In all my years playing video games I have never paid much (if any) attention to the Just Cause franchise. It wasn’t deliberate, but the iterations simply fell victim to my hectic lifestyle – juggling full-time work, full-time uni and being a full-time superstar. Once my studies finished I was able to allocate a lot more time to gaming, and reading about the newest edition to the series after its announcement in November last year, it became a mainstay on my games to watch out for list. On December 1st, 2015 Just Cause 3 was released and what began as a fun and exciting foray into complete destruction became a monotonous and frustrating visit to Avalanche Studio’s open world island of Medici.
Once again you’re in control of Rico Rodriguez, who returns to his homeland – the beautiful Mediterranean island of Medici. Medici is under the reign of Dictator General Sebastiano Di Ravello, who like every other megalomaniac has their black heart set on world domination. To achieve this, Di Ravello plans to use Bavarium, an explosive and magnetic mineral found only in Medici. It is up to Rico and his band of rebels to stop Di Ravello and liberate Medici from his tyranny.
Political campaigning 101
Rico and Mario, just cause
One half of Medici’s map
Rodriguez is joined by his long-time friend, Mario Frigo, Rebellion scientist, Dimah al-Masri and Rodriguez’s former agency colleague, Tom Sheldon, in the fight to bring down Di Ravello. The story is spread across three acts and the whole thing will take you anywhere between 18-35 hours to complete, depending on your playstyle. While the premise is relatively simple, it nonetheless could have provided the basis for a good narrative, but aside from Rodriguez’s sporadic one-liners the story is flavourless. Di Ravello’s character is one of the biggest letdowns, because aside from one of very first cutscenes we aren’t given any real indication as to how malevolent he is. You can discover more about Di Ravello through tapes found throughout Medici, but this isn’t really worth the effort unless you’re a hoarder. Rico, although he comes across as an Antonio Banderas rip-off, is a likeable protagonist. He doesn’t have much depth to his persona, but that is because he speaks through rocket launchers and explosions.
It’s evident that like the previous entries, Just Cause 3 isn’t about the story. It’s not trying to get you to feel anything else other than complete satisfaction for being the ultimate badass. Like its predecessors, JC3 is a third-person shooter set in a large-scale open world, where the aim is to complete your missions by causing as much chaos as possible. This is easily achievable as the majority of the world is made up of destructible items and practically 90% of your objectives in the game involve blowing shit up.
As you advance through Medici you’ll have to liberate (destroy) towns, outposts and military bases where Di Ravello’s forces have control. The objects that need destroying in order to liberate an area depend on what type of settlement it is. If it is a town, your usual targets are a police station, some billboards and a statue of old mate Di Ravello. For military bases and outposts you will need to wipe out satellite dishes, transformers, gas tanks and other explosive objects. Every item you blow up gives you chaos points that go towards your total chaos ranking.
Each province within Medici has roughly between 5-7 settlements, and to progress through the story you will need to liberate a certain amount of provinces to unlock the main missions (if you haven’t liberated them already). For me this was a major con; I should be able to do the main missions without having to do side-quests. This mission design choice turned what was a fun aspect of the game into something I loathed doing. I would often find myself with up to twenty different settlements to liberate before I could progress in the story, and due to the extreme repetitiveness of the tasks required to liberate these areas, towards the end of the campaign I only liberated the provinces I had to, leaving the others to suffer at the hands of Di Ravello and Avalanche Studios. Liberating the settlements is relatively easy given that Rico has several tools at his disposal that makes destruction second nature, but it ends up being an unenjoyable grind.
Uncle Rico’s come to liberate
Grappling to a fighter jet as it flies overhead and whacking a sticky bomb to the bottom of the plane to watch it explode as you’re falling from the sky is only one example of the crazy stuff you can do, and there are plenty of opportunities to indulge your creativity and appetite for destruction.
