Proposed: Just Cause 2 is the perfect video game. I finished it soon after release, then played it through again about a year later, and am now playing it again a third time. I almost never replay old games, there’s so many new games to try. But Just Cause 2 is the perfect game when I just want to sit down with a beer for an hour and have fun blowing stuff up.
The game is a great combination of elements that all came together. Open world sandbox, fun blowing stuff up, and an amazing movement mechanic that lets you jump and fly and do all sorts of improbable stunts. The world is incredibly detailed and seamless. The rendering is fantastic, particularly the lighting. So much variety; snowy mountain towns, dense jungles, cities, the desert, it’s quite an impressive world design. And there’s a variety of emergent gameplay, particularly in the way you can make mayhem grappling things together and blowing stuff up creatively. I even like the story and voice acting: it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s certainly James Bond. And the thin veneer that somehow you’re a force for good despite the “we destroyed the village to save it” thing is hilarious. (Seriously; you blow up water towers to help The People.)
Just Cause 2 joins a few other open world games I’ve had serious fun in: Saints Row 3, Spiderman 2 (console), Crackdown 1, and Red Faction: Guerrilla. These games are all way more fun for me than any Grand Theft Auto has ever been. GTA games are amazing, particularly technically, but they are so ponderous. Just Cause 2 gets out of the way and just lets you fuck shit up. So much fun.
Bonus links: data analysis of where people died, including an awesome 3d point cloud of player deaths (emergent map!) as well as a heatmap. And the RockPaperShotgun feature Postcards from Panau.