Release Date: December 1, 2015Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PCDeveloper: Avalanche StudiosPublisher: Square EnixGenre: Action-adventure
Just Cause 3 is not a game that wants to mince words. You will be blowing things up in this game. You will be blowing A LOT of things up in this game, and Avalanche Studios wants you to know it. Within the first hour of gameplay, I found myself firing a rocket launcher while balancing on the wings of a flying airplane, grappling up a jagged cliff before careening down the other side with my wingsuit, and tethering an explosive barrel to an equally explosive fuel tank for some very fiery and chaotic results. That is Just Cause 3 in a nutshell: a volatile nutshell stuffed with grenades and wrapped in live ammo for good measure. And it is all kinds of scorching good fun.
Players once again assume the role of Rico Rodriguez, over-the-top action-hero extraordinaire, returning to his homeland of Medici a few years after the events of Just Cause 2. The Just Cause series has often favored death and destruction over a deep storyline, something which has worked well for it in the past. Each game typically involves Rico taking down an evil dictator by liberating the surrounding areas and destroying designated military objects across bases and outposts in a constant flow of action-movie set pieces. Just Cause 3 is no different, although the story plays a slightly larger role, with more cutscenes, more silly voice acting and one-liners, and what feels like a larger number of story missions overall. Thankfully, the story missions have some excellent pacing, despite there being one too many escort scenarios for my liking.
The serene Mediterranean island of Medici is a wonderful new setting for the series, with stunning vistas waiting around every corner as you parachute over expansive fields of sunflowers, lavish hilltop villas, and glittering shoreline coves that can give the best pirate games a run for their money. The expansive landscape is littered with hundreds of collectables to find, vehicles to steal and deliver, and random encounters which help make the open world feel that much more alive. One of my favorite things about Medici is that everything on the island is so inherently destructible. I was even able to blow up large sections of a giant bridge that served as a staple fixture of the environment.
Exploring the breathtaking scenery of Just Cause 3 is a breeze, thanks to the return of Rico’s parachute and grappling combo, now with some newly refined mechanics. This method of traversal gives the Just Cause series a unique feel in the sea of third-person open world action games, and is enhanced even further with the new addition of the wingsuit, which lets Rico zip across the skies with increased speed and precision after leaping off some towering precipice. Or if you feel like changing things up, you can always grapple your way into a flying helicopter and take over the cockpit in a matter of seconds. Just Cause 3 puts an emphasis on harnessing a player’s creativity, and there is never any shortage of ways to get around the island or inflict some serious damage to it. Oddly though, Rico no longer has the ability to sprint, which can leave him feeling a bit slow on foot at times, but there are always so many other means of travel that this was never a huge issue for me.
Medici is similar in size to Just Cause 2’s massive map of Panau, but there are far less outposts and military bases in need of liberating this time around: a real strong suit of the series and the main reason I became so hopelessly addicted to Just Cause 2 a few years ago. The good news is that this slimmer offering gives way to better variety among the different locations, from massive towers that house radar dishes just begging for destruction, to a subterranean den where ignited fuel tanks shine against the moonlit waters. Sure, some of the smaller towns and outposts still feel a little cut-and-pasted, and clearing out identical police stations was the worst of the repetitive elements for me, but that one-two punch of discovery and destruction, seeking and eliminating any object blazoned with red, still delivers that same satisfying (and blood-soaked) charm.
Everything is much more simplified and organized when compared to Just Cause 2, with a streamlined interface that resembles what Avalanche Studios did with Mad Max, and missing Chaos Objects and collectable icons that appear on your map (the latter of which after fully liberating an area). Just Cause 3 also bids farewell to the currency and black market system in favor of the better rebel drops, which deliver unlocked weapons and vehicles at the mere cost of one beacon. While landing that coveted 100% completion may not require as much of a herculean effort as it did in Just Cause 2, the journey to get there feels more appropriately managed.
In addition to completing the main storyline and liberating outposts, Just Cause 3 is outfitted with a robust challenge system that’s directly tied to leveling up Rico’s abilities. The dozens of challenges are spread throughout all of Medici and range from checkpoint-based races on land, sea, and air, to shooting ranges, thrilling wingsuit courses, causing destruction solely with your grappling hook, and more. You can earn up to five gears by performing well in each of these challenges, which can then be used to unlock special modifications, or MODs, for Rico, like increasing maximum grenade capacity or adding a nitro boost to vehicles. Players can also challenge and compete with their friends in smaller feats (longest drift distance, highest climb with parachute before touching the ground, etc.) to earn the best scores via online leaderboards.
However, this basic online component is where the cracks in Just Cause 3’s shiny veneer begin to show. During my review period with the game, it became clear that the online servers were having some issues. Every five minutes or so, the action would abruptly pause while the game tried to reconnect to the servers. Even after choosing to continue in offline mode rather than trying to connect again, the same thing just kept happening. When you’re right in the middle of tethering an enemy soldier to a gas canister that’s about to be launched, these “Lost Connection” messages are disrupting to say the least. The framerate can also take some minor dips at times when there’s a lot going on, which isn’t too great considering the point of Just Cause 3 is to string together as much mayhem and carnage as possible in short bursts of time.
But perhaps even worse than the connectivity issues are the game’s ridiculous load times. Ranging from thirty seconds at best to a near three minutes at worst, they are by far some of the longest load times I’ve ever experienced in the current generation of games, and they upset the immersion at regular intervals. The longest instances seem to happen after the player dies, and so this often discouraged me from experimenting with some riskier maneuvers during missions, because I didn’t want to die and be penalized by having to endure another potential three-minute wait time if something went wrong. There are also load times when replaying challenges (some of which are longer than the actual challenges themselves!), and given that many are quite difficult to earn five gears on, you can see how this time will quickly add up and become a legitimate problem.
It should be noted that all of these technical hiccups were encountered after installing the day one patch. We can hope that Avalanche Studios will address these issues in the coming weeks and that the Square Enix servers will find more stable footing, but for now, it seems the best alternative might be to play the game with your console completely offline.
All performance issues aside, Just Cause 3 is still an immensely fun game. The massive adventure benefits from a gorgeous and fully destructible game world, entertaining story missions and enemy base locations, and the new addition of the wingsuit that works in perfect tandem with the grapple and parachute mechanics, making Medici a literal blast to explore (you know, explosions and such). Once the issues with load times and online stability get sorted out, there will be no stopping you and Rico from bathing the countryside in a vibrant sea of flames.
Joe Jasko is a game critic.