Your main tool and practically your third arm is the grappling hook. The best feature of the grappling hook is that it doesn’t matter if an object is moving or stationary, if it’s in reach then Rico can grapple to that object. Grappling to a fighter jet as it flies overhead and whacking a sticky bomb to the bottom of the plane to watch it explode as you’re falling from the sky is only one example of the crazy stuff you can do, and there are plenty of opportunities to indulge your creativity and appetite for destruction. It is extremely redolent of big blockbuster Hollywood action films. The grappling hook also makes traversing the open world enjoyable, as you can latch from mountains to vehicles to buildings to reach your destination. It is a huge boon considering that fast travel in the game is fairly restricted (I’ll touch on that later).
The grappling hook isn’t the only traversal apparatus at your disposal; once you reach a certain section of the story, Rico will be fitted with his very own set of wings. The wingsuit allows you to glide across Medici, and as long as you can maintain your airtime you can cover quite a bit of distance in a short amount of time. To prolong your flight you can use the grappling hook to latch onto buildings or even the ground, however if you don’t give yourself enough room to let physics do its thing then Rico will eat a mouthful of whatever ground he face plants into.The third traversal instrument is Rico’s parachute – which isn’t directly a mode of transport, but when used in conjunction with the grappling hook or wingsuit you can easily cover large distances.
There’s also an array of vehicular options for Rico to navigate Medici and whether it’s by land, sea or air, Rico has the appropriate drivers licence to get himself around. The cars handle much like you would expect for a sandbox game of this nature, the only exception being when certain car types (such as sports cars) go off-road, they become a little harder to control. The marine transport options are fun to muck around with but move at a rather slow pace, so they’re not an ideal mode of transport. The standout vehicles are the aircrafts, most notably the fighter jets. The helicopters are too exposed when it comes to homing missiles, whereas fighter jets are more agile and they cause a lot more damage. It also allows you to easily cover more distance. The default flying controls of the jets are inverted (this cannot be changed) so it took a while to get used to being in the cockpit, but once you get the hang of it you can wreak aerial havoc on Di Ravello’s unliberated settlements. Not all vehicles are available instantly with most having to be unlocked. This is done by either driving it to the garage in a liberated town or liberating military bases.
Get over here!
But that’s not all Rico can do, Rico also has the ability to tether equipment, people, objects and landmarks together to ensure maximum hilarity and destruction is caused. Tethering an enemy to a gas tank and shooting it to see them skyrocket into the air never gets old, likewise with tethering your enemy to your jet and watching them dangle as you speed off into the Medici sunset. Tethering can be useful for destroying objects from afar, especially from rooftops where you can yank billboards and speaker posts down before your position is compromised.
While the game gives you fun, outlandish methods of transport, its one negative in this regard is that it purposely forces you to use these methods by limiting the amount of times you can fast travel, at least in the early stages of the game. Fast travel is unlocked early on in the game, but is limited to the amount of flares you have. Flares can be acquired at liberated towns and bases, and you are only able to carry one flare at a time until you unlock the flare mod – which is done through the game’s challenge mode. Further adding to the annoyance, not all locations are reachable by fast travel. For example unliberated settlements can be reached through fast travel, but main missions cannot, and when you’re on one side of the map and have to reach another province to complete a mission it can be a tedious trek back to the nearest settlement if you’re without flares.
Rico also has the ability to tether equipment, people, objects and landmarks together to ensure maximum hilarity and destruction is caused. Tethering an enemy to a gas tank and shooting it to see them skyrocket into the air never gets old
Another item that comes in handy is beacons. These allow you to receive an airdrop of handpicked items you require through what is called a ‘Rebel Drop’. Much like the flares and fast travel, if you do not have any beacons you cannot request a rebel drop. A rebel drop allows you to choose up to four different items (primary, secondary and heavy weapons and a vehicle of your choice) and have them delivered to your location.
