The game starts with some big explosions. The game ends with some equally big explosions. The middle is jam-packed with explosions. That’s basically Just Cause 3 in a nutshell: absolute chaos. Pure, unadulterated, mindless chaos. It’s fun, there’s no doubting that, but for me at least, there’s got to be something more behind it.
The game takes place in the beautiful Medici region (yes, it’s fictional) and you, Rico Rodriguez, are once again being tasked with liberating the people for a just cause. Geddit? The opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the game and what to expect for the duration. Rico and his mate Sheldon are flying into the region to dump Rico in no-mans-land full of hostiles, only the plan doesn’t go to plan when the plane is attacked by land-to-air missile systems. Without a moment’s thought Rico has already clambered on the top of the twin-motor plane and is firing off RPGs at the pesky defenders. The world whizzes by in a blur of colour as the plane eventually takes a hit and Rico tumbles towards the Earth. Thankfully our hero always has a parachute to hand. Where does he even keep it?
The rest of the mission takes you through a crash course on getting to grips with Rico and his abilities. It’s your standard affair, then. The story picks up when Rico meets with his old-time friend Mario who has joined the rebels in the fight against the region’s oppressor, Sebastiano Di Ravello. Immediately I picked up some very familiar vibes, though not from previous Just Cause games. The region is being controlled by a powerful dictator who commands and army. He has a radio broadcast disclaiming any of Rico’s endeavours against the regime and Rico must liberate outposts, settlements and bases. It’s all very Far Cry 4, isn’t it? That’s not a terrible thing by any account, but it’s an apt comparison. In fact, when I was playing the game last night, my partner was sat beside me and she said “it’s like Far Cry 4, but third person,” which, after a bit of thinking, did seem quite accurate.
While the story’s template does seem familiar, it’s not quite as good. In fact, it’s a little bit poop. The narrative is as cliché as you can image: The dictator is after some compound named ‘Bavarium’ that’ll allow for unlimited fuel, as well as some less than friendly uses. The cast of characters aren’t as memorable as I’d have liked, but Rico is a genuinely funny guy. You’ll be parachuting above a bunch of enemies, wildy firing whatever weapons you’ve got to hand and he’ll come out with some snarky remark or terrible pun. Yes, terrible puns. I’m a fan of a good (and bad) pun, so I didn’t mind giggling at the nonsense. What did make me frown was the sub-far voice acting from some characters and their lack of development. Some appear fleetingly for a few missions, only to disappear for hours on end and return later on without any context as to what they’ve been up to. That said, the Just Cause game’s have never really been about telling a masterful tale, but I sort of hoped against hope that this one would keep me engaged a little more than it did.
So the story is a bit naff, but what about the gameplay? How does the world feel and respond to your pyrotechnics? Brilliantly, albeit with a few flaws. One of the first things I did was have a go at flying around using the parachute and the wicked new wingsuit. You’ll actually get to try these out before you even start the game as when it’s installing, you have the option to mess around on ‘Boom Island.’ It’s an empty island that’s purely there for you to have a mess around in and get familiar with Just Cause 3’s mechanics. I spent a fair few minutes flying – and failing – with the wingsuit.
Once you actually get into the main game you’re able to pretty much explore right off the bat. You’ll do the first mission or two as they’re necessary (one gets you the upgraded grappling hook) but after that you can just go at your own pace, as per most open-world games these day. I chose to power on with the plot and started taking down as many bases as I could, freeing any settlements that I came across, and moving forward with the story. You’ll be required to shoot some people (how barbaric?!) but there’s always the option to kill them by more inventive means. For example: Using the grappling hook, you can attach an enemy soldier (or even a citizen who just looks like they might be a spy or something) to whatever’s nearby. I chose to attach my enemy to a massive gas canister. Then I chose to shoot a few bullets into said canister. Then I laughed my head off as the gas canister soared into the sky with the enemy soldier in tow. What a way to go.
