This isn’t something long or thought out–it is just a feeling that I got. Part of this has to do with the draft of an article that Samatha Allen wrote in response to/spurred by/alongside a presentation that I gave at a conference this past weekend.
Just Cause 2 is a game about absolute freedom. Diegetically, the protagonist is a black ops agent inserted into a banana republic to find someone; there are no connections to the locals, no responsibilities, and he works toward his goal constantly. Lateral movement is literally the point of the story.
From a gameplay perspective, the game “works” because the player is constantly doing whatever the fuck she wants to. You see that tower in the distance? Hijack a helicopter, fly to the top of it, jump out the heli, parachute onto the tower. Base jump off the top, parachute at the last moment, and blow up a small town’s water supply. Chaos reigns, literally, because Chaos is a kind of performance currency that the game uses to lock moments away from the player. Can’t progress? Go blow shit up.
But then there are these people. They are locals being detained at a security checkpoint; there are checkpoints on the road leaving most towns. They don’t have any movement ability. They can’t buy or sell goods without being harassed by their own government. And here we see governmental oppression being simulated in front of us.
Most of the time I don’t notice it. Standing on the hood of a car shooting motorcyclists with a shotgun doesn’t give me a lot of time to reflect on my environment.
This time I did.
Having finished the entire game across two long sessions a few weeks ago, I noticed that too. The agency of The Scorpion is in the extreme. And, yes, progress is directly tied to the amount of Chaos you cause. Nothing else matters as long as you continue to cripple the infrastructure and generally take out more economic than military targets.
Yet, unlike Red Faction: Guerrilla, for example, the citizenry doesn’t come to your aid if you have freed them from ideology through wanton demolition. No, as you point out, they remain as they are: prisoners in your personal Eden of everlasting destruction. The game doesn’t even react when you kill them — purposely or not. A true power inversion indeed.