There is a right way, and a wrong way, to play Just Cause 3.
That may seem like a pretentious thing to say, especially in a medium that is all about player agency, but if anything, it speaks to the identity of the Just Cause series. If you’re running and gunning around the small country of Medici, then you’re doing it wrong – instead you should be raining bullets down on your enemies while airborne, or tossing them sky high with explosives. If you’re being pursued by militia while driving behind the wheel, then you’re doing it wrong – jump on top of your car and either tether their vehicles to the environment, before watching them get tugged and rattled, or simply make them go boom with even more explosives.
Just Cause 3, like both of its predecessors, celebrates its unconventional sandbox with absurd physics and an illogically high number of combustibles with great success. But Avalanche Studios takes it a step further, giving the impression that the developer isn’t entirely confident that their latest project can stand on its own two feet. As a result, Just Cause 3 also feels like someone has taken a turkey baster to it, and filled it with a whole lot of fluff.
To many, Just Cause 3 will be their first exposure to the series, and such an introduction will be a culture shock to those who have frequented Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, and the like. For the unacquainted, Just Cause is defined by three core elements: your parachute, your grappling hook, and your unindustrialised playground that stretches for kilometres. And this doesn’t even take into account all of the awesome vehicles you ride around in, or the combustibles you blow up, but to start understanding Just Cause is to understand its rules of travel and aerial advantage.
These aspects have developed and manifested themselves into Just Cause 3 in some major ways. Simply getting from place to place is the most fun I’ve had in any open-world game of any kind. Added to the parachute/grappling hook/massive world trifecta is now the wingsuit. While wingsuits in games have always been fun, none have been as satisfying to master than the one Avalanche Studios implements here. With skilful usage of the grappling hook, your flight only lasts as long as you can successfully sling it onto the terrain, and pull yourself forward, gaining more momentum and therefore staying airborne. You needn’t worry about unlocking the wingsuit later in the game either as Rico Rodriguez, our handsome-looking country native, gets access to the wingsuit within the first half hour, if not sooner.
Though very different from virtually any other open-world sandbox game, Just Cause 3 holds an unflattering comparison to Saint Row IV. Volition’s latest was deeply flawed, mainly because your super hero character was a far superior means of transportation than every single vehicle in the game; this made most of Saints Row IV obsolete. Just Cause 3 suffers from a similar problem as it’s simply more fun, and more effective, to make a B-line sling-suiting (see what I did there) your way around Medici than being tied down to winding roads in any car. As I have said before, approaching this game in a conventional fashion means you’re not thinking “Just Cause”. Thankfully, Rico isn’t a god among humans like your avatar in Saints IV, and so tanks, jets, and attack helicopters still serve a purpose when setting everything on fire.
In fact, they’re fun to use and laughably easy to access. Avalanche has done away with the unnecessarily complicated Black Market from Just Cause 2. Now, vehicles are either unlocked by liberating bases or landing/driving them into your garage. They are also further governed by requesting air deliveries via limited beacons, which are easy to retrieve. Attack choppers were always my go-to ride thanks to their versatility, in both getting from place to place quickly, and in levelling entire areas with missiles and miniguns. Cars (again, probably the wrong way to go) and even jets hardly caught my interest, as there was always a more effective way of getting from one location to another, and always a more efficient tool to turn everything into a burning pile of rubble.
Just Cause 2 was at its best when you ignored the awful B-movie satirised story, and instead made it a personal campaign to liberate and destroy every single enemy station on the map. Avalanche has come full circle in Just Cause 3 by making settlement liberation your primary means of progression. However, in doing so, they have outlined a painfully simple, yet bloated cycle. No matter what you do, your Just Cause 3 experience will go something like this: blow shit up in a town or an outpost, play a bunch of the challenges that are unlocked after the destruction, continue to play said challenges until you’ve reached a high enough score to unlock new abilities.
