Developed by Avalanche Studios and published by Square-Enix. Released December 1, 2015. Available on PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One and PC. Review copy provided by publisher.
As I’m walking along a seemingly empty street in the island nation of Medici, all of a sudden WHAM! I get run over by a reckless driver who speeds off, thinking they just got away with a nice little hit and run. Furious, I take to the skies with my wingsuit and tail the car through a tunnel until I catch up and anchor it to the street with my trusty grappling hook. The car fruitlessly tries to break away from the tether as I slowly reel it in. After taking the guy out of his car, anchoring him to the ground so he doesn’t try to run away, I lecture him about the importance of traffic safety, then tether him to his car, strap some rockets to the back of it, and smile as it soars off into the distance before exploding in a magnificent ball of fire. In my own personal world of Just Cause 3, such is the price of committing a hit and run on Rico Rodriguez.
This is the kind of unscripted fun to be had in Just Cause 3, and it’s in moments like these where the game gives glimpses of its incredible potential. Unfortunately, a dull campaign with forgettable characters, poor writing, repetitive missions, a curiously designed character progression system and a host of technical issues weigh down what should’ve been a gigantic leap in quality for the Just Cause series.
It’s a shame because nearly every new addition in Just Cause 3 is fantastic. The aforementioned wingsuit completely revamps how players move throughout the world. Players can now zipline with their grappling hook towards a target, launch into the air by switching to the parachute, seamlessly transition into the wingsuit to glide through the air at high speeds and then switch back to the parachute to once again get a burst of vertical momentum. It not only looks awesome, but it feels great, and it’s especially exciting when you apply it to combat. Imagine zip lining towards a helicopter, planting C4 on its underbelly, leaping off to parachute down while firing rockets at the AA guns, switching to the wingsuit to glide away, while detonating the C4 to watch the beautiful explosion on the way down. This is the kind of stuff that would typically happen in a cutscene in any other game, but in Just Cause 3 it’s commonplace in the actual gameplay.
Players also now have unlimited ammo when it comes to C4, ensuring that they’re never out of options when it comes to demolition; regenerating health to encourage players to use the wingsuit as a means of quickly exiting losing battles; and the new rebel drop system allows immediate access to any unlocked weapon or vehicle, at the cost of a single beacon. These are all well thought out and well designed changes that dramatically enhance the gameplay of Just Cause 3 in comparison to its predecessors.
But as fun as it is to just mess around in the world, it’s not enough to carry the entire game, and unfortunately, Just Cause 3’s campaign doesn’t pick up the slack. The story, which as you might imagine, involves Rico joining up with a group of rebels in an effort to overthrow a fascist dictator, is woefully uninteresting and wastes any opportunity to develop Rico’s character. The game takes place in Rico’s homeland and features characters that apparently have history with Rico, but no effort is ever made to actually flesh out or develop those relationships. Characters exist simply to give Rico missions, tell him where to go and give him reason to utter cliche action movie hero one-liners.
The actual story missions themselves don’t hold up much better. They’re great while you’re still in Act One, but the more you play, the more it becomes apparent that Just Cause 3 has a serious problem with a lack of diversity in their missions. Prepare for lots of vehicle escort missions, defense missions against wave after wave of incoming enemy helicopters and tanks and missions involving infiltrating underground laboratories that all look the same to disable generators. There are a few exceptions that show off some really cool set pieces and have the player doing things that they normally wouldn’t or couldn’t do out in the open world, but these missions are few and far between.
When you’re not taking on story missions, chances are you’ll be out liberating bases and settlements, which is done by blowing up all of the water towers, fuel tanks, radio towers, satellites, and other things painted red and white that explode real pretty-like. Why does this liberate the settlement? Just ’cause, obviously.
Liberating a settlement or base offers varying degrees of rewards, depending on the difficulty. Often you’ll simply unlock a garage, which gives you a point to deliver new vehicles in order to unlock them for future rebel drops. Other times they’ll unlock access to new challenges, which I’ll go over in just a bit, and the really difficult bases will unlock powerful new weapons or vehicles.
While liberating settlements and provinces aren’t technically part of the main story missions, there are several points in the game where you’ll need to liberate a specific number of provinces in the area before you can move on to the next story mission, making them a little less optional than I’d like. That’s not to say that liberating bases isn’t fun, because it absolutely is, but like the main story missions in Just Cause 3, they’re lacking a great deal in variety. Most settlements in a common area feel like the they’re made up of the same buildings and assets, just rearranged in different locations. It’s also infuriating that the game doesn’t give you onscreen cues to let you know where the final remaining chaos items that you need to destroy are, instead forcing you to check your map constantly.
