– Aaron Birch
Just Cause 3 is the second main game from Avalanche this year, the first being Mad Max, and although both are open world sandboxes, there’s little in the way of similarity here. Mad Max was a vehicle-focused beat ’em up set in a grungy world that didn’t quite achieve all it wanted, and Just Cause 3 is the latest installment in possibly the most over the top, destructive sandbox ever made. It also falls short, so that’s something they have in common. In fact, Just Cause 3 is possibly one of the best examples of a game that seems to make me want to hate it. Let me elaborate, beginning with the basics.
I won’t waste time going into the story or characters in depth, not because of spoilers, but because the story is weak, shallow, and pointless. This isn’t a problem, as Just Cause doesn’t pretend to care. Instead it gives you a massive open world to cause havoc in, and that’s perfectly fine with me.
The basic gist sees protagonist, Rico Rodriguez, a super agent who specialises in overthrowing military dictators, returning to the fictional island nation of Medici, his home. As luck would have it, Medici is in the grip of a crazy, moustache-twirling dictator, and Rico has to once again blow shit up in order to save the day. This time he’s demolishing his homeland in the name of the rebels, and has been graced with some upgrades, including a much improved grapple, the game’s major gimmick, and source of much enjoyment.
Before you get into the game itself, there’s a clever install system that puts you on ‘Boom Island’ where you can mess around with Rico’s abilities and get to grips (or at least try to) with the controls. It’s a welcome change from a simple loading screen or install bar, but don’t worry, loading screens are aplenty, you certainly won’t miss them later. In fact, loading times, more specifically the length and number of them are the first real problem I found. The amount of loading is simply ridiculous. It’s a big problem, and needs to be fixed.
The tutorial island has a few items and vehicles spread around, including explosive barrels, and you quickly learn how to use Rico’s skills to make use of the environment in ridiculous, but usually hilarious ways. If you say you didn’t try attaching a goat to a gas canister, before shooting it and sending both flying into orbit, you’re lying. It’s just impossible to resist.
It’s here, in this installation limbo that the game shows you what’s in store, and what it wants from you. You have the tools, and all that’s asked is you use them in creative ways to destroy everything and just have fun. Once you get to the game proper, this opens up, and it keeps evolving as you progress. You’re shunted into the first couple of story missions, you liberate a settlement, and you unlock the first few challenges. It’s fast-moving, and again demonstrates that the game just wants you to have fun, story be damned.
Early on you get an upgraded grapple, the first of many such improvements. As you liberate more and more settlements, challenges are unlocked that can be attempted, and depending on your skill, grant a number of gears which are used to purchase further upgrades. These include extra abilities for all sorts of skills, from vehicle nitro to planted explosives that function as jet boosters. The list is extensive, and as you upgrade, you often open up even more inventive ways to blow things up and cause havoc. Rest assured, the game gives you plenty of tools, and it’s an impressive playground. Perhaps the most ambitious of its kind so far.
The grapple alone is a superbly enjoyable item to use, and it can be employed in so many ways. You can tether people to explosive barrels. Tie tanks to helicopters and lift them, pull down billboards and statues, and even pull helicopters out of the sky (or into buildings or another helicopter). The possibilities are impressive. Tethers are independent, and can be attached to multiple objects at any one time. You begin with the ability to use two, but unlock more later. As the world is heavily based on physics, you’ll often need multiple tethers to destroy objects. For example, one tether hasn’t got enough strength to pull down a statue, but two will do the job. The grapple is also used to traverse the world, and Rico can use to to scale surfaces, hijack vehicles (even mid air), and attack foes with a high-speed drop kick. It’s flexible, and you’ll be using it constantly.
Rico also has his staple always-available parachute, and now has a wing suit too. This combination makes him feel more like a super hero than a mere special agent, and you can pull of the kind of action sequences Hollywood would gaze upon with green-tinted envy. Car surfing, hanging upside down from choppers, hijacking a supersonic jet in mid-flight, it’s all in a day’s work for Rico, and I’ve not even mentioned how impressive the destruction is.
