Just Cause has been a weird series. It's never quite felt as significant as it should, but it still sits comfortably the AAA world. One thing that its predecessor did though was be justa ton of fun. The grappling hook and parachute combo made Rico Rodriguez mobile at such a pace that few third person games have been. It also had great destructibility in its maps, encouraging you to use your imagination when it came to blowing up military bases. This only got more ludicrous with a very enthusiastic modding community that just added to the lunacy of destruction and movement.
However, if Just Cause 2 had a fault, it is the phrase I most commonly saw associated with it. "It's fun, but I didn't play the story." At times, that title felt like a physics playbox with a few loose missions attached. Nothing about the story of who Rico was and what he was doing resonated, even if Avalanche Studios were obviously trying to make a bit of a satire of the whole affair. The gameplay so resoundingly trumped the campaign, I don't know many who saw the story all the way through.
And now, here comes Just Cause 3. Let me say, off the bat, that sense of mobility and destruction…it's all even better than before. It's a joy to traverse as well as blow up the country of Medici in equal measure. However, more importantly, instead of just a fun sandbox to play in, Just Cause 3 crucially feels like a much more well rounded game than its predecessor. There's variety, beauty and chaos on display here and it is a joy to behold…mostly…
The game throws you into the world of the previously mentioned Medici, a fictional Mediterranean island where protagonist and 'Dictator Removal Specialist' Rico Rodriguez grew up. As it turns out, his home in fact happens to be under control of ruthless dictator General Di Ravello who is in control of the highly volatile mineral, Bavarium. Rico is hoist into the rebel cause from there, trying to reclaim his home with explosions, weaponry and imagination. The story is hardly stellar, but it keeps a sense of adventure and fun, hoisted on the shoulders of a gallery of a charming supporting cast. Rico Rodriguez is a delight to play with too, making a very charming hybrid bewteen Nathan Drake and Ezio Auditore. The central narrative mostly remains light and has a much stronger connective throughline than previously. It gets ludicrous at points, but that is all part of the fun in honesty. While a bit of a chore, the final boss fight is pure spoof, playing on convention of spy romp to the final degree.
That sense of destruction that the series has become known for has only gotten better too. The grappling hook is as good a ever, helping you hop around and attach unsuspecting guards to explosives that fly away with them attached. The confines of the game's rules are vast, and the sandbox allows you to use the tools at your disposal to create madness specifically tailored by you. If you can think of some convolutedly hilarious way to blow something up, chances are, you'll be able to set it off as you want if your execution is right. The explosions are beautiful and they chain to make amazing fireworks displays all powered by the sweet, sweet power of 'revolution.' At times, just seeing a great plan come together, of you standing on top of a plane and tethering two enemy jets together as they slowly lose control and take each other out…well, there hasn't been anything like that this year. It's genuinely, and I mean this literally, exhilarating at times and I rarely find myself feeling that during action sequences in most games.
However, the real star of the show here is the location. While the game's graphics aren't Battlefront levels of eye candy, the lush art direction does most of the heavy lifting here. This fictional land is vast and varied, from beautiful fields of flowers, to quaint Mediterranean towns, to cities with skyscrapers, to snow covered mountain peaks, this is like taking a trip to the south of Spain and the locations looking as good as the brochure. This would all be lost too if not for the exceptional traversal, which by the way, is astounding. Really. That's not hyperbolic. The big addition this game is the wingsuit and it is a total revelation. When using it, you use your grapple hook to pull yourself along, gliding mere inches from the ground as you line up for your next point of acceleration. This is not auto-pilot either. It can be quite hard to get the hang of, but like a kite, once you get it going, the wind catches you. This level of involvement is perfect, making it easy enough to be relaxing, but not boring enough to switch off. No matter if you've glided nine kilometers over five minutes perfectly, you are always a lapsed second of concentration from Rico faceplanting a rock. It's impeccably executed and is easily the best version of this kind of gliding I've every experience. (Sorry Arkham games). I enjoyed it so thoroughly in fact, that for all of the game's fascination with explosions, guns and mayhem, my favorite parts of this title were just silently flying over Medici's gorgeous scenery while Henry Jackman and Zach Abramson exquisite score played.
However, for all of the beauty and excitement built into the game, there are frustrating foibles that stop this from being a knock out punch. The most important, is the game's performance. I reviewed the game on the Xbox One, where this problem is pronounced. The game chugs in the framerate department significantly at times, especially in densely populated areas with explosions popping off everywhere. It really does hurt the experience as this game excels at movement. The second you start to feel like you are moving through treacle, which happens far more than I'm comfortable with, the joyful sense of momentum is killed. In fact, Just Cause 3 actually hitched up so completely for me once that I had to close the game and completely restart it.*
Beyond that, the game also has a few other quirks that get in the way of play too. The loading screens are plentiful here, appearing before and after every cutscene. They are pretty significant too sometimes lasting as long as 30 seconds to a minute. In weird instances, sometimes the game will have a cutscene scene of disloague, followed by another 10 second cutscene to set up the location you are in, and there will be a total of three loading screens from starting the first cutscene and getting back to play, While I largely saw past this, these do add up, and they disrupt one of the very best things about the game: its flow of action.
On top of that, the game just has a few dated design choices, and that is best highlighted in the game's shooting. If you played Just Cause 2, the gunplay is near identical here. You move the cursor over an enemy, and then shoot in the area's around them hoping that you might hit them dead. It feels very imprecise, making precision firing difficult. It was a problem in the last game when it came out, and it feels somewhat criminal in 2015. We've seen so many great third person shooters at this point, there is little reason to not adapt. As a last point there are points in the story that require you to take on the job of liberating provinces on the map in order to unlock the next story mission. It's uncalled for, and it's never fun being forced to do side missions in order to progress. There can be joy found in liberating these places, but making it feel like a gate you have to hurdle to continue the narrative just makes it feel like homework. And I hate homework.
Ultimately though, I saw past these performance issues and some of the dated design choices to just really enjoy what Just Cause 3 is. For me, the good ultimately out shines the bad by quite a margin. It's a spectacular game at times that is capable of immense beauty both in art design and structure, be that through the fire and the flames of revolution or reflectively gliding 50 feet above Medici with your wingsuit. In fact, that interplay between the grand action and the subtle quieter moments is where this game shines, pacing the moment to moment gameplay into a lovely flow few titles reach. Not wanting to use the fast travel system for once in a game was somewhat of a revelation. The story is not an award winner, but it's at least fun, varied and structured enough to be worth playing through, which is a huge step up over Just Cause 2. While it isn't a revolution for the series, and does have a tendency to put its foot in its mouth, Just Cause 3 is a very strong evolution of the core ideas. When the game is at its absolute best, it really is a gorgeous experience that I can't get enough of.
* While I can't talk too in depth on PC performance, as my time seeing it in motion was limited, while the game clearly ran better on the platform, it still had significant frame rate issues on capable machines. Perhaps these issues will be fixed with future patches, but I can only speak about what is in front of me now.
Pick it up if: You enjoy the series, and want to see easily the best entry in the franchise. Also, if you love the idea of a sandbox that lets you run wild with a set of explosive tools, but also features intensely satisfying traversal and beauty.
Avoid it if: You have trouble looking past significant performance issues and a handful of outdated design choices.