JUST CAUSE 2 or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love American Interventionist Policy As Entertainment3 Comments | Posted: May 18th, 2010 | Filed under: Reviews, video games
It was somewhere in the middle of my fifth or sixth sortie of the day, wiping out government facilities and terrorizing the populace of the small archipelago nation Panau that it hit me: Just Cause 2 is perhaps the ultimate interactive expression of America’s terrifying older-brother stance towards smaller countries that possess resources we desire. Sure, there are games that throw you into the middle of recent middle eastern conflicts for the sake of shooting people in different ways, but this game was different. In it, players control the actions of Rico Rodriguez, a CIA operative who is given carte blanche to create chaos (something that is literally used as a metric in gameplay,) and sway a small island nation towards a more US-friendly stance. I first attempted to stick to military targets — the mission parameters were vague enough that I thought I could advance by being somewhat honorable in my intentions — while helping various gangs gain more territory and further mire Baby Panay’s administration in woes that could further the American agenda with the country. While it was on a bigger scale, the general idea was close to how I played Grand Theft Auto IV: honorable, even if there was the occasional unnecessary explosion. That didn’t last.
While between missions and assignments, I found myself planting explosives on water towers in small desert villages and randomly destroying oil pipelines that kept the population employed; collecting powerups wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I needed to see more devastation, more destruction. I would drive past soldiers patrolling an area, minding their own business, and hop out of my car just to use a grappling gun to attach one to the bumper and drive down the road. I drove to an airport, stole an ersatz 747, and crashed it into massive fuel tanks at a working harbor just to more spectacularly tick that location off my “places to visit” list. The more I upgraded my weaponry by picking up units scattered across the map, the better I could explode things that offended me. The game’s mechanics aren’t perfect, but there’s enough of a visceral thrill to doing ludicrous amounts of destruction that I soon forgave a lot of the quirks and start to learn how to use the system’s ridiculous (if oddly consistent) interpretations of the laws of physics to my advantage.
The game’s mechanics and playability aside, what’s truly fascinating is how Just Cause 2 doesn’t even couch the “America does bad things because it can” message in flowery rhetoric: the CIA operative that you make contact with explicitly states that you are wreaking havoc on the general populace and working with drug dealers and revolutionaries all for the sake of Jed Clampett’s cash crop, and it’d be really great if you kept doing more of that, thanks. While your opponents are overblown cartoons and your character’s Spanish accent is unforgivably close to Triumph The Insult Comic Dog’s, the central truth of the game is actually kind of chilling, even as it’s played with just enough spin to act as a satirical goof on film and video game tropes: America isn’t really a great neighbor to other countries; our government does pretty horrible things in our national interest, particularly when it comes to petroleum.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to base-jump off a skyscraper for points before destroying a propaganda trailer and starting a firefight on an oil rig. Go USA!