Genre: Action Adventure
Release date: November 30, 2015
Somewhere along the line the hype for Just Cause 3 got real. From my own personal experience, the Just Cause 3 hype really took off when I sold my PS3 to purchase a PS4. For the most part, the decision to upgrade was an easy one. I try to be an agent of change, even when utmost nostalgia gets in the way as was the case in losing Just Cause 2 on PS3. It was one of my most heart-wrenching gaming losses. I believe the Just Cause franchise has the cult following it does is for the absolute open-endedness of its pick-up-and-play gameplay, and the fact it’s "Grand Theft Auto on a tropical island” with a slightly more over-the-top focus. There was really something just so refreshing about the ability to immediately cruise Just Cause 2’s mesmerizing and beautiful tropical setting, and then blow it the hell up just for laughs.
To be sure, a big part of a player’s immediate engagement with Just Cause 2 was Rico’s hilariously surreal, over-the-top traversal tech such as the grappling-hook, which allowed players to sling themselves around the environment and move from point A to B in the matter of seconds, or the endless parachutes that allowed the player to effectively avoid fall damage forever. Alongside top-notch driving mechanics, maneuvering through the environment was easy and hypnotizing, effectively making Just Cause 2 your own personal dream vacation -- except that you’re a godlike, overpowered James Bond type who can alter the environment however you see fit with stylish explosions.
That’s the great thing about playing Just Cause 2, and it’s evident that everyone at Avalanche Studios understood this when making Just Cause 3. The rendering of the environment is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and the maneuverability of Rico is tremendously improved making it more fun than ever, especially thanks to his addictively fun and eye-catching new air-suit. The explosions are even more over-the-top, if you can believe that, and sometimes reach extremes where I’m not sure my console can really handle it, which always makes me giggle.
These are really the only things Just Cause 3 needs in order to be an amazing game. I remember seeing an interview with a Just Cause 2 developer and he stated that only a small percentage of players had actually finished the game, which shows that the colossal sandbox was truly all anyone really cared about. Rather than nixing the narrative content for JC3 or all of the extra elements that no one really cares about, Avalanche Studios has seemingly gone out of its way to satirize and parody the unnecessary tropes and cliches of the Just Cause series which, in my eyes, works so much better for the series in terms of fun factor.
The fact is, Just Cause has always been meant for laughs. The whole thing has very much been a parody from the beginning. The moment any player witnesses the cartoony 30-second chain-reaction explosions from a single, conveniently placed barrel, we all get what the joke is.
In a large way the whole experience is really poking fun at today’s expectations of triple-A video games, and still manages to deliver while making its statement. It has an environment that is laughably huge, a vehicle system with a number of unexpected vehicle options (including a pogo-stick); an unrealistic physics engine, and an endless amount of hidden Easter eggs. These attributes fulfill our desires while also providing a heavy dose of irony.
The only flaw that holds Just Cause 3 back from being fully enjoyed at its highest potential are several poor technical decisions that literally take the player out of the game.
Cutting to the chase, there is a narrative; but it’s clearly there just to supply context for your open-world mayhem. Essentially, you’re Rico, and all your destructive actions are justified as everything you do is considered liberation against the oppressive government of the land. This actually contributes highly to the parody and humor of Just Cause 3, creating a commentary seemingly more self-aware than even GTA’s cheekiest moments.
For instance, people actually thank you for stealing their cars, which is an absolute riot in satirizing the gameplay norms. We’re expected to think that citizens are actually thankful that you've tossed them out of their cars and they've landed straight on their faces in order to commandeer their vehicles, as it's “anything for the revolution” or simply because “We love you Rico!!!”
In addition, the entire gameplay progression is based on how much of a region you destroy. So essentially you’re given free license to fly around and explode anything and everything you see in order to contribute to the revolution. It’s simply a blast, and a great laugh, when you blow an entire village to dust, and a second later see it “liberated,” with citizens applauding your actions as confetti pours into the streets. The unfortunate details of the collateral damage caused in the “liberation,” including countless deaths and widespread damage to the city, are completely dismissed.
A nice touch that’s worth mentioning is how the game handles propaganda. Social commentary has always been present in the Just Cause series, but it definitely feels more in line with today’s realities than ever before. For example, with every demolition of a military base or other terrorist action, the subsequent streaming government radio broadcast always manages to proclaim your actions as their own. Or a military base that's destroyed early on is later broadcasted on airwaves as being dismantled in order to be more “eco-friendly,” a clever and realistic portrayal of government public deception. It's also funny because everyone in a hundred mile range would have seen first-hand or heard how a flying man had collapsed the facility into a large fiery wreckage.
The greatest narrative addition, though, is Rico’s one-liners, which perfectly highlight the parodist tone of the game. Nothing tops the ridiculousness more than propelling a car into a gas station, destroying everything on site, and then hearing Rico say, “Perfect parking spot”. Just Cause 3 is the ultimate fantasy action movie simulator that’s fully aware of its shallowness, making it a grand gift for highbrow and lowbrow action fans.
The gameplay is obviously the only reason we’re here, and thankfully the title manages to fully deliver. Setting the mood is a very tropical, minimalistic musical score.
The car mechanics feel solid and perfectly balanced, just as they always have, but this time they do feel more polished thanks to the Burnout developers who took a hand in the production.
The gunplay feels enormously tight. I’ve heard some criticisms that the gunplay could have been stronger, and although I may have wanted to see a more elaborate targeting system, the gunplay for the most part feels very precise and very accurate. Additionally, every gun has a bit of oomph to it that just feels right. The weapon variety was something that the series needed to improve upon, and I’m happy to say that every gun I got my hands on was fun and explosive. What’s notable about the gunplay in the game is that it’s not designed to be challenging; the focus is exclusively on fun. Time after time I found myself picking off hordes of enemies like they were fish in a barrel, and every time I felt like a total badass doing it.
