There’s something vaguely primal and undeniably appealing about Just Cause 3 . Its unabashed insistence on itself – specifically, on the brainless part that gets off on endless explosions – is what makes it so alluring. You know those silly rubber balls people used to squeeze to rid themselves of stress? The latest over-the-top, high-flying adventure from Avalanche Studios is a rubber ball three stories high, weighing about ten tons. The best part is that you feel so damn powerful when playing that you know you can still squeeze that mammoth ball. Unrealistic yet unmitigated power sits at the core of this experience and despite the lack of substance, it’s still enjoyable.
I’ve never liked dark, drab, very industrial-like locations in my video games, which is why I’m partial to the sun-splashed insanity of Medici. It’s bright, sunny, and just begging to be destroyed. Little things, like the detail found in exploding oil tankers or the particle effects that light up your screen, make this production a visual feast for the eyes. Now, granted, when everything calms down and you really start to focus on the technical elements without the benefit of showy effects, the game isn’t as impressive. You’ll notice some merely average textures, for instance (though hardly uncommon in huge open-world adventures), and I’m just not the biggest fan of the character design. But really, you won’t spend much time overanalyzing the visual presentation.
And that’s because everything is so crazy, you’re always caught up in the whirlwind that is Just Cause 3 . Powerful audio cements that experience, delivering hard-hitting impacts and the crackling, satisfying fire that often follows any big explosion. I think the effects can sometimes go a little screwy when the world is alight with impossible events; the cacophony can seem a tad muddled. But given the sheer amount of action on screen, one has to commend the audio because for the most part, it remains stable and crisp throughout. The voice performances are solid as well, even though I’ve never liked Rico. All in all, if you’re playing this game on a nice big TV with an excellent pair of headphones, you’re in for an unparalleled joyride.
From the start, you know you’re going to have fun. It begins with a cover of The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” – apt, no? – and plays over clips of Rico going berserk and pulling off insane stunts. As time moves on, you’ll find out that you have to oust dictator General Di Ravello and of course, simply by way of the “dictator” label, you know this guy is bad news. You embark on a series of quests with this goal in mind, occasionally taking a sightseeing tour just ‘cuz it’s so much fun to do, or tackling some optional side missions. The entire package is relatively well put together, with the exception of some repetitive and uninspired missions, and the island of Medici is chock full of things to do. At some point, you start to wonder if any big-budget action movie has even approached this level of absurdity but then something blows up and you stop caring.
That’s really at the core of this action blast-fest: No thinking. The gameplay backs up the simplistic concept but in point of fact, I was disappointed with the narrative and character development, neither of which is interesting or even all that well defined. In comparison, a game like Grand Theft Auto V has a much better story; the characters are far more developed and the main plot has a lot more depth. I’m not saying GTAV should win any awards for storytelling but the point is, when compared to this game, Rockstar’s writers start to look like a bunch of Tolstoys. And hey, you don’t need to be a fantastic writer to provide the player with a little background, on both the landscape and the main character.
Unfortunately, we get neither, so we’re left with the unbridled wackiness. That, thankfully, is a big-time saving grace because you’ll spend 99 percent of your time flying through the air with your wingsuit, or zipping along the island in a hijacked vehicle. And this leads me to the all-important control, which has always been clunky and awkward in this series, as far as I’m concerned. The good news is that Avalanche really tightened things up this time around. The addition of the wingsuit is just another feather in the team’s cap, because it gives you yet another wild form of transportation. And yeah, it’s relatively easy to control, but you have to be careful when flirting with disaster. Hitting something solid in a wingsuit is…bad.
The grappling hook is back and better than ever. It’s also a more diverse tool, as it can attach to a helicopter one minute and latch onto a fuel tank the next. It can really do just about anything and the sheer number of possibilities is actually mind-boggling. The parachute is better, too, as it’s more responsive and easier to use, and driving no longer feels slow and unreliable. Previously, vehicles handled like absolute crap; they turned like boats and were way too unstable. Now, they’re much easier to use and they respond well to your commands. Plus, there’s the added dimension of vehicles acting as weapons in a number of different ways, which amps up the destructive freedom to another level. That’s the point of the game, obviously: Amping things up, again and again.