Gunplay in JC3 is pretty stock standard but it doesn’t really need to reinvent the wheel in this regard as there are plenty of other ways to eliminate your enemies. Your arsenal consists of primary, special and secondary weapons along with some form of explosives. The range of guns seems quite limited, however it’s worth noting that the guns are upgradeable through unlocking mods by completing challenges. There are two views when firing weapons: there is the stand third person view which gives you more freedom with your aim, or by pushing R3 you enter precision aim view (this feature must be unlocked as a mod first) – which gives you greater control with your aim. You won’t really require any form of precision though as the AI is borderline useless, and it’s quite easy to run and gun and merely grapple your way out of danger when Rico needs to regenerate health. Liberating settlements swarming with enemy troops is pretty painless, you can be planting explosives on various objects while Rico is copping a barrage of bullets from all angles, but Rico takes it in his stride like the beast he is. The game would have benefited from having a difficulty selection at the beginning of the game, because AI-wise the game barely gives the player a challenge.
Old mate AI struggling under pressure
Medici helicopter tour
The infamous loading screen
The only real challenge the player encounters are with the challenges that are laid out over the island of Medici. These challenges also act as a form of training for the different equipment at your disposal. It is also where you will find the upgrades (mods) for your weapons, vehicles and apparatuses. Some of the mods include the ability to carry more weapons, adding nitrous to your vehicle and increasing the number of grapple tethers you can have at one time. Sadly these mods are locked until you complete enough challenges to acquire enough gears to unlock them. Once again the devs thought it would be intuitive to funnel players into a particular playstyle. I went through the game without acquiring many mods, purely because I don’t find enjoyment in driving a car or jet through a number of rings in a set time just to have my abilities enhanced. There should have been another method that made mods accessible if you choose not to partake in these challenges. To make the challenges more appealing there are leader boards for those that achieve the highest scores. Leader boards aren’t exclusive to these types of challenges though, and those that manage to wingsuit an epic distance or maintain a heat level of five for an extended amount of time will find their online ID slowly rising up the JC3 skills charts.
The open world island of Medici is beautiful; its lush meadows, vibrant colours, inviting beaches and sparkling ocean waters combine perfectly to depict an exotic locale that renders it as the ultimate Mediterranean tourist destination. Although the world is chock-full of challenges to complete and collectibles to scour for, it definitely feels a little too big at times. This problem of size is most evident when you’re scouting for undiscovered settlements (these don’t show up on your map until you’ve discovered them) as some provinces appear quite large on your map but have minimal towns and outposts to liberate.
The technical side of JC3 is where it underperforms the most. The worst offender is the loading screens which are ridiculously long. The average time for the game to load up in-game would be just under a minute, but it wasn’t uncommon for it to be closer to two minutes. My longest loading screen lasted a painstakingly long thirteen minutes. It was times like these that I wished the patent for loading screen mini games had ended sooner. Given the size of the world I can understand and accept why it takes a long time to load into the game from the main menu, however once in the game the loading screens should be seldom seen. The extended loading screens removed you from any immersion you had built up before experiencing this idle digital torture. This wasn’t the only facet that took a long time – logging into the online portion would also take ages, in some cases it wouldn’t login it all, forcing me to restart the application. The game also suffered from severe frame rate drops, especially when explosions were going off. Given the game centres itself around causing chaos these drops occur all too frequently. (Side note: There has been a recent patch that has addressed the epic loading times, and while I completed my playthrough before the patch went live, I have taken this into considering with my final score. Also, the PC version is reportedly far better in regard to performance).
There is a lot to like about JC3 and it is extremely fun to play when you just want to blow stuff up. But when it falls short, it falls short by a long way. Locking missions and modifications and forcing players to complete side-quests and challenges to unlock them ruined the promising sandbox experience. The underwhelming story and horrid technical issues did it no favours either, but for those gamers amongst us that enjoy open world games I have no doubt that you’ll grind a good time out of JC3.
Reviewed on PS4