*A review copy was sent by Square Enix and Avalanche Studios for this review*
Yes Geoff Keighley and his recently trending annual “Game Awards” have already announced their nominees for this years Game of the Year, and yes we all know it’s a battle between The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 (though Metal Gear Solid V takes it in my books, but hey, that’s a whole different article). But “The Game Awards” only enlist games onto their nominations list for games that have been commercially released on or prior to November 24th. A whole week before one of this years biggest releases, Just Cause 3. So now that the game is out, is it a game worth pointing out? Or does it not put up a fight in front of it’s multiple formidable foes? Well let’s not waste time and get right into the review and see.
“Having ridden a missile, I can tell you that it’s pretty cool” – Rico Rodriguez, 2015
In only the first 20 minutes of Just Cause 3, I did the following:
- Shot enemy tanks and weaponry with a rocket launcher while standing on top of a flying plane.
- Parachuted into a cave to meet my best friend Mario to take out enemies and hijack a car to get to another battle zone.
- In the midst of the firefight, hijacked an enemy tank and used it’s missile launcher to eliminate oncoming enemy vehicles.
- Took a helicopter to another battle zone.
- Grappled to the top of a building to grab hold of a turret, which I used to blow up more enemies and their vehicles.
- Took flight with my newly equipped wing suit and took in the breathtaking scenery of Medici…only to come across another outpost which was in need of some fireworks.
All that’s missing is a good dose of objectifying teenage women models and you have yourself a solid Michael Bay film folks. But it’s a good thing the good people at Avalanche Studios have more class than that.
Now all of that sounds incredibly fun and chaotic, but we’ve come to expect that from the Just Cause series. Does this game simply stay content with what it’s done previously, or does it add fuel to the fire (in the best Just Cause fashion)?
Let’s get this out of the way: We don’t play a Just Cause game for it’s story. It’s not a game that’s going to be emotionally riveting and change your perspective on life, like The Last of Us, and nor does it try to do that. That being said, it seems the developers were trying a bit more this time around to make it’s story more relevant, and actually have there be some method behind your madness. And though it doesn’t quite get there, I give it props for trying.
You play as Rico Rodriguez, a tough, muscular, bearded man with a european twist. You’ve come back to your homeland of the fictional land of Medici. Medici has been ruled over by a tyrannical asshat by the name of Sebastiano Di Ravello (yes I know, I said that name twice in my head as well; once normally, and then with a fake Italian accent reminiscent of a blue overall wearing plumber). You meet your best friend Mario Frigo, and together alongside the help of a weapons technician Dimah and others, you’re on a mission to take back your homeland in the fight for the rebellion to take down Di Ravello. Oh and there’s something about this thing called Bavarium. It’s some sort of…thing, that can make unlimited fuel and can be used to make explosives, and that Di Ravello guy has his hands on it…I don’t know.
The story’s premise isn’t abysmal, but it’s the execution that doesn’t allow it go beyond mediocrity. The voice acting is weak, some worse than others. The pacing of the dialogue seems to be a bit all over the place, with random jump cuts and fade-outs, which come as a little jarring. Some twists do occur, but nothing unpredictable. You come across a few different characters throughout your fight, but most of them, for the most part, play a generic character we’ve seen in the past. And for some reason…there’s an odd amount of ball busting (literally). I do have to say that the writing, though cheesy and ridiculous, knows that it is and uses it to it’s advantage; which leads the end result to have it’s share of snickers and even laughs every now and again. Having said all that though, your involvement in the story comes more from your playing of the game. You do feel a sense of pride and accomplishment each time you liberate a town or outpost and raise that blue flag, which instantly follows with the town being covered in blue and Dimah congratulating you and the rebels. Each time you glide across a town and see all the red being trumped by blue, it may be just me, but it made me feel good.
