Avalanche Studio’s Just Cause series has been kicking around for just over a decade, but for some reason I never felt compelled to help fight the good fight with Rico Rodriguez until now. Just Cause’s reputation for bombastic over-the-top action precedes it, and the fourth numbered entry proudly continues this tradition and adds a new foe that anyone who lives in Melbourne can relate to – hipsters the weather. Just Cause 4 is an impressive whirlwind of creative physics-based mayhem, and even if it gets itself into trouble from a technical standpoint, it’s still a chaotic and explodey good time.
Fly, you fool!
Story-wise the game seems to rely on some familiarity with Rico’s past exploits, but it only takes a few moments for you to get up to speed. Basically Rico has come to a (fictional) South American island called Solis in search of a weapon called Project Illapa that his father apparently help build. The people of Solis suffer under the tyrannical militant presence known as the Black Hand, and if it’s one thing Rico hates, it’s tyrannical militant presences. Cue Rico’s quest to raise a people’s army to thwart the powers that be and put an end to Project Illapa. It’s a simple story that provides a good backdrop to cause wanton destruction across the island, and some of the light comedy is semi-successful, but to expect anything deep out of the narrative is folly.
The gist of the game is to liberate regions on the map by performing strike missions, which will allow you to enlist new squads in your Army of Chaos and take back the island. The sprawling map is your playground, and you can essentially do as you please after the game’s intro, tackling missions in any order. To help you get around you can drive practically anything that rolls, flies or floats, with a glut of options for vehicular traversal to make moving around the island easy. Better yet, as you complete missions and move your Army of Chaos forward, you will unlock supply drops that you can call in on a whim. Need a monster truck that is rigged with explosives or a helicopter with missiles and machine guns? Just call in a supply drop from the menu and before you can say grassy arse it’ll fall right out of the sky. These supply drops can also be used to summon weapons and even heavy artillery, and unlocking the crazy repertoire of guns and vehicles was one of my favourite parts of systematically liberating each region.
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition
One needn’t rely completely on vehicles though, as Rico himself is equipped with gadgets that’d make even Batman blush. Principle among these is his grappling hook, which has a massive range and can rappel him with speed across vast distances (both horizontal and vertical). Couple this with a parachute that can launch him into the air, and a wingsuit that can put him into a fast glide and you have an incredible set of traversal tools which once you get the hang of combining can see you sailing across the landscape with speed and style. I did find it hard to get back to terra firma at times with any form of precision and grace due to some control issues, but these can be overcome with a little practice, and after a while you’ll feel like a superhero.
The grappling hook isn’t just a tool for traversal, it’s also one of Rico’s most powerful weapons, and has a huge amount of customisability built in. The grappling hook is essentially a three-pronged attack, and completing missions for factions around the island will give you access to an air lifter (which attaches balloons to things), a booster (which attaches little rocket boosters to things) and a retractor (which pulls tethered points together). These can be combined in any fashion you please and their activation then mapped to the controls, and you can even create specific loadouts for your favourite combos. Mods for each are also slowly unlocked by doing specific side missions like exploring tombs or doing stunts, and the amount of possible combinations becomes massive. One of my favourites was the air lifter with a helium and no limit altitude mod. Attach a few air lifters to a pesky tank and then watch it rise into the stratosphere Why not attach a person to the floating tank for good measure? Release the tether and then watch as the vehicle and your hapless foe crash back down to Earth and explode. The air lifter is also super useful for attaching to low-flying helicopters to destabilise their steering and have them careen into nearby buildings. The amount of variation you can get out of the grappling hook has to be seen to be believed, and allows near limitless creativity with how you take down the Black Hand.
With all the modes of traversal and possibly the most varied and customisable arsenal I’ve ever seen in a game, your enjoyment of this title can only be limited by your appetite for destruction and your imagination and creativity
Just me and me jet
Take a good hard look at the motherfucking boat
Powering all the impressive physics behind the game does take its toll though, and playing on Xbox One X I did experience some pervasive technical issues. There is frequent object and texture pop-in and some draw distance issues and frame rate drops (*PC player faints*). I also experienced two hard freezes over my 20-hour playthrough which forced mission restarts. Also on the technical side of things, the biomes and bases of Solis at times can be quite beautiful, but there are some rough textures and weird imbalances between light and dark which had me constantly adjusting the settings on my TV lest I be blinded by the bright sections or lost in the darker sections. Still, once you get into the swing of the chaos, you stop noticing the technical hiccups – except for the lighting on Rico’s eyelashes which makes them appear fifty-foot long. Seriously, the way he flutters those bad boys could cause tornadoes.
Speaking of tornadoes, the game features wild weather in the form of lightning, (Darude) sandstorms and tornadoes. I won’t spoil it for you, but these are actually woven into the story, and their destructive power is pretty awesome to behold. The different weather events also wreak havoc with the physics, which you can use to your advantage. If hurling people and vehicles into tornadoes using your grappling hook doesn’t make you happy, then I don’t know what will.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning that with all these tools at your disposal, it can take a lot of neural rewiring to make it work with the complex and occasionally clunky controls. Things like weapon swapping and weapon pick up (holding X and pressing Y respectively) needlessly stray from convention, and flight controls can’t be uninverted. This includes the wingsuit, which for me made me avoid the wingsuit stunts with extreme prejudice. General vehicle controls are also not fantastic, and it can be hard to accelerate, shoot and look around (read: fight the camera) at the same time. Avalanche would do well to take cues from the Halo series, whose vehicle controls are more or less perfection.
If you can overlook its technical shortcomings and overcome the control issues, