Review: Just Cause 3

9 Dec 2015

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If It Ain’t Broke…

Readers here may have guessed, either through the number of times I’ve written about rhythm games or through my current Twitter handle, that I am quite into music. I worked in college radio, independent radio, band promotion, and have played in a band as well. In fact, before joining up with GamerEscape two years ago (it’s really been that long?!), I was mainly writing about musicians and reviewing albums.

“Wait!” you may ask, “what does any of this have to do with Just Cause 3?”

Well, in my playthough of the game featured in this review, my mind kept coming to a dilemma I’ve run across often in the music world. It exists in almost all entertainment media, really, but I’m just used to it through music and figured it was the best way to relate it.

To all you music fans out there: think of a band or performer you like, one that has multiple albums preferably. Doesn’t matter if it’s The Beatles or Nicki Minaj, just go with it. Now think about their different releases, and why you like them. Is it because there’s something new in each album, or that the performer likes to experiment? Or, perhaps, does every album sound the same, and you like the consistency? Now flip the question on it’s head: a band or performer you hate. Ask yourself the same questions.

This is the kind of dilemma I came up against in Just Cause 3: should an entry in a series be trying to evolve itself, or is it OK if it’s just more of the same? I can understand each viewpoint, and there’s really no concrete answer to the question; it all comes down to personal opinion. It’s also been a major talking point about the game since its release last week, so I figure it’s time to weigh in with my opinion.

Just Cause 3 was developed by Avalanche Studios and published by Square Enix. The game was released on December 1st, 2015 for PC, PS4, and XBox One. The PS4 version was played for this review.

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The island of Medici is currently under the iron grip of dictator Sebastiano Di Ravello. A powerful substance named Bavarium has been found on the island, and Di Ravello is set on weaponizing it to take over the world! Unfortunately for him, Medici is also the home island of series protagonist Rico Rodriguez, dictator-overthrower extraordinaire. Rico returns to his homeland (riding on the back of a jet and firing off rockets) to help lead a resistance force to take Medici back for the people.

Sorry if I got a little cheesy there, but Just Cause 3 is practically dripping in action-film hype. The game takes the majority of its feel and influence from summertime popcorn action films…and that, unfortunately, includes the lack of a coherent and interesting plot. The story missions feel like they have “story” slapped on to them in order to give some kind of justification for why you are currently setting part of the island on fire, rather than attempting to tell a solid tale. I’ve played and read my fair share of complex games and books, but the story of Just Cause 3 kept losing me, mainly due to the lack of connection between the story missions.

Luckily, one thing Just Cause 3 gets right is the characters. While most of the characters can be a little one-note, they are still written quite well, and their interactions between each other help to bring life to the game. The constant ribbing between Rico and his best friend Mario was some of the best dialogue in the game, and established the connection between the characters quite well.

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Let Chaos Reign

“Nobody plays these games for the story! They just play it to blow stuff up and have a good time!”

Just Cause 3 is all about breaking physics and blowing things up. I’ll admit that the series has never really been about story…although if one is going to be presented, it should have a bit more put into it. Putting that aside, lets look at the gameplay.

This game is a full open-world sandbox: go where you want, do what you want, and wreck general havoc if you so desire. The big selling point of Just Cause 3, and the series in general, is in Rico’s main piece of equipment: a hookshot. Rico can fire a hookshot at just about anything in the world (if he’s close enough to it) and reel into it. Trees, buildings, people, goats…if you can see it, you can bury a hook into it and fly at it, physics be damned. You can also use your hookshot to connect two items together, and then retract the rope to make them fly at each other. Best example I’ve seen: attaching goats to wind turbines and watching them fly majestically through the air.

Speaking of damning physics, a new method of transportation was added for this entry: a wingsuit. While you’re in midair, a press of a button deploys Rico’s wingsuit, allowing him to ride the air currents and sail like a bird in the sky…until he hits the ground, that is. The strangest logic I’ve met in this game involves the wingsuit. For example, while plummeting toward the ground, if you can hookshot into the earth first, you can reel in and survive a fall of any height. Hit the ground while your wingsuit is deployed, though, even from a much smaller height…and it’s gonna hurt.

The other staple of Just Cause 3 is explosions. Lots and lots of explosions. Much of the game revolves around destroying objects that make a modest boom when ignited. The sheer visceral joy that comes from taking the world down in a blaze of fire is a source of near-endless entertainment within this game.