Avalanche told us that the world in Just Cause 3 is over 400 kilometers, and boy they weren’t joking. Medici is MASSIVE. I remember having a distinct moment in the game where I took my helicopter as high as it would go, jumped off, and began gliding with my wingsuit. I was astonished by the breadth of the landscape. But that scenery is not what got me. What got me was the idea that, “Wow, I can actually go down into any place on this screen, and simply walk, and walk, and keep walking.” So I did just that. I wing-suited down onto some farm land, and just started walking. You may find Just Cause 3 beautiful to look at when gliding across the landscape, but simply walking across a field of sunflowers while admiring the beautiful ocean view, and the sounds of the birds and the bees (get your mind outta the gutter), was incredible. I kept walking, through towns, more farmlands, and went further up mountains, through trees and animals. I kept doing this for an hour, simply walking and walking. And though I was amazed into the detail they gave in terms of graphic fidelity on the nature that encompasses the world, and do seem as though I’m giving high praise to this gorgeous world the developers have created, I did notice, that the world is a tad…shallow. Don’t get me wrong, it’s breathtakingly beautiful, and rich with colours and variety in landscapes; however, once you’re not just admiring the world from the comfort of the skies, you see that there really isn’t much “life” in this world. In a game like The Witcher 3, MGSV, or even Far Cry 4, the world you’re in is “alive” in all sense of the word. Animals could attack at any moment, enemies could be lurking in the corner, and the NPC’s have “life.” That isn’t the case with Just Cause 3. The animals do the same things, and don’t react to your presence. Each town, though pretty to look at, all kind of look the same with the same type of layout and NPC’s. I guess when you create a world that is so large and diverse, you have to compromise on some aspects. Again, this doesn’t take away from the beauty of the world, though it is worth noting that the world itself is only knee deep in terms of density.
I’m going to go ahead and say it: Just Cause 3 may just be the prettiest game I’ve ever seen. It may not be as crisp in terms of animations and fluidity as Bloodborne, or have the technical prowess of Batman: Akham Knight but man this is a beautiful game. Yes the colours are over saturated and even unnatural, but this whole game is about being unnatural, so it works. From the water effects, to the ripples on your wingsuit whilst gliding over the beautifully rendered landscapes, to of course the explosions, everything in this game looks crisp, colourful, bombastic, and beautiful…except for the character models and facial captures, but I can let that slide as we don’t spend too much time looking at Rico’s face anyway.
This is a category that has left me a tad curious. When playing a Just Cause game, you have a certain idea of what the soundtrack is going to be. But my ears were surprised the first time I took flight while not being on a mission. The music during my casual glide over the plains of Medici was…soothing. Soft flutes coupled with light acoustics. I felt like instead of gliding across Medici, I was doing so in Novigrad. Even weirder, once I took that hour to simply stroll across the landscape, the music became even softer, heart-warming even. Of course when you’re on a mission and are blowing the crap out of every fuel tank and enemy chopper in your site the music returns to it’s usual epic, awesome, testosterone filled self. But having said that, I’m confused as to how I feel about this huge contrast. The epic, blowing-stuff-up music is great, and the soothing, calmer music during your downtime is also surprisingly good. But music like that makes me think that the game is taking itself seriously and “wants” to be taken seriously. Which is not something that a game like this should do. If you want to be taken seriously, go all the way, and if you want to be ridiculous, then go all the way. There’s a way to meet in the middle, but this is not it. Again, I love the soundtrack in the game, and want to love the contrast, but it’s so jarring that it leaves a odd feeling in regards to what the game wants to be.
Finally, the biggest category. Gameplay is what makes or breaks a game, and for a game like this, the gameplay needs to be great for it to succeed. So does it?
Let me start by saying that regardless of all of it’s flaws that I’m going to state shortly, Just Cause 3 is a lot of fun, or at least it can be when everything works.
Traversing through the game is easily it’s strongest feature. The triple threat combination of your grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit, are absolute joys to use when done correctly. It takes a little getting used to, but once I did, I was able to spend most of my time in the air, and it was wondrous. There’s no greater feeling in the game than when you’re gliding across, and dive down to land, only to reel yourself back up inches away from the ground and take flight up into the mountains. This traversal mechanic really makes you feel like a superhero. Moreover, they’re essential tools to use during combat. Not only do they come in handy to make a quick getaway or dodge enemy attacks, but the grappling hook can be used in an array of ways.
You can grapple onto enemies and take your body to their body and kick them away. Your grapple can also release sets of tethers, which is a great new feature and allows for a whole new dimension of experimentation. You can hook an enemy to another enemy, and reel them together to smash them into one another. You can reel an enemy to a billboard and have it crash down on them. You can tether explosive barrels and fling them at enemy vehicles. And when you increase the strength of your tethers, you can tether vehicles and larger objects and use them to your advantage. I spent my first couple hours simply tethering goats onto cars and see them flying through the roads while laughing maniacally.