Just Cause 3 gets the art of blowing everything up down to a tee. Not since Red Faction: Guerrilla have I seen architectural carnage this satisfying, and although you can’t blow up everything (Red Faction: Geurrilla still has that accolade), using your various weapons and skills to destroy enemy logistics is always a blast, if you’ll excuse the pun. The creativity allowed is what makes this so successful, and you’ll actually end up using your grapple and other abilities more than normal weapons a lot of the time. In fact, it actually makes usually fun weapons like RPGs and grenades feel fairly mundane.
This all sounds amazing, and you’re probably wondering why I opened stating the game wanted me to hate it, right? Well, sadly, as great as the game can and should be, and as much as I genuinely want to love it, it fights you at every turn and it’s a technical, and mechanical mess at times that’s in dire need of a few patches and tweaks.
First up are the controls. Although steep learning curves are perfectly fine, and I appreciate a system that demands skill to master, Just Cause 3‘s controls are overly complex and just plain clunky. All of the cool stuff you can do is often overshadowed by the numerous times you had to try and pull it off with failure due to ridiculously finicky controls, and situations often end in frustration. Even simple grapples can end up in an annoying mess of button mashing, as you desperately try to get Rico to do what you want, or climb up onto a surface.
The game has page after page of controls, one for each type of transport (on foot, car, bike, helicopter, and so on). Most are similar in terms of layout, but there are enough differences between each method of travel to throw you. If a game like GTA can handle this with a uniform, easily used system, why can’t this? What’s more, you can’t rebind controls. I found the inability to rebind precision aim from L3 to L2 irksome as this is just hard-wired at this point, as most other games, third person or no, use L2 as aim. The option to change this would be much appreciated. That said, precision aim isn’t even available right away you have to unlock it as a mod, which is just silly.
Aiming is a staple game feature, not an extra. Oh, and despite being a super agent, Rico can’t sprint, just run a little faster than walking. In a game as action-oriented as this, it’s an omission that sticks out like a sore thumb, and sprint, dives, and rolls need to be a part of Rico’s skill set. Sadly, they’re not, and you feel handicapped when on foot. Want to move fast? Get a vehicle, or use the grapple. That’s all you can do. In the midst of a furious fire fight, a simple dash or roll would improve the game greatly.
Controls aside, the game has many other flaws, such as a plethora of glitches and bugs. Rico can react totally randomly in some situations, not opening his parachute when you expect him to, or failing to climb a ledge. Vehicles are prone to crazy physics, and enemy AI is severely lacking, to the point where enemies can stand still even when you’re right in from of them, to running around in circles or getting stuck in the floor.
Allied AI is no better, and in many story episodes, which often boil down to cliché escort missions, this terrible AI can result in failure, creating near-impossible to complete missions where the AI causes you to fail regardless of your efforts thanks to acts of sheer stupidity. Get ready to reload those checkpoints time and time again, with the long loading times that accompany them. The game also suffers from frame rate drops in heavy action, and as a lot of missions involve hectic chases or base destruction, it can be very noticeable.
Simply put, Just Cause 3 really is a potentially great game that’s held back by far too many core problems and a desperate need for patches, and that’s after an existing Day-0, 2GB+ patch! Even with the problems, though, I just can’t shake the desire to want to love it, and it keeps me coming back, even if this time is tinged with frustration. It looks great, has a huge and impressive world, and the freedom in the destruction and mayhem you can cause begs for your attention. I have to admit, tethering a man to a wall and sticking booster explosives to him to create a macabre, and ever so slightly psychotic Catherine wheel is one of the best moments in games this year.
If you can put up with the many issues (and that could be quite a big ask), Just Cause 3 has plenty to offer. It’s just such a shame it comes with this lack of polish. This is one time a few months delay really would have been welcome, and with so many other top notch titles released recently, I’d say your money may be best used elsewhere, at least until some issues are ironed out.
Pros: Fun destruction. Great over the top action. Goats.
Cons: Poor story. Terrible AI. Long load times. Confusing controls.