If you're unfamiliar with the series, Just Cause follows a CIA operative by the name of Rico who... you know what, it doesn't matter, because story has never mattered in Just Cause.
The games are chaos simulators, and I'm fine with that, as you should be too. And as you can see by this very simple intro Avalanche Studios understands more than anyone what their product is -- as Rico, realistically all you need to be doing is putting your feet up and enjoying the chaos -- as caused by you -- that ensues. This isn't a GTA clone, it's nothing like The Witcher 3 or any other open-world games out this year, it's a sandbox with lots of toys and lots of explosions.
As mentioned in my intro, Just Cause has never been about the story. Interestingly, it does touch on some very real-world issues facing the globe right now, but it’s also a game that can’t take itself too seriously. In a parallel universe, the Just Case series could hold up as poignant social commentary on the realities of civil war, dictatorships and the role the US plays in all of this around the world (in that it’s probably a role they should have given up long ago), but in this reality, Just Cause 3 isn’t that interactive slice of art for change and awareness, it’s a videogame. So let’s lighten things up.
You return to the island nation of Medici, which has been the chaotic stage for Rico’s rebellion-fuelled war for freedom for a while now. In Just Cause 2 he was working for the CIA, but here he’s a lone wolf, having left The Agency to return home, however, upon his arrival it becomes apparent that his home is no better for his previous efforts and so teams up with freedom-fighters; armed with a grappling hook, his wits and a penchant for extreme sports that would put every participant at the annual X-Games to shame.
The basic progression of the game’s wafer-thin narrative is to free myriad towns and cities throughout Medici of the oppressive government. This means blowing up police stations, propaganda vans, loud speakers, billboards and, naturally, statues of the nation’s despot, General Di Ravello. These are basic checklisted sites to clear, which rewards Rico with new Garages (more on these in a minute), rebel support, beacons, unlocks and more. It’s not entirely a rinse and repeat system and Avalanche does throw quite a few new challenges at you as the game opens up and the challenge gets harder, but it is a very basic gameplay loop. Fortunately beyond all of the in-game and progression rewards you get out of it, there’s also a visceral reward built around how you use Rico’s various tools and game systems to attack each oppressed area.
Speaking of Challenges, a bolstered part of the series now has you being able to tackle a number of unique challenges that are very fun and bring in a social element to the game as you battle friends and Leaderboard heroes on your respective platform of choice for bragging rights. It’s even more of an arcade embrace from the developer beyond the core game, and adds so much more to an open-world that is both massive and, in the past, was berated for its lack of content. The team should be given a serious pat on the back for the inventiveness of these challenges too, and they go that extra step to making sure punters realise this is still a game about sandbox fun and not story.
The unfortunate offshoot of that concept though, is unlocks and more ‘fun’ elements come in the wake of successful story missions being completed (other parts of the game open up through challenges being met and more that aren’t story-related, though). It does then create a bit of a disparate design logic where maybe the teams were split into two and never quite met in a soft, mushy middle. But it hardly matters in the grand scheme of things. You’re either a completionist who’ll do the stories just because, or you’re the sort of player who just likes to cause chaos in a physics-heavy open-world with oh-so many tools at your fingertips.
There’s a character progression system tied to Rico, which is equally tied to completing challenges. And while the challenges, as I mentioned a moment ago, are a great celebration of arcade fun for bragging rights, that Avalanche chose to have you bolstering Rico’s gear this way is a stroke of genius. Basically, by playing the more fun parts of the game, you get better tools to help you take on the story missions or to clear oppressed areas. It’s pretty deep, too.
Gear Mods are unlocked in various types such as Traversal Mods, Tether Mods, Explosives Mods and so on. There aren’t that many additions in each, but because there are so many, and earning them is tied to how well you do in each challenge , the replay factor for character progression is pretty high. The Tether Mods are particularly cool and really give you and your gravity-defying grappling hook some cool things to do.
Arguably the biggest addition to Just Cause 3 though, comes in the wingsuit. Based on the topography of the island and the verticality of its buildings it fits regardless, but tying it to the parachute and grappling hook means it’s not just a means for a quick escape, it means you can basically fly around the whole fricking game-world. It’s akin to the game-changer Rocksteady did with Batman: Arkham City, though here it’s much more forgiving in defying reality, which is pretty much perfect given the sheer scale difference between both games.
The Garages I also mentioned earlier, are ways in which you can add any in-game vehicle you find to your own “Rebel Drop” manifest. Basically, any time you want you simply go into the Rebel Drop menu and pick what you want, and a Beacon throw later, your new toy has arrived. It’s a bit like freedom-fighter shopping, and can provide instant fun if you find a crazy jump you want to take your fastest car off, or with genuine munitions and military-grade vehicles in case you’re stuck in the thick of it. Any vehicles you add in are also chopped, meaning even the humble farming tractor can become a monster of a ride.
For all of its fun though, Just Cause 3 does have its faults. Varying reports from console owners suggest plenty of crashes, and some major hits in framerate occur too often than probably should. In this day and age it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re patched, but I’ve had a handful of crashes myself and on Xbox One, even running from storage the game’s load times are massive. The PC version was the lead platform, and it does look gorgeous on the Master Race desktop, but you do need a decent rig to run it, while the PS4 version allegedly cops a few issues too.
Outside of some of the technical hiccups though, there’s a lot more to invest from a gameplay-perspective, and in true Avalanche fashion, the game is riddled with hidden Easter Eggs, such as a massive crater harbouring the immovable hammer of an ancient god. Other collectibles include voice recordings documenting Di Revello’s rise to power, ancient artifacts, shrines and more. I really is a world full of exploratory value.
There’s a lot more to love about Just Cause 3 than there is to dislike. Weapons combat is relatively simple outside of explosive devices (and the sniper rifle), but enemies are often dispatched in a satisfactory and fast manner. It’s frenetic without the need for being precise, and you’ll often find yourself wielding magical weapons with unlimited ballistic ammo and an unbelievable ability to heal that puts Master Chief to shame, which we know was a decision made to keep the game fun. It can get very challenging the deeper into the game you get, but the emphasis here is on feeling like a one-man army who can all but fly with three devices that really shouldn’t be able to do what it is they do.
If you want to cap a relatively serious year of gaming off with no-brain-required explosive fun, it’s difficult to look past Just Cause 3.
What we liked
Huge open-world playground with explosive fun in every corner
The wingsuit changes how you traverse the world and makes you look cool
Social element tied to heaps of inventive challenges
Upgrade system also tied to the above challenges
Those Easter Eggs
What we didn't like
More underwater exploration and maybe the addition of intricate interiors would be cool