The lack of any real gunplay challenge means that there’s plenty of room to experiment and be creative with your kills by “other means,” and that’s where the real magic of Just Cause 3 occurs -- especially thanks to the easily accessible grappling system that allows you to sling objects together and generate your own physics-based concoctions of destruction. It’s this promotion of player agency that makes Just Cause what it is. Grappling a hummer to a helicopter and then flying said hummer into a gas tank to explode every enemy on site, and then wingsuiting yourself into a beautiful ocean dive to safety is exactly what makes Just Cause 3 so exciting. The possibilities are truly endless.
What really adds to the replayablity factor -- as if Just Cause didn’t already have enough already -- is the new ability upgrade system. There are tons of new upgrades, a lot of which I haven’t gotten my hands on because there are literally pages of them with each listed under a different category, whether it be for maneuvering -- such as the ability to slow down time when wingsuiting -- or driving, such as the ability to make your car jump.
Maneuverability is something Just Cause 3 gets right, and it’s worth exploring in a little more detail. Every recent open-world game has experimented with modes of fast-travel. GTA V has its character-swap functionality to move from point-to-point on the map. Just Cause 3 just lays on the gadgetry, such as the grapple-crawling speed boost, the ability to call in any equipment via helicopter and, most particularly, the wingsuit. Traversing this world as Rico flows with such magnificent ease makes it easier than ever to become mesmerized and lost in between your action-based moments of pure mayhem. What’s more, travelling by wingsuit is a sure-fire way to get anyone in the same room to gasp with awe at the sheer beauty of the world.
It can be said that the game still feels a little shallow in some areas. For instance, there could have been more variety in the main mission. However, by simply flying around, players will find a plethora of side missions, whether it’s an assassination mission in a car or delivering a package on a motorbike for a friend. There’s something to do or blow to smithereens at every turn, and players such as myself, who come into Just Cause 3 solely seeking the sandbox player-driven experience, are given the complete package. Even now I find myself craving a YouTube-crawl to search for any new creative player-achieved Just Cause 3 mayhem. I’ve already watched more than a few and know that the number cool clips available is virtually endless.
Unfortunately, Just Cause 3 is not without flaws. Even more unfortunately, they’re all purely technical. By now you may have heard that the game has a very odd online connectivity problem. For some reason Avalanche decided that the game has to be constantly online in order to keep real time calculations of the leaderboard score, something which is completely unnecessary in the first place.
As a result, the connectivity constantly drops out, which means the game then has to log you out for a good two minutes. This completely kills game immersion. Whenever this happens I always choose to enter offline mode rather than reconnect. The bigger problem is that even after entering offline mode, every time you pause the game or access the map -- which you have to do a lot -- the game tries to automatically log you back in. This is a very annoying design flaw, and even after a supposed patch I still don’t see it fixed.
Eventually, I did come up with a solution that seemed to work for 15 minutes by turning my PS4’s Wi-Fi off. However, I quickly came to find that as with many modern gaming titles, Just Cause 3 requires constant connection in order to continuously verify the license. As soon as the license cannot be verified within 15 minutes, the game craps out. This is another head-scratcher of the current generation of consoles, albeit a concept I understand, but in the end it simply doesn’t work, particularly because of situations such as these where you try to play offline.
All-in-all, I really can’t understand why these technical hang-ups are here in the first place. Constant online connectivity for the sake of an online leaderboard just doesn’t make sense, particularly when it doesn’t work. In the hours I spent trying to review Just Cause 3, a lot of dropped connections happened, and this meant all action was halted on a pause screen with a spinning gear.
What really irks is the last patch. Rather than placing reconnecting into the background, or at least making the constant connectivity an option, we get what developers are tending to do with these patch solutions, simply increasing the back-end instead of making a fix for the actual problem. The last patch claimed the connectivity was stronger and stabilized, which was apparently false as Just Cause 3 wasn’t crashing during reconnections until the new patch.
I get what’s trying to be accomplished here, but constantly streaming leaderboards is not worth constantly killing immersion. I would suggest cutting the feature altogether. This not-so-tiny glitch is hurting what is otherwise a near flawless game. What you have right now is a simple experiment gone drastically wrong, as players are taken out of what would otherwise be a mesmerizing immersion.
Just Cause 3 is a seriously beautiful game. For those new to the franchise, the game won’t present any sort of learning curve. This is particularly true if you’ve spent any time playing Grand Theft Auto 5. Just Cause 3 is a refreshingly pure pick-up and play game. It’s got a gorgeous world, it’s completely fun, it’s constantly entertaining, the variety is non-stop, and the laughs are many. If you start to get the hang of the rhythm of Just Cause 3, which takes a good couple hours, you’ll likely find that it’s actually a very hypnotic experience.
Flying around waterfalls in the wingsuit, driving cars through multi-colored fields of lush floral life, exploding everything literally on site while in constant motion, Just Cause 3 is a game of our dreams. The unfortunate downfall are the technical issues that kill Just Cause 3’s buzz. It’s a fault that needs to be fixed fast.
+ Magnificent, beautiful open-world setting
+ Lots of player agency, endless possibilities
+ Great traversal options and flowing maneuverability of Rico contribute to hypnotic exploring and destroying the island
+ Brilliant parodist tone adds to the narrative experience
- Fix the connection issue, it's really a big problem