Alongside that you obviously have your set of weapons. Everything from assault rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, and dual wielding SMG’s, you got em all. Furthermore you have an assortment of vehicles at your disposal. Not only can you hijack anything you see, but you can also have supply drops of assault helicopters, tanks, and much more, which all become very handy when tackling larger enemy outposts.
The mission structure is fairly basic. Your overarching goal is simple: Get back your homeland. Which means go to every town, police department, outpost, and whatever else, and liberate it. What does that mean? Well, pretty much destroying everything and making everything go “boom.” From fuel tanks, to satellite dishes, to transformers, you just have to destroy everything in a red marking. After liberating a handful of locations, you’ll liberate an entire province, and after liberating a dozen provinces, you liberate the entire region, and after liberating all three major regions, you finish the game. So if that sounds repetitive, well, it is. Listen, I love seeing things go “boom” as much as the next guy, but after a thousand “booms”, you get a tad bored. And the story missions aren’t much better. Instead of liberating locations, you spend most of it protecting your allies such as Mario from enemies while you go somewhere or wait for something to happen. Or going to a certain location and blowing some piece of weaponry up, or taking a vehicle and transporting it somewhere.
All of it just becomes a little tedious very quickly. But, I did however find myself playing for long periods of time, and each time I wanted to put the controller down I came across another town in need of liberation and went, “Okay, just one more.” And that is because not only is creating chaos in this game an absolute thrill, but how you create the chaos and defeat the outpost or enemy ridden town is what makes you keep wanting to get back into it. How can you angle the booster explosives to have the explosive barrel shoot up and destroy that generator, or how can you use the tethers of your grappling hook in conjunction with the fuel tanks to create a domino effect of explosions. That’s where the true fun comes along. Simply experimenting with the tools at your disposal to wreak havoc.
There are a few more annoyances with the gameplay. The great triple threat I praised so highly previously do have some issues. There will be moments where I’d want to reach a certain point, and my grappling hook would just not take me there. And even if it did, Rico would spazz out and fall off. I saw this happening more when inside caves or more confined areas, which is where traversing and getting around enemy attacks deemed more frustrating due to the odd movement animations and lack of fluidity and control of your grappling hook/wingsuit/parachute.
And finally, the technical issues. Oh boy. Easily the main thing that, above all else, has brought this game down for me. First of all, the loading times. My god. There were moments where the loading times were so atrocious that I am more than sure I could have gone to my kitchen, made a sandwich, and came back with it still not finished. A part of my soul would crush each time I died or failed a mission because I knew I had to endure another lifetime on that bloody loading screen.
Aside from that, there are animation glitches, framerate drops, light texture pop ins, sound and dialogue overlapping, and just an overall lack of polish in transitions from cutscene to gameplay to menu screens to completion screens. Nothing is game-breaking in any way, but it does detract from the experience, the loading screens especially. However, when the game works at 100%, which is most of the time, it does work beautifully. These issues can easily be fixed with a patch, which I’m sure the developers are working on as we speak.
Just Cause 3 is an enormous playground that is presented beautifully with impressive graphics and a solid, though at times questionable soundtrack; coupled with brilliant traversal mechanics and overall fun and dynamic gameplay that puts a great emphasis on experimentation. The story attempts to reach deeper into Rico’s homeland with a more interesting premise, though due to weak writing, voice acting, and overall execution, it keeps it from going beyond mediocrity. The various tools you have at your disposal with the great additions of the multiple tethers and booster explosives really make for some interesting and unique ways to approach the battlefield and create some awesome ways to make things go “boom.” The game does, however, suffer from severe technical issues. From framerate drops, audio mishaps, animation hiccups, and most notably and most frustrating, long loading times. All of which really takes you out of the moment. However, when the game does run at 100%, it’s a joy to experience. Though there is a repetitiveness with it’s mission structure and overall lack of depth in it’s beautiful world, there is the one factor that makes me keep wanting to head back into Medici, which is that Just Cause 3 is simply a fun game to play. And if it’s not a solid contender for Game of The Year 2015, it’s definitely some of the most fun I’ve had with a video game all year.