Although some open world titles strive for gritty realism, and recreations of the real world, others eschew this in favour of action and ridiculous mayhem. Saint’s Row ditched any attempt at realism and turned into a crazy and crude parody, whilst Pandemic’s Mercenaries turned the genre into a military shooter, complete with plenty of destruction. Red Faction Guerrilla, on the other hand, decided to blow up its open world, giving players the chance to destroy everything in sight.
Just Cause was initially a middle ground sandbox, with both traditional missions, and a hefty amount of explosions. The second game amped up the destruction, as well as the mid-air antics of its hero, Rico Rodriguez, and this, the third game, well, let’s just say things have gotten out of control.
With a story that’s fairly inconsequential, Rico finds himself after yet another evil dictator, and in order to bring another militaristic regime to its knees, he’s got to, you guessed it, blow stuff up. A lot.
Just Cause 3 again takes in a lush, tropical island nation, replete with gorgeous vistas and beaches, punctuated by a large quantity of military bases, outposts, and cities. In this huge game world Rico has to accept missions from his rebel allies, which are thinly veiled excuses to blow up each and every location on the map. Story missions are accompanied by a large number of side missions, such as freeing the many locations from military control and destroying outposts. As you progress, challenges are also unlocked, and these are completed to unlock upgrades for Rico’s many and varied abilities. This includes grapple boosts, vehicle nitrous, and an improved wing suit, a new skill that compliments Rico’s signature parachute.
It’s all familiar stuff on the whole, and if you’ve played the previous games, or any other sandbox title, you’ll know the drill. However, Just Cause 3 doesn’t even try to fool you into thinking this is in any way about the characters or a deep, meaningful narrative. Oh no. This is all about destruction and causing as much chaos as you can, in perhaps the most flexible and open-ended way yet seen.
Just Cause 3 features a raft of weapons for Rico to use, including all of the basics we’ve come to expect, but as effective as a machine gun or rocket launcher can be, physics are even better. You see, the world of Just Cause 3 is heavily based around physics, and this is made evident by the increased focus on Rico’s grapple, as well as other physics-based weapons.
Using the grapple, Rico can traverse the world, and can use it to climb or zip around at speed. Again, he can use it to hijack vehicles, on ground, air, and sea, and he can use it to attach to enemies, zipping into them with a powerful drop kick of sorts.
However, this is just the start, and it’s with the use of the tether option where the game really comes into its own in terms of physics-based mischief. By pressing and holding the grapple button, you can tether two items together, or stick an item to the ground. This includes vehicles, statues, or even people. You can then pull them, and manipulate them. For example, you could tether a helicopter to the ground, and gradually pull it down to oblivion, of even tether two vehicles (or people) together, and smash them into each other.
There are virtually no limits here. What’s more, you can use multiple tethers (you can use more as you unlock upgrades), and can tether multiple objects at once. As the world is so based on physics, some items also require multiple tethers to be pulled, as more line-strength is needed. So, to pull down a statue, for example, you may need two or more tethers, as one isn’t strong enough.
The tether can also be used with other devices. Later on you’ll be awarded with planted explosives that fire booster jets before exploding. I can’t express just how much fun you can have with these, especially if you’re a bit of a closet sadist and find delight in creating human Catherine wheels, or spinning cattle-based bolo-whips. The game gives you the tools to be as sick and twisted as you like, and you know what? It’s just so much fun. The first time you tether a soldier to a gas canister before shooting it and watching it fly off into the stratosphere, soldier in tow is hilarious, and it never really gets old.
Indeed, the game’s use of physics often overshadows simple gunplay, and you can tear down entire enemy bases using nothing more than a few well-placed tethers, as one fuel tank falls into another, and a domino effect levels the entire base. It’s bliss, but this is tinged with a bitter aftertaste.
Unfortunately, Just Cause 3‘s amazing show of physics-fuelled hilarity and its beautiful, and huge world filled with things to do can’t hide an ugly side. In fact, Just Cause 3 is one of those games that you know could, and should be great, and you want to spend hours playing, but it fights you at every turn, as if it’s trying to get you to dislike it, and the controls are one of my major concerns.
Simply put, they can be a nightmare of confusing inputs with no uniform system. There are pages of separate controls for different vehicle and movement types, none of which can be bound by the user. So, of you’re like me and can’t fight the urge to use L2 to aim, you’re out of luck, as aim is L3, and there’s nothing you can do about it (that’s after you unlock this ‘ability’ later on).
The controls can be mastered, of course, and I’m all for a learning curve that forces you to improve and master the game, but here it’s just clunky and awkward, and it really doesn’t have to be. There’s rarely a point where it feels intuitive, so complex and poorly designed are the controls. It makes those crazy chase stunts and amazing moments difficult to pull off, so much so it’ll probably take many frustrating tries before you nail it, which undermines the fun.
Controls aside, the game has more than its fair share of bugs and glitches. Frame rate drops, clipping issues, Rico becoming unresponsive for no reason, and some of the worst AI I’ve seen in recent times.
Many story missions take the form of escort missions involving NPCs. In several instances I met with failure, not due to my mistake, but because NPC AI simply broke down, and caused mission failure, no matter how hard I fought.
This AI problem also affects enemies, and I’ve seen soldiers run around in circles, getting trapped in the floor and walls, and helicopters flying into battle, then promptly flying right into a building. It’s a pretty poor show, to say the least.
Then there are loading times.
Oh boy. If you thought The Witcher 3 had long and disruptive loading, think again. Just Cause 3 has poor loading times, and plenty of them. Not only are loading times too long, but the game seems to load every five minutes. Fire up the game, loading screen. Get into the world and head for a mission briefing – loading screen. Watch the briefing – loading screen. Want to talk to an NPC? Loading screen. There are even loading screens for loading screens, and retrying a challenge can prompt some of the longest loads in the game, at a time when you simply want to try again quickly. It’s maddening, and along with the ability to rebind controls, loading is the one issue Avalanche just has to fix, it’s laughable, or would be if it wasn’t so annoying.
Whilst were on the topic of fixes and improvements, I also find it hard to believe that a super agent like Rico can only run slightly faster than walking. There’s no sprint, roll, or dive. So, during hectic fire fights you often feel handicapped, unable to quickly move out of enemy fire. Sure, you can use the grapple, but in the middle of a fight, sometimes it would be nice to just use a simple sprint or roll. It’s a glaring omission, given the game’s heavy action-bent.
Just Cause 3 is a potentially great game, and it has a lot going for it, with some of the most enjoyable and humorous gameplay I’ve seen all year. It’s a truly impressive playground, and one that gives you the tools you need to have a good time. It looks impressive, and is a breath of fresh air in a sea of games that take themselves far too seriously.
This is all held back by a lack of polish, bugs, and some clunky controls. If Avalanche can iron out the bugs and glitches, fix loading times, straighten out the AI, and give us the option to rebind controls, this is a game I’d easily recommend. As it stands, it asks you to put up with a lot, and I’d say you’d be best waiting for a couple of patches.