There are occasions where I find myself in need of cleansing. Complex thought processes are sometimes unnecessary after all. Simple things are good; a beer, for instance. A beer and a video game combined can prove to be a simple yet highly rewarding pleasure. The more they are consumed together though, the more complex things become. That is why the choice of game is as, if not more, important than the choice of beverage.
It recently fell on Just Cause 2 to be the shining light in my campaign of substance-assisted enjoyment. Here was a game entirely built upon the giddy joy of self-indulgence. Everything about it is excessive; the size of its world, Panau, the focus on causing ‘chaos’ through destruction and the central mechanic of using a grappling hook and parachute to traverse the former in search of the latter.
I am no stranger to any of these things. I played the game upon release, completely sober, and enjoyed it to a point though never got close to finishing it. While it offers up levity in spades it is also a video game and as such I always felt it was let down by this. It adheres too closely to the hallowed teachings of Grand Theft Auto III and seemingly fails to understand that they cannot simply be extrapolated whole-hog and grafted onto such a fundamentally different game. Everything is bigger, the world, the buildings, the intensity, but to what end if the game relies so heavily on a structure and mechanics that do not suit its inflated stature? It also lacks much of its inspiration’s narrative charm and appeal, rendering its shortcomings even more egregious.
Missions are often placed kilometres apart and necessitate either lengthy travel or a jarring load. Enemies are plentiful and accurate yet health supplies are sporadic and easily missed in the open environments. Destruction is the core conceit of the entire game yet I can only carry a limited number of explosives before I have to detour and scavenge for a resupply or order them from another load screen. Even when fully equipped, collectibles get in the way of the destruction, barring the completion of areas of the map. I wanted to feel like a latter day Rambo, I even felt like the game wanted me to, but my empowerment was constantly blocked by its strict adherence to unsuitable mechanics. Although I did enjoy jumping out of a plane and almost hitting the ground only to grapple the last six feet and forgo injury; that was a good mechanic. It was with that I left Just Cause 2, seemingly never to return.
Having a few beers can often change one’s perception of situations, however, and so I found myself longing for the verdant Panau once again. A couple of years older, and at this point in the night obviously wiser, I took it upon myself to right the wrongs of the past. I would no longer allow the game to let itself down by simply trying to fit in with the crowd. No. Just Cause 2 would soar like the majestic bird of prey it was. I had simply found it in the wilderness with a broken wing; all it needed was a splint and some love and it would surely grow into its potential. Though let us not dress things up, I cheated.
I didn’t like the game as it came, time could not change that, but altering it almost beyond recognition might, thought my easily influenced (at this point) mind. I installed a whole host of additions that were seemingly made to alleviate the issues I had taken exception to. No death, super long grapple to cover distances quickly, infinite ammunition to blow things up, a lovely set of new clouds. People had made these things so surely I was not the only one who had sighed at the game’s untapped potential. Not that it justifies cheating in any way; I was just drunk and idealistic, like a student as it were.
I found the game much more palatable played in the way I had always intended. Challenge was never something I though should be the main focus, so bowling through army bases and villages without fear of death never felt like I was undermining the game. I was a ridiculous action hero finally being able to act like a ridiculous action hero. Enemies fell at my feats; a shotgun blast here, a chopper to the back of the head there; I was experimenting with the game’s wealth of possibilities. Of course it was easy, I wanted it to be that way; I was drinking cava.
It was more than that, though, it was instant. Most of my foibles with the game stemmed from its terrible pacing. A game like this is not like a film or a song. They harbour dynamics; in that the best examples of each enthral through both their loud and quiet moments. Just Cause 2, conversely, lives through its loud moments and the rest is merely time spent getting from one to the next. Nothing outside of the structured tasks is engaging, though the game insists upon us deviating from its compelling parts. The ‘chaos’ which meters both story and side missions is only attainable through destruction; fail to accrue enough doing the meaningful things and you are forced to arbitrarily eke out more by yourself. I simply wanted to alleviate the strain of the padding and play the parts of the game which were given the most care and attention. Unfortunately time and the contents of my bloodstream conspired against me and forced me to retire, so further discover was postponed.
Refreshed by my undisturbed slumber, beer naturally hand, it became apparent that what Just Cause 2 most lacked was the soul of a compelling story. However much I attempted to bolster the game play I was always without a definitive reason for doing any of it. Missions had briefings like ‘find the bad general’ and ‘rescue the operative’ but they never dared be any more involving. The general premise of ‘you are an action hero here to depose a tyrant’ never seemed to develop any more depth. I was drinking so this of course bothered me not, though memories of my sober disappointment echoed loudly.
My time with the game continued, though I couldn’t shake my disappointments. Blowing things up began to grate as the targets of my fury became the same few objects throughout the island. Radio antennae look strangely beautiful as they collapse into chunks of scrap metal but seeing it happen every ten minutes brought into sharp focus the shallow nature of the game. Cheating had sidestepped some issues only to give me others to take exception to. The experience became as hollow as a weekend spent drinking alone; all of the mess but no tangible rewards.
I could barely remember what I was doing by late afternoon thanks to the drink, though I couldn’t attribute my amnesia to substance abuse alone. The game was simply too single-minded for me to handle regardless of my levels of inebriation. A sober me found the pacing and lack of direction infuriating while the drunkard tired of its repetitive nature when modifications removed the padding. ‘I don’t really like Just Cause 2’ I thought to myself, evidently drinking isn’t always the answer.