The story is pointless and the missions are bland, but Just Cause 3 knows how to tickle me just right. Some men like to watch the world burn. Rico Rodriguez likes to set it ablaze himself and die hundreds of times in the process. Move over, Fallout 4. For all those hours spent creating, Just Cause 3 gives you the tools purely to destroy the massive sandbox while masquerading as the hero. Use an assortment of military vehicles, a deadly arsenal of weapons and a trusty grappling hook to burn militia bases, outposts and suppressed villages to the ground; and repeat for 30-40 hours. That is Just Cause 3.
With five years and a new generation of consoles since the last installment, Just Cause 3ups the ante with a revitalized modern physics system. Rico is still a rag doll with a disorientating floaty jump, but the destruction physics are sublime. Firing rockets from an attack chopper into the weak points of a tower see it crumble convincingly, and terrifyingly on-ground level. Tethers are used to tie items together — up to six when unlocked — and then pull them apart by remotely applying tension at the touch of a button.
Watching infrastructure being ripped apart by carefully engineered tethers is deeply satisfying, and the ensuring trail of explosions is the cherry on top. Then there’s tethering items, anything that isn’t embedded to the earth, to the bottom of a helicopter and using it as a makeshift wrecking ball; oh, baby. I needn’t tell you how often that went horribly wrong and ripped my chopper towards unsuspecting townsfolk, but with a physics system as good as this, I really should have learned much sooner.
Aside from a greater need to destroy, Rico has been fitted with a wingsuit to glide through the air in conjunction with his returning parachute and grapple combo. A lot of time is spent spider-manning between buildings and moving vehicles, but now it’s much faster to traverse the world by gliding. With a rather restrictive fast travel system — there’s a cost each time unless traveling from a liberated province — Avalanche funnels you towards exploring the world primarily through a combination of wingsuit and grappling, with the occasional rampant hijacking. It’s a fun way to get around, and removes the total reliance on grappling to vehicles that was at the forefront of Just Cause 2.
The story is pointless and the missions are bland, but Just Cause 3knows how to tickle me just right. Some men like to watch the world burn. Rico Rodriguez likes to set it ablaze himself, and die hundreds of times in the process.
The focus is clear: world goes boom, and Rico glides away. The bigger picture doesn’t progress as much and is not the substantial improvement we hoped for. The island Medici is 400 square miles, the same as Just Cause 2, and while it doesn’t need to be bigger, it’s not much denser or thriving with activity. The design still revolves around small settlements with little-to-nothing happening in between them, besides the occasional random encounter. There’s more depth to the world, with a train system and some underground caves, but there’s little benefit to exploring these.
Side challenges are fun, and mandatory to unlock new abilities labeled as equipment mods, which are needed to keep the mayhem flowing. They range from races to shooting challenges and wingsuit courses that net the currency to unlock new abilities. Weirdly, some core abilities are locked away here. Rico can’t aim down the sights until it’s unlocked, strange to hide such a basic mechanic, and the challenges themselves need to be unlocked by liberating bases and outposts, of which there are many. There’s a conscious effort to make these new abilities optional, as they can be toggled on and off, and most of the more adventurous wing suit maneuvers are valued so high only well-invested players will ever get to see them, as a reward for continued effort.
Avalanche know you don’t play for the story, and the mindset shows. The narrative is rubbish, there is no character development and skipping the cutscenes might as well be encouraged. There’s a devious villain holding Medici captive to his treacherous rule, but he’s a scarcely seen figure most of the time, and doesn’t come close to the insanity of Vaas or charming dictatorship of Pagan Min.
Three games in, and I really couldn’t care less about Rico’s plight or his needy mates. He’s a vessel for lunacy, adrenaline and chaos, nothing more, and as a result, the 25 story missions suffer. There are a couple of intriguing prospects, and some truly outrageous firefights responsible for fatalities on the scale of war. But the three acts, split across the three regions, are almost carbon copies of each other.
