After a middling debut that showed hints of potential greatness, Avalanche took a major step forward with its second Just Cause game. The result was a fantastic sequel, which did most things right and brought an almost unparalleled fun factor to the table. It was big, raucous, and full of B-movie charm, with addicting gameplay that focused on blowing shit up.
Perhaps the best part of Just Cause 2, though, was its grappling hook and parachute combo. Together, they combined to create an incredibly fun and memorable way to traverse the game’s gigantic, environmentally varied and beautiful-looking map. Hell, being able to grapple up to the top of a cliff and then jump off of it was just as fun as shooting propane tanks and making enemies go boom. The same was true of using the grapple hook as a zip line and tether, so that main character Rico Rodriguez could quickly move from point-to-point while remaining in the air.
Needless to say, the game was full of possibilities, many of which came from its incredible traversal mechanics. Of course, the gunplay, explosions, helicopters, jets and stunts helped, too.
Now, two years into the latest generation of consoles, Avalanche is back with Just Cause 3, an explosive sequel that many have been looking forward to. It’s a gigantic game in size, scale and scope, but it suffers from technical problems and questionable design decisions that make us wonder whether the developer was perhaps too ambitious with its latest project.
Just Cause 3 begins with a bang, as our special agent protagonist, Rico “Suarez” Rodriguez jumps out of a helicopter and plummets towards his tropical and Italian-inspired homeland of Medici. He’s not there for pleasure, though, because duty calls and an asshole of a general needs to be taken out of power. The people are oppressed, the land is in turmoil and happiness is a rarity, so something must be done. After all, the leader is a maniac.
Medici, itself, is insanely large, so much so that you won’t believe your eyes. It’s not made up of a mere couple of islands, or even three, and is instead comprised of a massive amount of islands, provinces and continent-like landmasses. Thankfully, fast travel is available, although it’s costly until you liberate full provinces which is no small task. Then again, this is a series that prides itself on having jet planes and helicopters available for hijacking and purchase, so those options are preferred.
Exploring every inch of this world will take you hours, and you’ll find things to gawk at everywhere. The land is varied, with different regions offering their own geography (including mountains), and there’s plenty of beautiful-looking sea to traverse. Rico is also really good at swimming, although the deep blue waters that surround his home are surprisingly empty in terms of fish and, at times, even flora. Enemies have no problem patrolling it and pumping gun fire into its depths, though.
The main crux in Just Cause 3, though, remains what was so good about its predecessor: the parachute and grappling hook combo. It’s back again, although it doesn’t feel as tight as it did before and moving around the environment using it isn’t as seamless as it once was. Something has changed, and not for the better, yet it remains fun regardless.
A new wingsuit is also added to the fold, allowing for much more exhilarating entrances from above. Being able to jump off of a high plateau (or jet plane) and glide through the air towards a settlement can be a rush, although it takes some time to get used to and doesn’t control perfectly at all times.
Alongside the wingsuit comes a bevy of new challenges, though only some use it for their score-assigning tasks. You can expect to be asked to glide through rings (while aiming for red bullseyes), drive bomb-laden vehicles from point A to point B as quickly as possible and complete races in different types of vehicles. Of course, being that Just Cause 3 is much like its predecessor, in that it’s filled with the potential for explosive chaos, players will also find themselves piloting attack choppers and shooting up as many explosive items as they possibly can in a given time limit, be it fuel tanks, satellite dishes, or whatever else.
Challenges are rated differently here than you’d normally expect, because you’re scored in gears and five are up for grabs each time. This is different from the normal three star rating system that we see employed in both console and mobile games and the game is better for it. Gears are helpful, too, because they’re automatically used to unlock different mods when earned.
Mods are what you would expect, too, because they modify, alter and improve your gear. There’s a large variety of them, and each one has its own asset, allowing you to partially tailor the game towards your personal play style. For instance, grenades’ fuses can be limited and their glass grenades mod allows them to explode on impact, which is rather helpful. Conversely, you can opt to make vehicles flip into the air at the press of a button. Those are just a few of the mods that are available, and listing them doesn’t even scratch the surface of the different types and options at Rico’s disposal.
Getting back to the core of Just Cause 3‘s gameplay, it’s important to note that most of your time will be spent traversing Medici and looking for things to topple and blow up. You’ll have a large map to use, although it’s cumbersome and devoid of a mini-map, and will need to employ it in order to find different settlements to take over, much like with Just Cause 2. Freeing these locations works similarly, too, in that you’ll have a checklist of things to take out and, once completed, will get to raise your rebel flag and call them yours.
The problem with this mechanic in 2015 is that it’s too basic and repetitive to be part of a great game. Sure, it’s fun blowing shit up and attaching explosive gas canisters to enemies, but there needs to be more variety. I also don’t like how much of a needle in a haystack approach is taken to the settlements themselves, because you can spend a while looking for the one last objective. The game doesn’t tell you where things are, which is good in a sense, but some of the things you’re tasked with destroying are small and tough to spot from above. The propaganda vans are the most frustrating because they move, and glitches can seemingly cause them to not appear. I easily spent ten to fifteen minutes walking, soaring above and driving within one particular township in search of one, but could not find it anywhere.