I am Chaos, the Bringer of Death. That is what runs through my mind every time I sit down to play Just Cause 4. The fourth game in the storied Square Enix franchise has taken all of the foundations laid in the previous games and brought it all together in one chaotic — and incredibly fun — experience that is sure to ignite the flames of destruction in even the tamest of players.
I had the pleasure of getting some hands-on time with Just Cause 4 last month at a press event in Los Angeles, and playing this now-finished build is a continuation of the insanity I experienced then. Rico Rodriguez is back, this time helping the population of the island of Solis to rebel against yet another dictator, a private army called Black Hand, and its leader, Gabriela Morales. I won’t spend too much time talking about the story, because it has as many twists and turns as your standard telenovela. Rico has old friends and new allies who join him in the aptly named Army of Chaos, and in soap opera-fashion, it seems that everyone is somehow related, and in turn, turns out to be your worst enemy.
The fun in Just Cause 4 comes from the unlimited ways to create chaos and death upon your enemies in the game’s massive open world. Solis is a huge map, with four unique biomes (desert, jungle, snow, and plains), and Black Hand has operatives and bases everywhere, giving Rico plenty of opportunities to rain down fire — literally. Developer Avalanche Studios has added so new toys for Rico to use — namely, additions to his iconic grapple hook. Rico now has 10 tethers at his disposal, and they can be used in a variety of ways. He can attach self-inflating balloons to just about anything on the map to airlift them, and even use boosters and tether cables to maim Black Hand soldiers. When combined and chained, these new tools amount to some of the most fun gameplay that 2018 has to offer.
It seems that most of the environment can be used as a weapon as well. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve tethered a fuel container with balloons and a booster, airlifted them up into the sky, and shot them directly at an overhead helicopter, destroying everything in an eye-scorching explosion. I’ve spent the majority of my time letting my imagination run wild on how to wreck havoc upon my enemies. I’ve tethered multiple soldiers to four-story radio towers, like some macabre Christmas tree of death, and then used an RPG to bring it all down. I’ve made tanks into airships that I’ve manually flown over the walls of an enemy base, only to pop the balloons and soar to safety with my wingsuit, as my dirigible of death drops to the ground, destroying all below it. And then there’s the weather.
Just Cause 4 brings in weather elements to the franchise in the form of twisters, blizzards, and sandstorms that Black Hand’s weather dominator machine, Project Illapa, can create. The tornado is almost a character in and of itself, bringing with it its own level of mass destruction. Luckily, Rico has the tools and the talent to utilize it as a weapon against his enemies. I covered, in depth, in my preview of Just Cause 4 the myriad ways that the tornado can be used as a weapon, and again, like much of the game as a whole, those uses are only limited by the player’s imagination. This is a sandbox game of ideas, not unlike Minecraft, but instead of building and creating, you are focused on destruction. And really, who doesn’t love to destroy stanff on a epic, explosion-heavy scale?
While the map of Solis is large, and its biomes offer unique play opportunities, Just Cause 4 puts a lot of emphasis on the Army of Chaos rebellion, leaving Rico to do whatever he wants, when he wants. Like most open world sandbox games, there are quest givers, some of whom are old friends from previous games, and others who make their debut. These quests offer some variety in how you go about destroying your enemies, and there’s even a quest thread that has Rico raiding tombs around the island like a macho action-movie version of Lara Croft — with grapple-focused puzzle solving!
But between these quests are plenty of opportunities for players to do whatever they want in terms of destroying bases and killing Black Hand soldiers. And to make this worthwhile, Avalanche rewards the players for the chaos they drum up by dishing out new troops to use in the asynchronous war that plays out in the background. For each destructive act, a chaos meter fills, and once full, a new squad is awarded for the player to add to the effort in whatever region is currently at war.
This conflict is the true heart of the game, and earning new troops and directing them where to attack or defend is the key to freeing the various regions of the island. In previous games, Rico himself would pull off assaults in key areas, like towns or outposts, but in Just Cause 4, it’s happening simultaneously to everything else that Rico has on his plate. These two game modes do collide in four operations that serve to liberate a region, and these four operations must be completed — in any order, mind you — before Rico can take the battle to the heart of Solis to stop Project Illapa, the dreaded weather machine. The takeaway here is that war doesn’t wait for Rico while he’s off hunting tombs, racing cars, or assaulting enemy bases in another biome. This change makes this game the best in the series, so far.
That being said, Just Cause 4 is not without issues. Playing on the Xbox One X, I’ve run into some pretty ugly instances of frame drops and massive drops in resolution, especially in dark areas. For the most powerful system on the market, this is a bit unacceptable, and frame rate issues that have plagued this series since Just Cause 2 make their unwelcome return. It’s just something players have learned to live with, and for the most part, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Avalanche built a new engine for this game, and it’s a welcome start, as load times are drastically decreased when compared to Just Cause 3, and the environments themselves look great. Still, there are still improvements to be made, especially when the engine buckles from the weight of high-octane, explosion-heavy setpiece moments.
Avalanche Studios has done an amazing job with Just Cause 4, in so much that by opening up the game, they’ve created a gaming experience like no other. New tweaks to gunplay and a revamped vehicle control scheme add to the addicting loop of traversal and destruction. Rico Rodriguez has become one of the best leading game characters around, and the franchise as a whole is poised to take that next step, propelling itself to must-play status. I’ve not had this much fun playing a game this year, and each time I sit down for a session, I either discover something new to do, or find a new way to unleash my penchant for destruction upon the island of Solis. Gaming is the perfect escape from the stresses of the real world, and in real life, I’m a mild-mannered guy who loves his cat and his wife. But when I’m Rico Rodriguez, I am Chaos, the Bringer of Death. And I love it.
This review is based on the Xbox One X version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Square Enix.