Rico Rodriguez is the action man of videogame protagonists. His rough exterior and somewhat charming allure are only matched by his incessant need to blow stuff up. All the time. Just Cause is a franchise that feeds off of the ridiculous, plunging you into scenarios that no normal human being would think about, nevermind overcome. It is, at it’s core, an explosive, physics-breaking power trip, and this third entry into the franchise is really no different.
What Avalanche Studios does attempt to do with Rico and his homecoming pals is though. You’re dropped head first into the rather beautiful region of Medici – a place that Rico once called home is now under the thumb of a ruthless and rather stereotypical dictator, D’Ravello. This homecoming of sorts is meant to elicit some sort of closer, more emotional attachment to the land and its citizens then ever before – something I really couldn’t hear over the sound of Rico bombarding any settlement with movement to hell and back.
Just Cause 3’s tale is as throwaway as you’d expect, with a cast of characters trying too hard to pull off accents they clearly aren’t comfortable with, reading lines that are as stilted and cringeworthy as the one liners Rico casually likes to throw out from time to time. It’s really a means to an end here, a way to keep the game shifting from one gear to the next. It’s nothing that really needs your attention, although hearing David Tennant blaring through propaganda transmissions is at least worth a shout out.
Thankfully missions themselves fair a lot better. Just Cause 3 has some excellent mission structure, which isn’t intent on simply giving you the same objective you’d find out in the open. Missions are short (and separated by cutscenes and loading screens that overstay their welcome every single time), but they’re action-packed and exhilarating to undertake.
Some of my favourites included those that really tested my entire arsenal, such as one fairly early in the game where I had to protect both a helicopter and car along a route. Zipping between the two with my grappling hook while laying waste to pursuing enemies was a real treat, and stands in direct contract to other more subtle missions. One such example was a simple protection detail, where Rico used a trusty sniper to clear enemies from AI friendlies’ paths. It still ended in an explosive battle where I had to take out a helicopter while standing strapped to the bottom of another one, but it was different enough to stand out too.
A big reason why missions feel so exceptionally exciting is because of Rico’s gear. Just like past titles, Rico’s grappling hook and parachute are big mechanics that amplify the fun, but it’s really the new wingsuit that brings things all together. With all three, getting around Medici is an absolute delight, with a flurry of grapples into parachute into wingsuit sequences zipping you across the enormous map with as much speed as possible. Utilising them in combat is just as easy too, although the hook itself might not always play nice with the under baked movement to produce the precise trajectory you need.
Still, the wingsuit and parachute provide ample means to get around, which is a grace considering all of Medici’s other routes are such a chore. Driving in particular is not fantastic here, with cars feeling sluggish and delayed to control, while helicopters move around with erratic behaviour and a wild camera. The latter is particularly troublesome because of the necessity to use attack choppers in battle so frequently. Aiming at soldiers is incredibly frustrating, and simply hovering to attack a position is made difficult – even if the actual control scheme doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out. It’s all a little disappointing.
Compounding that disappointment is some of the more open-world elements to Just Cause 3. The idea of liberating towns is novel at first. Find an oppressed settlement, tear down some propaganda speakers and billboards that D’Ravello has so ingenuously placed to oppress his people, and raise the flags of the rebels to claim the city as yours. They’re bite sized segments of fun, (especially assaults on occupied police stations) but they quickly turn to tedium. Liberating cities ties directly into liberating provinces – which you’ll need to do often just to progress with the far more entertaining story missions.
It can get incredibly frustrating too, with some provinces requiring no less than seven individual settlements to be liberated before the province is freed. It’s an overly oppressive way of pacing the game and locking you out of its best parts, just so that you can travel across the map and repeat the same few objectives over and over again. As previously mentioned, the map is incredibly big – so the idea of having to repeat this loop to a nauseating degree was already daunting just a few hours into the game.
It’s softened only slightly by massive enemy installations that require liberation too, although in a far more frantic, explosive manner. These enemy bases need you to essentially burn everything to the ground, with all the red-labelled “chaos items” acting as visual landmarks for you to aim your rocket launches, grenades and infinite supply of C4-like explosives. Enemy defences such as surface-to-air missiles and mobile EMP launchers limit your options too, forcing you to get creative with your weapon loadout, grappling hook and tether – which let you link objects with a powerful, retractable line that really lets you experiment with destructibility.
At least once or twice these bases specifically avoid tedium only by replacing it with frustration. One area in particular added a pair or indestructible jets into the mix, which would bombarded the are Rico was in every few seconds. Using these airstrikes to destroy the base was interesting, but coupling it with a seemingly endless supply of ground soldiers, helicopters and anti-air defences was just overkill. Just Cause 3 seems to do this when trying to increase the difficulty, which often means the game wildly swings from the mundanely easy to the infuriatingly difficult on a whim.
The way the game deals with unlockable gear is partly to blame here too, because there’s no real way of making Rico a better Rico outside of some rather boring side activities. Certain weapons and military vehicles are unlocked through progression (while others have to be brought back to liberated garages), but for the most part you’re going to have to put time into mods. Mods amplify and sometimes completely change your existing gear, providing upgrades to your wingsuit, parachute, grappling hook, explosive, ammo counts and more.
The problem is that unlocking mods requires gears – which are rewards for completing challenges that in any other game would be otherwise completely optional. This include doing some rather difficult wingsuit courses, point to point car sprints and destruction runs, which are all entertaining in their own ways. They are not, however, entertaining enough to lock some vital gameplay mechanics behind, and the degree at which Rico is constricted at the start of the game boarders on the hilarious. Even aiming down the sights is something that you’ll need to unlock – a staple in most games featuring any sort of shooting elements.
Thankfully that shooting (and just about everything else) looks rather spectacular most of the time. Playing on PC, Just Cause 3 looked crisp and colourful, with some amazing detail when soaring through the air at breakneck speed with the wingsuit. The size of it all just makes the smaller details all the more impressive, even if Avalanche make some more nods towards manic stylisation than chaotic realism most of the time.
It’s just a pity the frame rate can’t keep up, especially when you doing exactly what the game prides itself on being. Explosions and destructible environments are all par for the course here, but they drove my frame rate down into the high 20s, while otherwise being locked above 60. There was also a case of the game crashing rather frequently too, although without game ready drivers that’s not as surprising.
What was inexcusable however was online integration. With servers going up and down, Just Cause 3 had a tough time staying connected during my time playing, but rather than staying in offline mode the game insisted on attempting to reconnect every time I paused or opened the map. These were frequent, minute long pauses every few seconds, which often made the game virtually unplayable. Why there’s no strict offline option is a absolute mystery, and a problem if servers ever do go down (forcing Steam offline eventually solved the issues, but the game itself does nothing to help).
It’s just another negative notch on a package that often doesn’t live up to what it’s fine elements bring to the table Just Cause 3 is a mixed bag – a game filled with some glorious moments punctuated by some true to heart videogame action. It’s just a shame that not everything was smoothed over with the same coat of paint, leading to an unevenness that is impossible to ignore.
Last Updated: December 1, 2015