Review - "Just Cause 3"

Every once in a while, a game will come out that doesn't get the justice it deserves. Whether that's little to no press, bad sales, or overshadowing by bigger brands, these games are unsung heroes of their mediums. They'll often do new things, or improve on preexisting ideas.

Just Cause, as a franchise, has historically been one of those series. Let's hope this one doesn't continue the trend, because it deserves its due.

Just Cause 3
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Available On: PlayStation 4 (reviewed,) Xbox One, PC
Rated M
MSRP: $59.99

That's not to say, of course, that Just Cause 3 is some obscure, underground franchise, of course, because it's certainly not at this point. Perhaps it doesn't have the brand recognition of a Grand Theft Auto or a Far Cry, but it's definitely come a long way from its roots as a janky yet lovable stunt simulator back in 2006. That's thanks, in large part, to a dedicated online community committed to doing ridiculous things in the fantastic sequel and posting the results online.


It's that community that Just Cause 3 feels like quite the love letter to, because practically every ridiculous thing you could just so happen to do in past games is now actively encouraged and turned into a core mechanic. Cars are eschewed in favor of traversing the environment with your magic parachute, something the game straight-up tells you is the best way to travel. Tethering things is now encouraged and even pushed to be equally as useful as your guns. Any ridiculous thing that you ever tried to do in the past couple of games is here and easier to do than ever before, along with a whole spate of other new mechanics. Basically, it feels like Avalanche watched how people screwed with their last sandbox, then implemented everything they saw.

The result of that is a game that's a relentless blast, even at several hours into the whole thing. It can't be stressed enough just how pliable the gameplay here is. You can crash into a base in a helicopter or a tank, then blow that vehicle up to take out a bunch of bad guys. You can set off a series of explosions by jumping a sports car into a water tower. You can tether a fuel tank to a satellite dish then blow both of them up while gliding away. You can take down armies of soldiers without firing a single shot or lobbing a single grenade. If you can think of it, Just Cause 3 will let you do it, and it's a better experience for it

Oh, and you can fly around with a wingsuit now, which defies physics in the most glorious ways possible. Cool stuff.


While most modern open-world games are satisfied with giving players easy-to-grasp mechanics, then making them do the same thing over and over again, Just Cause 3 laughs at that idea before blowing it to smithereens. There's no denying that the system of progression here is the same as we've seen in oh-so-many open world titles (liberate a base, blow a thing up, kill some things, capture a whole region of the map, then do it again,) but the way it's presented here feels fresh thanks to how it's executed. Instead of doing the same thing at each place, players can go about it any which way they choose. Players are given mechanics to master and strategies to adopt, rather than simplistic, cut-and-dry objectives that stifle creativity. The objectives are just templates, rough sketches for the player to complete, with explosions, tethers, and miscellaneous vehicles being the artistic implements.

With all this going on, it's easy to forget that there's actually a story here. Which you shouldn't, actually, because it's the best that the franchise has had thus far. Basically, San Marino is where Rico grew up, and he's returned home to liberate it from a tyrannical dictator. This means that aside from toppling statues and obliterating hapless henchmen, Rico has dinner with family, pals around with his childhood friend (who's basically Roman from Grand Theft Auto IV,) and muses on how he wants to give his home back to the people. There's even a diverse cast of memorable characters, as opposed to unremarkable faction leaders and Sheldon. I mean, don't worry, Sheldon's still here, and still as lovably despicable as ever, but it's nice to have other characters for Rico to feed off of. It creates a vibe not dissimilar to the Fast & Furious franchise: a fast, loose action romp with a cast of wise-cracking characters doing crazy things.

Am I saying that Just Cause 3 is a surefire candidate for having the best narrative in a game this year? Nah. Not at all, not even close. But compared to what we've gotten before, there's a lot more heft, and a great deal more intrigue beyond "kill the dictator because he's doing a bad thing, also blow stuff up." It's nice having a big cast, it's nice having more purpose behind the chaos, and it's nice having Rico be a bit more than "Duke Nukem if he weren't a chauvinist."

And yet, despite all of these positives, and despite Just Cause 3 severely improving on the whole open-world formula in ways that will probably go unappreciated, I feel that it's not quite enough for me to shake the feeling that I've done this all before. Yes, San Marino is a fun place to stomp around, and yes, the views are breathtaking and the map is huge and the side-activities are pretty cool (bomb cars!) But for some reason, it feels very much a victim of being an open-world action game in a market crowded with them. While Avalanche's Mad Max is a game that came up with a thoroughly compelling and convincing post-apocalyptic wasteland, then loaded it with side-activities that made sense in the context of the narrative, Just Cause 3 just has a whole bunch of stuff that feels as if it's there just because it can be.

Aside from some cool perks and upgrades, and aside from the abundance of choice available in how to do certain challenges, there's no way around it: "race through the checkpoints" and "do a certain thing but really fast" are things that feel tacked-on for the sake of just having more stuff. And with many key upgrades locked behind some of these challenges, it's pretty disappointing to have to slog through the same sort of objectives we've been seeing since the early 2000's just to get access to jet-boosted explosives, better tether strength, and nitro boosts on cars. Wouldn't it make more sense to lock these abilities behind story missions, or the toppling of certain bases?

While it's definitely an improvement over Far Cry's tedious "hunt enough of a thing to get a thing" system, which never really felt worth it, it's rarely fun to do the sort of stuff Just Cause 3 expects of players to get to the good stuff. It dilutes the stellar quality found elsewhere in the game, and speaking personally, it greatly impeded on my fun at times.

Which isn't to say that Just Cause 3 isn't a blast and half for most of the time I've spent with it. It's the cream of the crop of its type of game, and it's still a consistently fun time throughout. Speaking personally, I know it's a beautiful, engaging game I'll be coming back to for a good long while, and there's no denying that there's a heck of a lot to do here, most of it open to however players want to approach any given situation. Despite varying obnoxious ways of locking content behind pedestrian activities, and despite being an open-world title of a very certain variety in an overstuffed market, Just Cause 3 still manages to impress and exhilarate during its slower moments. The fact remains that San Marino is a great place to get lost in, and the ways in which players can get lost number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

Just Cause 3 is a firm step in a more streamlined and yet more dynamic direction for Eidos' stalwart franchise, thanks to implementing time-saving ways of transportation, mission progression, and overall access to the basics of what you'll need to have a blast. In spite of a few kinks that prevent it from being the non-stop dose of adrenaline that it could be, it's the most exciting open-world action title this year, and a considerable improvement over what's on the market.

Pros
- A large world with plenty to do.
- Dynamic, varied gameplay.
- A surprisingly engaging narrative.
- Stunning graphics.
- Tethering stuff is practically an art form.

Cons
- A large chunk of filler objectives.
- Sort of same-y when compared with other stuff on the market.
- Occasionally lengthy load times can irritate. 
- Filler objectives often lock some of the coolest stuff behind them.

 


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