Of course, all of the other open-world staples are present as well, from a wide range of pilotable vehicles to all kinds of different guns and weapons. If you have a creative mind and an attraction to insanity, Just Cause 3 gives you all the tools to go nuts within its sandbox world. However, its once you begin actually “playing the game,” rather than running around and going crazy, that things begin to get dull. Story missions offer some pretty setpieces, but rarely vary beyond “drive here, blow this up, protect these people.” Various challenges are available throughout the world as well, ranging from testing your wingsuit skills to tasking you to blow up as many things as you can with a certain weapon. Completion of these unlocks new skills for Rico…but the variety on these challenges is rather slim.

The game’s whole island liberation aspect also gets incredibly repetitive. As you explore the world, you are tasked with liberating cities and military outposts from the enemy. Doing so entails destroying a certain number of items off of a checklist. Where there are rare unique activities in some cities, the vast majority require you to just swing around and blow up the items painted red. The first few times doing this is quite fun, and helps draw you in to the destructibility of the world. However, once you look at the massive world map and realize that you’re going to have to do this an endless number of times…I’ll just say, my desire to play this game decreased with each session.

However, even if you can look past all that, there is one thing you will not be able to ignore…at least on the PS4 version. That would be the infuriatingly slow load times. This is one of those engines that shouldn’t exist anymore. One where you might very well spend more time in loading screens than actually playing. Upon booting the game, prepare to wait about two minutes going from title screen to actually playing. Restarting missions and challenges is even worse. In my most recent experience, after the game loaded up, I called in an airplane, jumped in it, ran it into a mountain, blew up, and died. About thirty seconds of playtime. I pulled out a stopwatch and timed the next loading screen: just over three minutes. This was right after booting up the game as well! In the 5-6 minutes since I had pressed “Start Game” on my PS4, I played for a total of thirty seconds. This is absolutely ridiculous, especially for a supposedly powerful system.

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The Lights Are On, But Nobody’s Home

Just Cause 3 can be an attractive game. The world has quite a bit of detail, as do the characters. NPCs appear to be animated well, and the explosions look spectacular. The only issue is that this game looks like it could be pulled off on the PS3 just as well. Nothing really screams “new gen” about this game, despite only being released for current generation systems. The only thing, perhaps, is the processing power that it might take to render so many explosions. Even then, I experienced a few slowdown issues during more hectic moments of the game, especially when multiple destructions are occurring at the same time.

Also of note, despite the detail on the character models, the faces and facial animations feel lacking to me. There are many points during cutscenes where characters speaking to each other appear to be giving a dead-eyed stare to an area just next to the character they are supposed to be talking to. It feels sometimes like the character animations were done without taking interaction with other models into account in these scenarios.

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Percussive Explosions

Either I completely blanked on this section, or music doesn’t exist in Just Cause 3.

That’s a hyperbolic statement, of course, but there certainly seems to be a lack of music. Some of the mission setpieces offer tracks to get the blood pumping, and I occasionally ran across street bands playing music in liberated cities…but most of the game is quite quiet, with just the sound of Rico’s grunts, his hookshot, and detonating fuel containers filling the air.

The voice acting, though, is a point that I have to give in the game’s favor. All of the characters sound like they were cast well, and the performances are excellent. As I mentioned earlier, the relationship between Rico and his friend Mario is one of the game’s highlights, and the performances from both voice actors really sell it…especially Mario, who I feel gives one of the best performances in the game.

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…It Might Still Need Fixin’

Back to what I mentioned in the intro: is it alright for a game to be more of the same, or should a new entry in a series try something new? Just Cause 3 falls into the “more of the same” camp of that argument, to the point where I’ve seen it referred to online occasionally as Just Cause 2.5. However, I haven’t seen that used in a negative way. In fact, it seems many people playing this game are just enjoying being back in control of Rico again.

Here’s my opinion. Just Cause 2 is a critically-acclaimed game, mostly because of the sheer variety of things you can do in the world and the chaos you can cause. What it feels to me, though, is that Avalanche and Square Enix decided to focus just a bit too much on that aspect, and ended up releasing a game that feels half-hearted and lacking in every department except the random chaos. Without giving players enough of a reason to put their destructive toolbox to use, the game eventually begins running on fumes.

Even if you were a major fan of past entries, I can not recommend picking up Just Cause 3 as a full-price new release. The actually “game” content is just too lacking for that. Maybe further down the road, or as part of a sale, it would be worth picking up just to mess around in the world and go crazy…and perhaps by then the technical issues will be fixed. Taken as a full new package, though, Just Cause 3 is moderately entertaining at best, and below mediocre at worst.

~ Final Score: 5/10 ~

Review copy provided by Square Enix for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.