Baby. It only really unfolds in cut-scene expositions, though. Of course, this sort of storytelling is perfect on the money if the objective is to follow the conventions of action spy fiction. James Bond is an obvious touch stone here. I can’t define satire but doing the same thing – only more so – with an ironic attitude and horrible quips… hardly qualifies.
(And I do mean horrible as in not well written, not as in so-bad-it’s-good. Seriously “Try to pump oil, now, punks” is supposed to highlight having just blown up a pipeline? If you aren’t even going to go for a bad pun or putdown, what’s the point? You might as well just phrase it in a stating-the-obvious way: “You people cannot pump oil now and for that I despise you.”)
I think it’a worth highlighting the nationality of the developer here. This is a European (Swedish) view of American hypocrisy. And as such they have but two perspective: 1) American interventionism is based on bad reasoning and is sold to us using bullshit by the truckload and 2) but we’re in awe of American power and tech and bombs and explosions and will you look at that guy jumping out of a burning airplane. I don’t think it’s an accident that good satire of American foreign policy post-9/11 has come from the within the USA itself (Fahrentheit 9/11, The Daily Show, Team America World Police etc.) For whatever reason outsiders tend to end up with cliched caricatures rather than proper characters.
And as for the mandatory ludonarrative dissonance review: Well, I suppose it gets a pass. Causing chaos does tie in nicely with the sort of dumb satire that the game is attempting. It doesn’t matter that the havoc you’re wreaking isn’t helping anybody or anything. You’re not a freedom fighter; you’re a moron, working for assholes. Destroying villagers’ water towers out of spite is exactly what you should be doing. As Rico himself says: “I never did understand the politics”. Is it ironic? Does Rico’s final act of rebellion against his overlords redeem him as an agent and a hero? That he is not just a tool, in every sense of the word? Maybe. But that would just make him an asshole instead of a moron. Take your pick.
A year ago I played a lot of Far Cry 3. Far Cry 3 was very distinct from Far Cry 2. Now I know why. I’m not saying Ubisoft copied JC2 wholesale. They did make some important alterations, especially with regard to difficulty, giving magic powers – omniscience, x-ray vision – to the player and taking them away , along with tactics and aiming, from the AI. I ended up playing a somewhat Just Causy Far Cry 3 because I modded the magic out and I do believe that experience – Ziggy’s Far Cry 3 – was better than Just Cause 2. The shooting in jC2 is a bit meh and tactics aren’t really much of an issue. Be economical with your bullets and don’t take on too many opponents at the same time. There are distinct styles of fighting but this is no RPGlite: You go in guns blazing and then you run away and wait for things to cool down. As with everything JC2 does, it’s either or, no subtlety, no shades of gray. In Far Cry 3 some of the best moments we’re about running away and hiding. In JC2 it’s just downtime, waiting for the omnisicence meter to run out. I don’t know if the waves upon waves of enemies is a part of the satire but it makes taking and inflicting damage sort of insignificant. Far Cry 3’s outposts are puny in comparison to the bases you take over again and again in JC2 but I’m definitely in the less is more camp with Ubisoft here.
As for the slingshot and parachutes… Maybe I’ve just been playing too long – all novelty wears off – but it’s utilitarian more than a draw for me. One thing I do think JC2 does really well is vehicles. Yes, they’re all a bit wooden but they have character – more than any person in the narrative – and some of them are genuinely a joy to drive, some of them I curse at. The races tend to be far more tense and exciting than the moronic samey-samey missions.
As Nas said, The world is yours. Nowhere more so than in Just Cause 2. It has been pointed out again and agin that this is a big sandbox and it is. There is enjoyment to be had just setting yourself a target of getting from point A to point B, using say only bikes – just as an excuse to experience the islands. The scenery is reasonably varied and the architecture is well crafted. Yes, there is a sense in which the whole thing is a bit Pomtekiny and cardboardy but the game is five years old and that issue is still with us so I think that Avalanche Studios actually did a fine job.
In comparison to Far Cry, Ubisoft wins on sensory input and depth – interacting with Rakyat island has more feel, touch, smell – but Avalanche wins big on scale and variety. Thought has been put into the layout of places so that it makes sense that people could live there. For instance, a tourist resort island for foreigners has a little slum village on the not-so-sunny side where the local help lives; the racetrack is within travelling distance of the capital, etc. There are exceptions – the ridiculous industry island especially – but as a general rule this feels more like a genuine place with social issues, economy, traffic, geography and history as opposed to a place crafted by level designers.
Just Cause 2 has pushed most other games aside for a month or two. That is saying something. Mostly that is testament to the places Avalanche has crafted. I could easily have spent twice as long in Panau if there had been more satisfying ways to interact with it. But that would require that you weren’t forced into a bad 80s action fantasy masquerading as a satire of same. In other words that you weren’t roleplaying as a moron.