Blowing shit up is undeniably the most fun part of Just Cause 3, since the game offers gleeful access to heaps of explosive gear and weapons in an even greater frequency than it does military vehicles. Rico’s grappling hook also plays a role here, as you can more easily tether enemies and/or objects together. Preferably, you should choose combustible objects over people because, depending on the amount of tethers you unlock, and how much greater tether strength becomes available, you’ll have more creative control over the environment in bringing gas tanks, transformers, and satellite dishes crashing down in a spectacular and eruptive fashion. With smart use of the parachute, you can then stay afloat while completing fly-by tethering and causing chain explosions with style. You also have infinite detonating charges, which can either be treated as proximity mines, or even more interestingly, mini rocket boosters that propel anything not nailed down before blowing up.
But to close the loop and gain access to these awesome augments, or as they are officially labelled – Mods – you HAVE to trudge your way through the games challenges. These target specific mechanics, vehicles and activities in the game, from completing time trials in boats, cars, and planes, to shooting literal moving targets, to flying through rings in your wingsuit. In any other open world game, such functional but mundane pastimes would have been kept to a minimum while fattening the surrounding content with much more involved side quests. But in Just Cause 3, these are the side quests. It almost feels exploitative having to complete challenges just to gain access to cool shit in a game that is supposed to celebrate its chaotic tendencies, rather than gate them with monotonous content.
Such baiting design caused me to resent Just Cause 3 for its faults even more. Later on, I found myself justifying which Mods I didn’t need to unlock, in order to limit the amount of challenges in which I would have to partake. Eventually, I also started avoiding liberating certain towns entirely. This is thanks to Just Cause 3’s awful map system, which does not show all the objects on the map needed to be destroyed, depending on your progress, along with containing some frustratingly ambiguous objectives (have fun finding those fucking propaganda vans).
And that is the saddest part of Just Cause 3. Avalanche comes off as afraid of there not being enough “stuff” to do in their game, and so it walls off progress with arbitrary things to do. You wanna access cool new Mods? Keep playing those challenges. Wanna unlock special vehicles? Flutter around and hunt down some frivolous collectibles. Wanna gain access to new story missions? Liberate some bases.
Of course, the story missions themselves trim off all the fat and get to the good stuff, right? Well… not exactly. The story missions in Just Cause 3 revolve around a small handful of variations, where most don’t do all that great a job in reinforcing the game’s mechanics. An exception to this would be the chase-escort missions that are simple, but directed in such a way which aptly incentivises you to use your tethers and explosives in interesting and fun ways. Shoot a grenade launcher at a helicopter and watch it crash on top of a speeding militia jeep? Awesome. Tether two fighter jets together and watch them collide while standing on a jumbo jet? Fuckin’ sweet.
The worst of the missions – and they’re pretty bad – are the ones that confine you to indoor locations. Avalanche has so deliberately designed Just Cause 3 for vast mobility and mass destruction in such a way that it has taken out Rico’s ability to sprint and roll dodge. And that’s fine, when you’re outdoors. However these indoor missions are completely antithetical to the purpose of Just Cause 3’s design. They force you to rely on the game’s crappy gunplay, that simply can’t stand well on its own, and bottle you into much tighter spaces that – as the saying goes – stymie your creative expression.
To most, nearly all of my gripes with Just Cause 3 could be considered a non-issue. It is the perfect YouTube game, fit for standing as an active canvas for various types of mayhem such as this and this. The chaotic elements of Just Cause 3 suit gamers that are content with a non-governed toy box, that simply allows them to tether a car to a helicopter and drop it on a gas station. These antics aren’t necessarily difficult to do, but then there are also those who’d prefer a more structured experience, and will be woefully disappointed in the lack of more linear moments. Either way, regardless of what type of gamer you are, you’ll still have to deal with those damn challenges that stand between you and the fun to be had.
Just Cause 3 is a great package of interacting systems. From skilfully intertwining your wingsuit and grappling hook, to strapping together explosive objects and vehicles, Just Cause 3 is a factory of spectacular moments. But these moments only measure up to your level of tolerance for repetition, and your aptitude in spontaneous creativity; both fall at the mercy of spending far too much time unlocking them through far too many banal challenges. There’s a good game here in Just Cause 3, you’ll just need to dig around to find it.
Editor’s Note: This review was completed after the 1.02 patch, which improved the game’s much talked about load times and glitches.
The sex is good but...
Just Cause 3 asks for too much and is far too demanding for your time almost every step of the way.