Latest in the franchise often buckles under the weight of its own lofty ambitions.
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: December 1st, 2015
Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, PS4
Note: Just Cause 3 was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Action/Adventure games are a dime a dozen and are – next to first and third person shooters – one of the more lucrative genres. Between Assassin’s Creed, Batman and Avalanche’s own Mad Max, how can an action game carve out a niche for itself? By blowing one wide open. Just Cause 3 is the video game equivalent to The Fast and the Furious films with all of the hokey dialogue and explosions to impress any member of the U.N. But it doesn’t all congeal together in the fire and brimstone and often buckles under the weight of its own lofty ambitions.
Just Cause 3 takes place years after 2010’s Just Cause 2 as Rico Rodriguez returns to his homeland of Medici, a fictional, beautiful landscape that spans 400 square miles and ranges from the white-capped mountain tops to thick dense jungles. It’s a veritable paradise that is under the rule of General Sebastiano Di Ravello. Di Ravello is your typical “cruel for the sake of cruel” villain who is having the toughest time getting rid of that “wascally wabbit.” The plot of Just Cause 3 is one long cartoon with sequence after sequence sandwiched in between cutscenes that never feel impactful to the narrative.
Many will dismiss the narrative failings as being irrelevant to the gun-toting Rico “liberating” village after village after village, but the player needs more investment. Aside from the upgrades in gameplay, there is no incentive to push through the lackluster plot and forgettable characters. Rico himself is a passive participant in his own world with little motivation other than to be rebellious and fight the incompetent leaders. People tell him where to go, blow something up and come back. Even his friend Mario never elevates past bowling in Liberty City and is often just a nuisance during gameplay. There are only so many times you can fire a rocket launcher into a fuel tank and attach rockets to cars and people before the tedium starts to settle in.
The gameplay is Just Cause 3’s greatest asset and seems to have been the focus of the developer’s time and resources. Introduced in the original Just Cause, Rico’s magical expanding/retractable parachute plus a grappling hook allows quick and easy traversal as well as multiple tethers. Just Cause 3’s newest and touted addition is the wingsuit and it’s used in tandem with the aforementioned grappling hook and parachute - traversal of Medici is a thrill ride. Just be prepared for a steep learning curve getting to that point that includes jettisoning yourself straight into a cliff face or tree. Additional gameplay improvements include walking freely on vehicles instead of being locked and C-4 explosives that recharge. However, these are refinements to a pre-existing formula rather than game changers.
Just Cause 3 opts for a more unorthodox method of leveling up Rico and providing specialized perks and abilities that give him a bevy of additional destruction tools. The world is filled with challenges that award the player gear points. These challenges vary between wingsuit courses, driving from point A to B and one that is reminiscent of Speed where you must reach a destination and cannot fall below a certain speed with an explosive finish at your destination. Many of the upgrades are superfluous, such as booster jets that you can attach to people, animals or vehicles to watch them spiral into an explosion, additional C-4 charges and grappling tethers.
The rest of your time with Just Cause3 will be spent liberating villages and uprooting military bases by destroying certain repeating objects. Billboards, statues and radios are on Rico’s hit-list, but play never deviates from this formula. The ability to fast-travel, once you’ve raised the rebel flag, is a welcome addition but there’s hardly ever more encouragement to do so other than to see the game’s fantastic explosions and kill never-ending waves of soldiers. Once a village or base is liberated, you can reset it to oppressed if you still need more carnage in your life.
While Just Cause 3 improves its color palette, the performance on the PlayStation 4 is unacceptable and even furthermore, there hasn’t been a patch released to mediate this at the time of this review. Village liberations slow to a crawl if there is a large explosion on screen. In any other game, it’s a rare occurrence. Load times are also unbearable when compared to open-world games that have one loading screen at the start of the game and never again until you turn your system off. 30-seconds to a minute may sound inconsequential but when these loads are also used to break up cutscenes, you’ll slowly wish you were playing something else.
Spencer Fawcett is a screenwriter who also does production work for NBC/Universal. He has written for Parade Magazine and ASUs The State Press. Twitter: Whizbang813