Steal something, mess around with a device, follow a pipe to break in somewhere to destroy a generator and watch a large explosion – end act, now do it again. This is what we expected early last-generation, not well into this one. Somewhere in the middle, the mission indicator directs you to liberate more provinces within an area — each comprising between one and eight bases or towns — before continuing. In essence, that is what Just Cause 3 is: liberate outposts in unique and devastating ways to maximize Chaos Points, and beat your friends on the persistent online leaderboards.
Doing so nets more control over Medici and tackling the big boys unlocks new items for the Rebel Drop system. Once unlocked, vehicles and weapons can be dropped anywhere on the island in a shipping container that explodes in self-deprecating confetti as a glorious fighter jet or tank is exposed. It’s this, more than the mission requirements, that encouraged me to spend hours liberating the deadliest bases, many reminiscent of lairs fit for a Bond villain, buried deep beneath the surface and protected by a savage weapon of mass destruction. I wanted all the fighter jets; I needed better choppers; and once I got a selection of rocket launchers and a cargo plane, housing a tank, Just Cause 3 truly began.
Frankly, I was growing bored until I abandoned missions and freeing small provinces, in favour of the bigger ones to unlock deadlier items and gear mods to expand Rico’s arsenal. The fun is there to make yourself, not presented on a platter. The missions themselves are disappointing, and liberating outposts by destroying the same elements becomes highly repetitive, without finding new and exciting ways to do it better.
That’s the objective, but it doesn’t do as good a job as Just Cause 2 at disgusting its rehashed nature. Make it fun yourself, or you’ll never see the end game. I found joy in exploring the world, to see if I could land jets where there was no right to, and how close I could come to mountain ridges while wing suiting. I spent too long trying to derail a train, and ending up relocating it tethered to a cargo plane that should have crashed numerous time on that ambitious voyage. It’s these little personal challenges were Just Cause 3shines.
Unfortunately, that became a struggle when the Xbox One version is marred by technical issues. For the first five hours, I had no problems. When I was relying on the clunky, outdated, third-person shooter mechanics everything ran smoothly, after the 30 second loading times. However, as I got more vehicles, and created more simultaneous explosions, the frame rate dropped and remained far too low. There are no sudden harsh drops and bounce backs, like Fallout 4’s brief flirt with 0 frames-per-second, but when there’s a lot happening on-screen, the frame rate drops and remains at an unacceptable level (I’d guess below 20fps just from looking at it). When nosediving a jet to bombard an enemy base firing back at me, the jittering performance felt like my Xbox One wasn’t meeting the required specs. Aside from that, it was fine. It’s only these hectic moments, the core of Just Cause 3, when it clearly isn’t optimized for the console.
The controls remain inaccessible, but as with Just Cause 2, that can be attributed to the variety of mechanics. Grappling between vehicles, hanging beneath one like Batman, gliding like him and latching onto an enemy in the space of a couple of seconds inevitably results in regular death when the plan doesn’t translate to performance. I accept mistimed grapples and unexpected explosions, but as a shooter, Just Cause 3 is poor because it feels exactly like Just Cause 2. Games have progressed a lot in five years, and the clumsy aiming system, which prioritizes the grapple, is a relic that matches the poor A.I. In a sense, this doesn’t really matter, as the goons are merely cannon fodder aided by some extremely accurate automated weapons that inflict maximum damage. But all they do is stand and shoot, are immediately aware of Rico’s presence, and wait to be killed. The rebel support A.I. is just as bad; don’t bother coming to assist.
The Final Verdict
I’ve enjoyed Just Cause 3, got bored, and got into it again in the space of 30 hours. The story missions are poor, and the structure is very repetitive, but there’s no better way to destroy an enticing world. It’s an over-the-top B-grade action movie that wants to be totally ridiculous and delivers with a trail of explosions in its wake. The Xbox One version has some framerate issues when the action is at its best, but aside from that, it’s a glorious, shallow, pit of destruction. Just don’t waste time using guns or focusing on the missions, fun is self-served in Medici.