It’s these kinds of moments that set Just Cause apart from most other open-world games. GTA V was fun, but I never brought down a helicopter by flinging an old woman into it. Far Cry 4 was awesome in letting me fly those weird little rickety helicopters, but Just Cause 3 lets me fly a plane, jump out of it, kill an enemy helicopter, then free fall 2Km before gliding into a graceful landing using the wingsuit/parachute combo.
With most open-world game that dictate you must do the same thing over and over, I’m usually bored of it by the third or fourth run. Far Cry 4 was a prime example of that; go and save these hostages, go and take over this outpost etc. After you do it a couple of times you pretty much know what’s what and how to beat any more going forward. Just Cause 3 is the polar opposite. Bases can range from being these dingy little areas that take no more than a few minutes and minimal fuss, while others can be grand bases spread out over land and water that require forethought, planning, and patience. I died countless times by just rushing in and opening fire on anything that goes ‘boom,’ only to find myself dead as a dodo moments later.
At times it can be downright brutal, and it was only after discovering that playing through the challenges earned me some ‘Gears’ that upgrade Rico’s abilities. Still, even then I died over and over again. But I didn’t mind too much as it just forced me to rethink my strategy. Instead of running into the naval base and firing off my RPG like a man possessed, I decided to go in by air, ditching the helicopter mid-flight, causing it to crash into some fuel silos which then exploded and killed many a poor soul. Meanwhile, I glided over what looked like a scene from any Michael Bay movie and landed on a war ship. How convenient! I then commandeered the vessel and started pounding the base with the ships weapons, each shot more damning than the last. It. Was. Awesome.
That’s just a snippet of the crazy antics that you can get up to in Just Cause 3. If I went into detail about every one of my exploits, I’d be here to till next week. I’ve got a website to run and a “real” full-time job, so cut me some slack, yeah?
One aspect of the game I can’t really get fully behind is the shooting: it’s just not what I’m used to. That’s not a sleight at the developers’ expense, but for me it just didn’t feel all that gratifying. I can’t sing this game enough praises in terms of the fun factor, but the gunplay is the weakest part of the experience and, despite it being necessary, was often not that much fun. Rocket launchers and the like were fine as they didn’t really need much by way of precision aiming, but everything else just didn’t gel for me. Sorry.
Unfortunately it’s not all roses and cupcakes as the game does have its share of problems. I didn’t run into many, but on one occasion I was forced to reset the console during a loading screen. It wasn’t just a case of the loading taking an age (though they are terrible, as I previously pointed out here) but the game has crashed, or at least it seemed to have crashed. I’ve already written about the game’s frame rate and loading screens, so I’m not going to delve too deeply into it, but it’s troubling nonetheless. The game stutters even when you’re not doing all that much and even the cut scenes fail to hold a smooth line of motion. It’s annoying and it does take away from the fun at times, especially when you’re surrounded by combustibles exploding all over the place. I can’t say for sure how low the frames-per-second drop, but it’s noticeable enough that at times I felt like I wasn’t in full control of Rico’s movements.
It’s a shame, really, as the game looks splendid, but in my opinion it’s a bit too heavy on the motion blur. There’s a lot of detail in the game world that’s simply lost upon moving the game’s camera. Bright colours punch the eye and encourage you to go just a bit longer; to glide just a bit closer to the ground or sea, just to appreciate their splendor.
Then there’s the loading screens… They’re horrid. Simple as. You die, you get a loading screen. You come out of a cut-scene, you get a loading screen. Sometimes they’re as short as a couple of seconds, other times they’re over three minutes. I’ve no idea why, but they are. It’s a nuisance and I detest it, but it’s fair to call it out as part of this review. Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that this review was conducted after applying the hefty day-one patch so please, before you even think of being the ultimate keyboard warrior in the comments, use your bloody brain, yeah?
Disclaimer: This review was conducted using the PS4 version of the game bought at retail. Yes, it’s a bit naughty to sell games before their date, but we’ve not broken any laws.
We would have happily reviewed the game and stuck by any embargo date set by Square Enix if we’d received a copy (we play by the rules when we receive review codes/copies) but as we didn’t even get a reply to our emails, we’ve gotten an early copy from elsewhere. Whether we receive codes or not from publishers, it doesn’t affect our review scores. You can read our review policy here.