A warm return to the Cold War.
There’s a not insignificant number of people out there who believe that, whatever else, games should be fun, first and foremost. These people would argue that the best writing, world-building, character development and artistic gravitas mean nothing to a game if, in the process of fulfilling those achievements, the end product simply isn’t fun. Those are the kind of people who will absolutely adore Just Cause 3 in just about every way possible – while those who saddle up hoping for a complex plot, deep world-building or sparkling writing may find themselves wanting, however much fun there is to be had at the games core.
Just Cause 3 is a game about blowing shit up in the most ridiculous, over-the-top way possible. This is a game that opens with Rico Rodriguez, its charismatic protagonist, walking on the wings of a plane, shooting (unlimited) rockets at helicopters, tanks, and anti-air radars, before parachuting and hook-shotting his way to join up with his best friend Mario, one of the leaders in a rebellion to free Rico’s home nation of Medici from the grasp of the totally-not-inspired-by-Josef-Stalin-or-Benito-Mussolini General Di Ravello. It’s a fantastic set-piece to open up proceedings, reminiscent of the best sequence in Saints Row: The Third, but without the Kanye West track playing in the background, and it sets the tone for the rest of the game perfectly.
And that’s where Just Cause 3 burns brightest – these crazy action set-pieces where the main concern is doing as much damage to the environment as possible in your attempt to bring Di Ravello’s regime down. When the game hands you a bunch of automatic weapons and a rocket launcher that fires three blasts at a time before letting you loose within a compound, guard post or town to wreak havoc, it’s an adrenaline rush that’s honestly hard to describe. There’s an element of gleefulness to the proceedings, watching as an entire power plant simultaneously explodes in front of you is satisfying in the extreme. It’s almost impossible to die during these sequences too – the game is more than generous with Rico’s health – and even if you do die, penalties are essentially non-existent; you don’t lose any progress, and actually get all your ammo filled up, so in some cases, you might actually benefit from dying.
That’s not to say that everything’s perfect in Medici, of course. The game is frighteningly one-note, with little variety on offer. Most missions consist of “go here, blow this up, leave”, and the game doesn’t do enough to sufficiently add to the formula as time goes on. Outside of the main story missions, there’s not a lot of stuff to do either – there’s some challenges that unlock new skills for good performances, and while you can “liberate” towns, power plants, guard posts and the like, there’s only so many of them there, and unfortunately, they all feel the exact same. Every type of settlement in the game is built from one of two or three sets of parts, and as such, none of them feel very distinctive at all, and that leads me to my next problem with the game – the way it establishes its own world.
In the past year or two alone we’ve seen open-world games really start to push out in terms of world building, with games like Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Witcher 3 as notable examples of games whose worlds feel truly developed and alive in a way that Just Cause just can’t match. Its world-design that feels stuck a generation behind; and while Medici is enormous, and absolutely gorgeous at times to boot, it also feels lifeless and hollow, as if there’s absolutely nothing going on. I never felt like the archipelago was under the control of a ruthless, bloodthirsty dictator, there’s nothing oppressive about it’s sunny skies, crystal-clear water or golden beaches, and simply erecting the same statue and propaganda-blaring speakers in every town does little to give the sense of totalitarianism the game’s going for.
The poor sense of place and world-building doesn’t help when it comes to forwarding the story, either. Pretty early on in the game, you’ll find yourself locked out of story missions until such times as you liberate a certain number of provinces for the rebel cause. Given that each province can have seven or more settlements to liberate, this can often times feel like a chore, and the awful map doesn’t help. There’s only so many times I felt like I could fly into the same identical-looking town, blow up a couple things and raise the rebel flag before I found myself wanting to just go and do something else, instead. All liberations essentially take the same formula – go to the place, blow everything up, and erect the flag (if you’re in a town), and again, the lacking variety hurts the game badly here, even if the act itself of blowing stuff up can be extremely satisfying.
Getting around the map isn’t a ton of fun, either. Vehicles all feel suitably different, but almost none of them are fun to drive, and the size of the map often means that your best bet is to call in a helicopter and just fly to your destination in a fraction of the time. You can glide around in a wingsuit, which can be pretty cool at times, but parachuting is middling at best, and the game’s famous grappling-line just doesn’t have the range that you’d like it to have in order to be a really fun way to get around. These little things really drag the game, and in many ways, it feels like death by a thousand cuts, ones that do incredible disservice to an otherwise fun, and visually stunning game.
Speaking of which, oh my god, does this game look good. I can’t think of a single game that’s ever made wanton destruction and chaos look half as good as Just Cause 3 does. I played on a fairly decent PC, and even with silos and reactors going off all around me, the game still looked fantastic, and held stable at 60 FPS with zero screen-tearing. The game apparently runs considerably poorer on consoles, so if you have the option, go with the PC.
Just Cause 3 is kind of a hard game to recommend, compared to a lot of its competitors in the open-world space. Sure, it looks great, and okay, there’s some awesome set-pieces and a couple of genuinely funny characters and moments, but for everything that I love about the game, there’s something I just can’t get my head around. The story isn’t great, Medici feels neither alive nor appropriately oppressed, with little change apparent as settlements are liberated, and the lacking variety makes it hard to play for longer than an hour or two at a time. If all you want is to feel invincible and blow stuff up in a virtual world, Just Cause 3 might be the game for you – but if you’re seeking more depth or variety, I’d advise that you look elsewhere.