“Pfft, this sounds stupid” a gamer states, as Just Cause 3 is loading up; the cover art and advertising literally covered in explosions. Cut to three hours later; the gamer has rigged up an elaborate system of grappling hooks, placed explosives and vehicles. At the press of a button, a cow is rocketed into a petrol station that results in an earth-shattering detonation that sends the poor bovine flying, along with cars, motorbikes, civilians… The gamer was correct. This IS stupid, that scenario IS entirely impossible, and this IS Just Cause.
Currently available on the Xbox One, PS4 and PC, Just Cause 3 is Avalanche Studios’ first outing into the development of the series solo, with long-time partners Eidos Interactive now part of the games distributors, Square Enix. If any pressure was being felt by the studio for their latest outing of the series, it certainly can’t be felt within the game. In fact, it’s clear that the next-gen consoles have given Avalanche a chance to fully realise their dreams for the Just Cause series. Everything is bigger, prettier, flashier, faster, and just plain silly – which in this instance can only be considered a compliment. It is worth noting that this review is based on the Xbox version of the game, which has recently come under fire for its long loading times and frame-rate drops – but these are day one issues that are currently being addressed. Though long loading times are an okay compromise once you realise the immense size of the map – fully explorable without a loading screen from one end to the other. The world size is apparently over 400 square miles – which admittedly means very little in describing exactly how large the map is, but its certainly huge; and always gorgeously rendered.
Just Cause 3 focusses on what makes a sandbox fun. You play as Rico, long-term protagonist of the series returning to his homeland island of Medici, having left “The Agency” of the first two games and probably hoping for some R&R. He arrives to chaos. Mad general Di Ravello has assumed control and taken over the collection of islands. It’s up to the gamer to liberate the townspeople, destroy the evil government bases and stop Di Ravello in his grand scheme for – what else? – world domination. Think Hawaii covered in rocket fuel and you’ve got the right idea. Di Ravello – and the story in general – is definitely where Just Causestumbles on its execution, but I’ll get back to that later. The game puts you through the tutorial, explains who’s good and who’s bad, and then plonks you on the map with a rocket launcher like an irresponsible parent who just gave their baby some matches. The story immediately takes a back seat as you venture off to destroy anything that dared paint itself in the evil shades of dictatorship – which is red, if you were wondering.
Freedom of choice is an important element of any true sandbox videogame and it is in this that JC3 truly shines. How will you destroy this military base? Will you parachute in, guns blazing with a rocket launcher and grenades? Maybe you’ll launch a limousine into the fuel pods with a C4 on the bonnet, diving out at the last second. Maybe you’ll mid-air hijack an armed military helicopter, or, if you feel like getting creative, maybe you’ll destroy everything with just the grapple launcher – laughing with glee as an armed enemy soldier flies straight past you into a power box, which instantly explodes. The supposed city architect for Medici was Michael Bay. Everything explodes at the slightest provocation. This fragility doesn’t extend to Rico however; you soak up bullets, explosions and debris like it’s nobody’s business, dying tends to be a bi-product of jumping off one too many cliffs in the cute little mini that you found, that’s on fire. The liberation of cities, done by destroying anything dictator-ey, will definitely start to grind after a while, often being used as padding to unlock the next story mission and there’s just no fun way to destroy the same billboard 50 times. The military bases are where the real fun is,
and these are frequent enough to keep the fun times rolling all the way through.
There’s plenty already to sink your teeth into, but Medici is jam-packed full of other activities to waste your time with. From the get go, almost anything you do is put on a leader board and compared with your friends and fellow players online – everything becomes a competition. Can you climb high while parachuting? WellxTR3mErKiDxx just climbed higher, are you going to stand for that?! The game dares you to conquer your friends again and again. This is the closest the game comes to multiplayer – slightly disappointing for anyone who saw the hilarity of theJust Cause 2 Multiplayer that’s available on PC, but that’s a minor gripe when there’s so much the game is already offering. It offers plenty of challenges – everything from destruction frenzies that utilise helicopters, boats or grenades to timed boat/car races, to timed wingsuit dives, to “how fast can you drive and then dive off a quad bike into that lighthouse, P.S it’ll explode” challenges. These reward you with the much needed currency that allows you to upgrade your gear – an almost vital necessity that turns the dial up to 11 when you’re slapping nitrous on mopeds, or turning your sticky bombs into little rocket thrusters. There are plenty of randomly-generated events for you to stumble across too, Far Cry 4style, that reward you with the means to have vehicles dropped from the sky, confetti and all, ensuring you’re never left transport-less. Not that you even need a vehicle, the grapple, parachute and wingsuit come together to Rico into a speed demon all of his own accord. There’s the strange hilarity of wing-suiting straight into a wall, watching Rico dust himself off, and then repeating at exactly the same speed, that only Just Cause can provide.
For a stupid, easy drop-in time with the aim of creating as much mess as possible in a short space of time, one would struggle to find JC3 an equal. For anything else however, JC3’s story really struggles to provide any form of meaningful contribution to the game. Criticising a story in a sandbox game can really be seen as missing the point of a sandbox game in general, but the story is expected to create coherence in the madness you cause and the narrative really fails to deliver. There is a clear problem in tone present within the main characters you meet throughout the story. Rico himself is the flippant, Cuban-Bond type character with the quips and the easy going attitude and even dares to question the big bad’s motives when you’re assailing the almost identical enemy stronghold for the seventh time. This instantly clashes then with the apparent seriousness of what is going on in Medici. A clear example of this happens early in the game, when something goes terribly wrong for the good-guy rebels. You’re contacted by your childhood rebel friend, grieving for the loss of his comrades, and Rico replies with a joke that references something that happened earlier – apparently unconcerned with the loss of the people that he’s fighting to release. It’s hard to know where we should stand as players. Are we sympathetic for the rebel cause? Is Rico’s cool flippancy insensitive, or is he just the cool guy that we shouldn’t even try and understand?
The main big bad of the game, Di Ravello, is the worst example of the issue here. When we are first introduced to him in the borderlands-esque namegrabs that occur during the intro, he comes off as comically evil. A fat Castro, full of over-elaborate gestures and mad grand schemes – yet more caring for his selection of Spanish meats than to be evil. We know where we stand then, silly good vs comic evil. That is until you find the first audio log of the game – the logs that detail Ravello’s backstory and rise to power. Suddenly we meet this creepy, darkly evil villain who spews monologues on morality, conquering the weak and crushing all that stand in his way. Literally the first log found are him detailing his twisted concepts of morality. This Ravello does not jar with the Ravello on screen at all, and even when the real Ravello does show some evil, it still seems to be out of place in a world full of Rico’s carelessness and silly antics. The story’s missions themselves never seem to come down to more than the standard kill him/escort them/destroy that rarely bring anything new to the table. The story almost seems like an afterthought – the beautiful sandbox created first, the story quietly stapled on afterwards. This would be fine however if it wasn’t portrayed as such an important deal in the game, with constant reminders of that thing you “should” be doing popping up constantly.
Overall then, Just Cause 3 is a master class in sandbox madness done correctly – Fantastic for returning players or those new to the series. There is so much to do, drive and destroy that it’ll be hours, days even until you remember that there’s a story you might want to consider getting back to. When that happens, destroy another military base with a car grappled to a plane and forget you ever thought it. Trust me – that works.
- Stellar sandbox madness.
- Huge amount of unrestricted choice
- Never left without transport
- Inconsistent tone in the story
- City takeovers get repetitive
- How great would a multiplayer have been!
– SIMON BANKS