The main reason to liberate bases and settlements, aside from doing so in order to progress in the story, is for the challenges that they unlock. In Just Cause 3, there are eight different types of challenges, with each type of challenge being linked to its own upgrade tree. So for example, if you wanted to get upgrades that affect your wingsuit, you would try to seek out the traversal challenges, which have you soaring through a series of rings in increasingly more challenging environments. The challenges grade your performance on a five star scale, giving you a “gear” for each star that you earn. Those gears can then be used to purchase the next upgrade on the tree.
I would be totally fine with this system of upgrades if it weren’t for the fact that the load times in Just Cause 3 are awful. I’m not even talking about the fact that it takes three minutes from the time you press start on the title screen to the time you’re able to actually start playing, though that too is ridiculous, especially since a lot of that time is spent logging into the game’s online servers.
No, the bigger issue is that whenever you want to retry a challenge, you’ve got to wait through about 30 seconds of loading before you’re able to try again. That may not sound like much, but let me tell you, it adds up when you’re trying to get those five star ratings in order to afford the upgrades you’ve been eyeing. If you’re going to design your upgrade system around replayable challenges that reward players substantially for getting a high score, then you have to make those challenges replayable without the frustration of having to sit through lengthy load times on each retry.
The challenges themselves great for the most part, and it’s nice that the challenge types offering the best upgrades are the ones that are the most fun. One of the more unique challenges involves driving a car equipped with a bomb that is set to explode if the car dips below a speed threshold for too long, just like the movie Speed. The goal is to crash the car into a group of enemies by jumping out of the vehicle just before it hits and explodes in a slow motion ball of fire and lightning. Another challenge has you tying a magnetic ball to the back of your car and tasks you with collecting a bunch of pieces of bavarium ore that are scattered all throughout an area while enemies try to take you out.
Just Cause 3 is a gorgeous game to look at, with incredible draw distances, beautiful vistas, and most importantly, some of the best explosion effects you’ll find in video games. That being said, all of this glorious destruction comes at a price. On the PlayStation 4 version, I experienced significant framerate stuttering whenever the action got particularly hectic, which in Just Cause 3‘s case, happens quite regularly.
Still, a little slowdown is acceptable, especially when a game looks as great as JC3. What isn’t acceptable though, is the fact that over the course of my review I was constantly disconnected from the game’s online server, which immediately paused my game and made me sit through another 20-30 second loading screen, before asking if I’d like to retry to connect or play in offline mode. Obviously, I’d choose to play in offline mode, considering the fact that JC3 is a singleplayer game with the only online functionality being stat tracking of a bunch of pointless feats. But when in offline mode, as soon as I’d access a menu, it would automatically attempt to connect me back on to the server, which would start this cycle of connecting, getting disconnected, playing in offline mode, and then being forced to connect again.
Hopefully this issue will be fixed in time for JC3’s launch, because if not, we’re going to have a bunch of very unhappy gamers with a single player game that is being constantly interrupted due to unnecessary online functionality.
There are moments in Just Cause 3 where I’m able to forget the many issues that I have with the game. Moments where I’m stringing up a car in between two buildings, strapping it with rocket boosting C4, and watching with glee as it flips like a trapeze artist before I cut the tethers and let it fly off into the sunset. Moments where I tether a helicopter to the ground and slowly reel it in as it desperately, but fruitlessly, tries to fly away and avoid its inevitable fate. Those moments eventually run out though, and what’s left in Just Cause 3 is a beautiful and enormous open world sandbox, supported by a lackluster campaign and a host of technical issues.
Bottom Line: The additions of the wingsuit, dual tethering grapple hook, unlimited C4 and regenerating health system are all fantastic additions that would’ve made Just Cause 3 a breakout game in the franchise, if not for the dull story, repetitive story missions and technical issues ranging from long load times, to poor framerate and to constant disconnections for a single player only game.
Recommendation: If you don’t have high hopes for the campaign and are the type who can spend hours messing around in the open world, coming up with new creative ways to create chaos and destruction, you’ll likely be able to look past a lot of Just Cause 3‘s flaws and enjoy the game’s dedicated focus on blowing things up in the most stylish ways possible.[rating=3] [amazonwidget]