Welcome to Medici. Try not to make a mess.
Just Cause 2 is one of my favourite open-world games. It’s a brilliantly joyful thing, and it’s founded on a keen understanding of why people love sandbox games. I still return to it every now and then to sate my appetite for wanton virtual destruction, because it’s just so damn good at it.
Just Cause 3 walked in the door a few days ago, carrying a satchel full of C4 and wearing a sly grin. It’s like it knows I can’t help myself. And so I’ve spent the last few days hanging confused soldiers from lampposts and gleefully dropping boats on cars. Is it everything I wanted from a new Just Cause?
I think so. But at the same time I feel like it’s played things a little too safe. Which is a bizarre thing to say about a game that lets you use cows to kill choppers.
Anyway, in case you’re new to the series, let’s recap. You are Rico Rodriguez. You’re a revolutionary for hire. Your job is to cause chaos and unrest, enough so to weaken the grip of whatever dictator you’re hunting this week with the inevitable goal of removing them from power. You’re very good at what you do. And you have great hair. In Just Cause 3, Rico returns home to the Mediterranean paradise of Medici. Medici’s populace is under oppression from the megalomaniacal General Di Ravello. Seriously, he’s put up gross statues and everything, and my friend’s uncle’s mom swears she once saw him spit on a homeless guy’s dog. Not cool, man. Not cool. It’s time for him to go.
I almost don’t want to berate the story. It tries so hard to be interesting, and the characters are so intensely cheesy that I can’t help but love them. Honestly, they’re like the video game equivalent of dad jokes, and dad jokes are just the best. Avalanche has obviously pushed to make Rico more memorable, and kudos to them for that, but it hasn’t really worked. It’s incredibly silly, and you shouldn’t expect much from the game’s narrative. More than once I was completely lost as to what in the nine hells was transpiring, and at times it’s also oddly disconnected from the game proper, with dramatic goings on in cut-scenes completely at odds with what’s actually happening around you once you regain control. This one time, there were planes EVERYWHERE, and then suddenly all those planes were replaced with no planes at all. It was weird and jarring – but then, it’s not like it really matters.
What matters is EXPLOSIONS and WINGSUITS and MID-AIR HIJACKINGS and DOOM DEER. Just Cause 3 has very smoothly and efficiently taken over from Just Cause 2 as the premier enabler of frenzied open-world shenanigans. Everything in this game is geared towards you having a glorious time experimenting with its many, many destructive toys. And the more you play, the more ludicrous your options for generating creative chaos become.
There’s the usual assortment of machine guns and rocket launchers and various things that make other things go boom, but at the heart of the game’s destructive streak is the Grappler. Essentially a grappling hook, it not only allows you to zip from place to place, climb tall objects with ease and effectively go full Spider-Man, but it also lets you tether multiple objects together in the pursuit of physics-based mayhem. You can tether a soldier to a gas cylinder, shoot said cylinder and then watch intently as it rockets skywards, towing the unlucky bastard behind it. You can tether a tank to a boat and drag it into the sea, or the other way around. You can tether a helicopter to a bridge support and reel in, spectating with sadistic enthusiasm as the pilot fights to keep the chopper facing the right way up before crashing spectacularly and bringing the whole bridge tumbling down with it. In other words, you’re able to use physics to make a real mess. It’s hugely entertaining.
Using your Grappler in harmony with your parachute and the new wingsuit, you can rapidly zoom around Medici’s islands, hardly ever needing a vehicle to get around. If you hate pretending to be a superhero and would rather stick to vehicles, there’s a dizzying array on offer across land, sea and air. Vintage cars, SUVs, bikes, tanks, jets, transport choppers, gunboats and more (MORE!) are all available, and can be delivered to you by airdrop once you’ve met certain requirements. Vehicles feel solid and weighty, but they’re still geared towards more flamboyant, cinematic exploits, and as such there’s lots of drifting and ludicrous jumps and similarly manic stunts to employ. Hopping from car to car and snatching planes out of the sky with skilled use of your Grappler is still wonderfully gratifying, and Avalanche have really nailed that feeling of being the star in an over-the-top action movie. Almost everything is balanced to enhance that action movie atmosphere: cars you aren’t driving are hilariously prone to exploding with even the slightest nudge, and they’ll flip end over end when you shoot out their tyres. It’s excellently cinematic, without resorting to canned set pieces (although a few of these do appear).
In addition to the story missions, progression is governed by completing various challenges (like wingsuit courses, shooting galleries and air races) and by liberating regions on the enormous world map by generating chaos (i.e. by tearing down Di Ravello’s symbols of oppression and generally being a nuisance). Almost every task you complete brings with it a related unlock of some sort, chief among those pertaining to a system of mods that alter your weapons and abilities. There are mods that add nitrous to vehicles and others that enable smart grenades, for example. It’s in all of this where I’m most disappointed by Just Cause 3 – not because there’s anything fundamentally wrong with any of these mechanics, but because there’s an endless cycle of repetitive challenges and item hunts standing between you and all the game’s delicious secrets. At first most of the challenges are exciting (I really like the wingsuit courses; don’t ask me why, because I have no real answer), but I often find myself getting bored and frustrated after having done multiple, overly similar challenges in a single sitting.
When you take that and add in the fact that Just Cause 3 is actually deeply similar to its predecessor, it makes me wish Avalanche had been a touch more ambitious with it. Perhaps if they’d spent less time on the challenges and more time crafting a wider variety of memorable story missions (or at least a series of meaningful side missions), they’d have relieved some of the monotony. There are some engaging story missions in there, and offering more of their ilk would definitely have made the game more compelling than yet another race from checkpoint to checkpoint in a speedboat. Anyone new to Just Cause obviously won’t be quite so bothered by how familiar it is, but it’s difficult for me to wholeheartedly recommend the game to anyone who’s had their fill of Just Cause 2. There’s a very real chance you’ll feel like you just played the same game all over again – which may bother you more than it bothers me.
Despite that, it’s impossible for me to stay annoyed at the game for very long when I have such a great time playing it. It makes me laugh out loud constantly. Even dying is hilarious; Rico is incredibly resilient, so 99% of the time when you die it’s not because enemies get the better of you, but because you just made a terrible decision that results in accidental comedy. It also looks incredible. I’m endlessly amazed by just how pretty Just Cause 3 is. Bear in mind that you need a fairly beefy machine if you plan to play it on PC, as even my monster office machine battles to keep a steady frame rate. It often goes from pleasantly smooth to completely unplayable in a heartbeat, and I have no idea why. I’m assuming it’ll get better as the game is patched, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
There are very few games that I’m willing to play just for the sake of playing, with no clearly defined goal or endgame in sight. Just Cause 3 is one of those games. Playing it just feels good, and simply fiddling with the mechanics and systems at its core is enough to keep me occupied for hours. Sometimes I aimlessly wingsuit and parachute my way from town to town. Other times I drive around bashing cars off cliffs and smashing into petrol stations for explosive reward. Last night I spent about 45 minutes irritating Di Ravello’s soldiers, leading them in a comical car chase across one of Medici’s islands, eventually hopping out and tethering solders to hovering choppers and panicked cars, and tethering choppers to cars, and tethering choppers to choppers, and tethering choppers to cars to soldiers to church steeples. It’s sadistically playful, and it feels like a game that appreciates what makes games fun. It’s far from perfect, but every time I play it it makes me happy.