The Just Cause franchise is an interesting and promising case for the game industry. The original released in 2006 with a modest success of over a million copies sold. A sequel was green-lit that doubled down on the zaniness of the original, embracing the title’s double entendre and encouraging even more destruction. Rico Rodriguez's return in Just Cause 2 was a hit that sold over six million units. Five years later, Just Cause 3 is upon us and it’s time to see how the franchise has grown.
The whole vacation package.
For Rico’s third outing, he returns to liberate his home of Medici from the dictator Sebastiano Di Ravello. The game's tongue-in-cheek nature is on display from the outset, introducing the cast of characters while giving them ridiculous titles such as "Dictator Removal Specialist". This is the high point of the plot, however, as it quickly devolves into a boring story revolving around a mostly drab cast. A couple of the characters can be good for a chuckle on occasion, such as Rico's childhood friend Mario, but these moments are few and far between, and rarely do they deviate from stereotypes that have been done significantly better elsewhere.
This isn't overly surprising as story in Just Cause has never been much more than a vehicle for stringing together events across a large, beautiful area while teaching gameplay basics. This it does well. Once you've learned the basics, flying around the game world and blowing things up is thrilling. Destroying the giant fuel tanks, radar dishes, factories, and propaganda speakers is fun, and the tools that Rico uses to do it make him feel like a deranged superhero running loose in his own backyard. Getting rid of these specially marked Chaos Objects may seem tedious and repetitive, but there is a skill to executing this wanton destruction and getting better at doing it tends to reward you with a grand fireworks display.
This is just a small part of a beautiful island.
The set of islands that make up Medici are gorgeous and are dotted with rustic Mediterranean towns, craggy cliffs, and towering mountains. Blue seas have a naturally calming effect that is amplified by the mix of mellow Spanish and Italian music playing in the background. Swooping through the sky and over the rolling hills of the archipelago to get to the next destination is nothing short of sublime. Medici would be a great place to take a vacation and sit by the beach except for the hideous military installations that punctuate the island.
Although the rest of the presentation is beautiful, the military bases and industrial hardware that Rico needs to destroy to get rid of Di Ravello seem out of place. Their presence isn't bad, however, as there's obviously an effort to contrast the idyllic nature of the islands with a dictator's war machine. While it succeeds to some extent, these structures never fit as well as they did in Just Cause 2's Panau. None of these places are quite as iconic or varied as the game's predecessor, although they are mostly effective at providing a challenge.
Framerate issues? Nah. Just more time to take it all in!
Much worse are the egregious loading times and occasional slow-downs. If you happen to be doing a mission or challenge that might have you retrying a lot, load times can range from a reasonable 15 seconds to a hair-pulling three minutes. This spike happens at the most unusual times, too, since it seems to happen more often when the world is resetting the current area rather than loading a distant settlement after fast travelling. The framerate also takes a dip if things get particularly hectic. The framerate change is only a few frames per second and is infrequent enough that it isn't a huge issue, but the loading times, especially since the issue crops up in the situations when you're most likely to be reloading often, can be quite a hassle and is borderline unforgivable. Free-roaming, which tends to be the bulk of the game, can last for hours at a time without a load screen, going a long way to mitigating this problem.
Roaming these vast spaces is a large part of what made Just Cause 2 such a successful sequel and that has been improved upon once again. Rico's arsenal gets an upgrade that gives him a wingsuit to complement his infinite parachute, which was previously the primary method of locomotion. Much like using the parachute, getting the hang of the wingsuit will take a bit of getting used to, but once that's accomplished it's a liberating tool. Providing that you can learn to effectively use the grappling hook to maintain height and momentum, the wingsuit gives speed about equal to or occasionally greater than that of a helicopter. Mastery of the wingsuit gives a near absolute amount of freedom, allowing the player to go anywhere they'd like at any time no matter the circumstances.
Try not to end up a bug on the windshield.
Player freedom doesn't end there, however, as an unlimited supply of plastic explosives and a new tethering mode for the grappling hook allow players to tackle objectives however they like. As an example, imagine an enemy radio tower in the middle of a base. Rico could use standard weapons to take it down such as a machine gun, RPG, grenades, or plastic explosives. Alternatively, he could fly a jet into it, attach it by tether to a moving vehicle, or tether it to a sturdier structure and increase the tension until it topples. The methods for dealing with enemies are equally varied. Tether a chopper to the ground to pull it out of the sky or tether two tough enemies together to keep them from attacking.
As the game progresses, new challenges become available that unlock upgrades to Rico's abilities. Some are fairly standard, such as allowing the player to carry extra grenades or increasing the tension rating of the tethers. Other upgrades start to enter the realm of cheat codes, such as frag grenades with heat seeking abilities, adding rocket engines to plastic explosives, or vehicles upgraded with hydraulics powerful enough to throw them into the air.
Completing the challenges to get these upgrades is straightforward although the main events can get wacky. These difficult tasks can run the gamut from standards such as vehicle speed challenges to a twist on bowling where Rico must navigate a bomb strapped car to a target for points. The difficulty curve isn't always great, though. Many of the challenges are fairly easy and will only require an attempt or two once you've figured out how that particular type of challenge works, but they can sometimes jump to frustratingly difficult with no middle ground. While this difficulty problem can sap the pride from completion, the unusual nature of them coupled with a few clever twists means that simply performing these challenges is entertaining and fun.
Trophies in Just Cause 3 are a standard affair. There's a set of trophies for story completion and another set for exploring various locations. Unsurprisingly, there are a few trophies for completing interesting feats such as destroying every Chaos Object in a base without using weapons, although they aren't too difficult. The most difficult trophy will likely be a trophy requiring the player to get top scores in all of the 80+ challenges. There's also a trophy for destroying every Chaos Object in the entire game, which may not be difficult, but it will certainly be time consuming. Thankfully, as you clean up the more obvious destructibles and collectibles, the map will begin to show more of what's left, rewarding you for your work rather than leading to an irritating needle in a haystack search. All-in-all, it's a time consuming but satisfying list so long as you enjoy the core gameplay.
SummaryAvalanche has fully embraced that this series excels as a crazy action blockbuster. While a better story would be nice, it's still a goofy-bad story that serves to tie the beautiful Mediterranean island nation of Medici to Rico's explosive deposition of a dictator. Just Cause 3 isn't nearly the leap forward that the second was from the first, and some unfortunate technical hiccups hinder the game's pace, but the freedom granted by the new wingsuit and a full awareness of what their fan base enjoys makes for a spectacular and fun game that sets a standard for its particular brand of cathartic mayhem.
- Beautiful environment
- Awesome tools
- Interesting challenges
- Explosions never get old
- Lackluster story
- Occasionally long loading screens
EthicsBrandon played a personal copy of Just Cause 3 on PlayStation 4 for the purposes of this review. He has collected 23 of the 48 trophies available but, after more than 40 hours, he can't wait to dive back in and break all of the things to earn the platinum.
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