It’s been quite a stretch since we last saw a Just Cause title – more than five years, in fact. In that time, Avalanche Studios has been hard at work crafting a new single player experience for the latest generation of gaming platforms, packed with more explosions than you can shake a tank barrel at.
In a game set eight years after the events of Just Cause 2, Rico Rodriguez returns as protagonist, although he is no longer in the employ of The Agency. Trouble is afoot in the country of his birth, and so he has returned to set things right.
The setting of this latest blockbuster is the fictitious country of Medici, an archipelago whose in-game dimensions are colossal. Equal in size to Just Cause 2, it surpasses the previous game in both the beauty and complexity of its environment. From its green hills and gently sloping vineyards to the very top of the snow covered peaks, Medici is a Garden of Eden, surrounded on all sides by the sapphire blue of the Mediterranean ocean.
But beneath the postcard exterior, a dark struggle takes place. The people of this beautiful land are being systematically crushed beneath the boot heel of a tin-pot dictator, and the resistance fighters who seek to overthrow this madman are being slaughtered. For though they battle on bravely against the DRM forces, only the homecoming of the revolutionary rebel Rico will thwart this menace and bring freedom to this corner of the world.
Or so the game would have me believe. Frankly, it does a very poor job of making any of the characters worth caring about, as they are merely one-dimensional stereotypes, and the plot is as clichéd as it is yawn-worthy. It doesn’t even come across as satirical, it’s simply window dressing for the non-stop chain reaction of set-pieces that the protagonist is hurled into.
But that’s hardly a deal-breaker. After all, the Just Cause series has never been about believable heroes or a sophisticated narrative: you’re here to make things go boom and have a great time doing it. And it must be said that Avalanche Studios has done a marvellous job with the gameplay elements. The grappling hook and parachute make a return with improved mechanics, and added to this mix is a wingsuit that Rico can switch to at will. All three items can be upgraded and improved to the point where even Spider-Man couldn’t keep up in a race.
The new wingsuit is by far the best feature in this game. Much like the parachute, you can grapple to nearby objects and then flit and swoop to your destination without ever touching the ground, only now with additional speed and danger. Traversing the environment of an open world game has never been so amazingly fun or intuitive, and Avalanche deserves a standing ovation for this thing of beauty. Even the most exciting land vehicles in the game feel mundane next to the joy of eternal flight.
The only time the player will ever need a vehicle is when crossing the ocean between islands, and there are plenty to choose from. While the vast quantity of cars, bikes and trucks won’t help you when it’s time to hop from shore to shore, there is also a good assortment of sea and air machines encompassing both civilian and military models. Unfortunately, while jets and helicopters are a hoot to play with, the handling and physics models for many of the high speed ground vehicles is poor, with the motorbikes being all but unusable.
The new Rebel Drop system allows you to have weapons and vehicles parachuted in anywhere at any time. This is not only really useful if you’re running low on ammo, but it also opens up a whole new set of gameplay options with just a few mouse clicks. Dropping in an attack helicopter is certainly a great way to mix things up when you’re bored of flattening everything in that tank you just stole from the nearby army base. There is a cool-down timer though, so if you destroy your vehicle you’re either going to have to wait before getting a new one or requisition it from somewhere else in the game world.
The game’s story will send you off on various fetch-quests and heroic escapades, but when you grow tired of the silliness and want a change of pace, there are plenty of other activities to occupy your time. Every town or military base you come across during your travels can be liberated from the yoke of oppression by completing a series of objectives, usually involving dismantling the property of the DRM with a great deal of bullets and explosives. While it’s fun the first few times, after you’ve liberated your fiftieth town by blowing up yet another billboard, the enjoyment starts to wear thin.
After these areas have been conquered, you gain access to a whole slew of events in the general vicinity, which you can then complete to score upgrades. There are wingsuit trials where the player must skim past cliffs and through arches at breakneck speeds, all the while trying to fly through rings to score points. There are also time trial races with all the different types of vehicles, and destruction time trials where the player is set loose with specific weapon or vehicle to wreak as much havoc as possible.
The graphics and physics of this game are what gives form to the carnage that Rico unleashes upon his enemies, and they are impressive. At max settings the PC version is stunning, with an enormous draw distance and incredible detail at distances both close and afar. The physics engine is remarkably stable too, considering the shenanigans that you can instigate with the grappling hook and tethers. It also allows for some amazing destructibility, although when things get too crazy, the frame rate can take a dive as a consequence.
It’s worth mentioning that Just Cause 3 has no multiplayer to speak of, which is a real shame. This game is crying out for impromptu wingsuit races and some grappling-hook tomfoolery, but sadly the only way to compete against other players is through leaderboards. It also shortens the lifespan of the game somewhat, as the replayability of the story is debateable, and there’s only so many ways you can get up to mischief by yourself.
The game also had network problems at various points in the time I was given to play it. While an online connection is not required, you will always be logged in to Square Enix’s servers at startup. When the connection is lost to these servers, the game comes to a crashing halt for 30 seconds as it tries to reconnect, regardless of whatever it is that you were in the middle of doing. You can get around this by setting steam to offline mode (or disconnecting from your network if you have a console platform), but it would be much easier if the developer allowed the option for offline from within the game settings.
Just Cause 3 certainly isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It’s got bugs, glitches and a story that is tacked-on because it’s the expected thing to do. But when you see past the flaws, you’ll find some incredibly robust gameplay mechanics that supports hours of exciting pandemonium. Unlike the hero of Medici, Avalanche Studios may not be a revolutionary figure in the gaming world, but it is playing to its strengths in this title, so if you’re a fan of open world action games, Just Cause 3 is definitely worth a look.