Avalanche is on record saying Medici isn’t any bigger than the virtual landscape in Just Cause 2 in regards to size. However, this one is denser and more dynamic, which offers perhaps the biggest boost to the overall experience. To me, it always seemed like these games felt just a little empty, as if not much existed beyond the boundaries of any given mission. This time, however, while still not as fully realized as GTA, it is indeed more involving from top to bottom. Not only are there more structures and vehicles, but there’s also more interaction with all of them. This results in a game that feels more complete and in general, more interesting. You just have to get past the paper-thin story and premise.
At its core, this game is all about destruction and there isn’t much else to talk about. The characters are clichéd – and as I said, the important ones are undefined and in turn, uninteresting – and the hero isn’t much more than a wrecking ball with a gravelly voice. No matter where you go, there’s something new to blow up. And despite the obvious satisfaction involved in such an endeavor, you really do start to tire of the repetition, regardless of the lightshow. Rico uses endless amounts of C4 and the entire island is basically left in rubble when you’re done. Even when traveling from one mission marker to another, you’re bound to find something that needs to be shattered into a million pieces. And unfortunately, it seems like too many missions exist purely for the sake of more destruction, as opposed to, say, advancing the story.
When a game has a single-minded purpose, it’s obvious. And no matter how much fun it is, it starts to wear on the player. Rico’s aerial acrobatics are thrilling the first dozen times but even those, despite being infused with fun-filled intensity, begin to wane over time. And you can’t really undertake anything that’s not over-the-top crazy to give yourself a break. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, the action is always in your face and always impossible to ignore. That is the goal of the production, of course, and I appreciate a game that fully embraces its identity. Unlike some titles in the past ( Resident Evil 6 comes readily to mind), this one knows precisely what it’s about and doesn’t ever shy away from it. Kudos. I just think there should be a little something more.
I’m willing to bet that those who only play the first ten hours or so will believe the game is worthy of a significantly higher score. The controls are much more refined, the dynamic nature of this inviting environment is a huge plus, and thanks to those sweet tools at Rico’s disposal, the gameplay freedom is almost unrivaled. You will gleefully blast through those first ten hours, enjoying every ounce of the action, always knee-deep in things that go boom. But I always had this sneaking suspicion that if things didn’t either open up or progress in some way, if I would always be blowing things up for no apparent reason, the game would start to feel stale. And in point of fact, that’s precisely what happened. I’m not saying it’ll happen to you, though; I’m sure there are many who will love it from start to finish. That’s very subjective.
All in all, Just Cause 3 is one giant bombastic set piece that manages to be immensely enjoyable and disappointing at the same time. The chaos you create is never exactly boring, nor does the action feel rehashed because you have a lot of freedom and mechanics variety. The greater density of the world is a gigantic step in the right direction and the refined control is a godsend. But when you look beneath the glossy exterior, you don’t see much in the way of substance. It’s a predictable, almost throwaway story with a one-dimensional protagonist, the missions are extremely transparent (in that they only exist so you can cause more destruction), and the repetition can get irksome after a time. When the smoke clears the first time, you’re grinning like an idiot; when it clears the hundredth time, you don’t have much of a reaction.
The Good: Flashy effects drive the experience forward. Excellent sound and a decent score. Control has been tightened and refined. Lots of gameplay freedom to personalize your destruction. Denser, more dynamic playground. Maybe the most satisfying explosions ever?
The Bad: One-dimensional story and main character. Missions really only exist so you can blow things up. Repetition of intense moments is still repetition.
The Ugly: “Nothing particularly ‘ugly,’ unless tedium sets in early.”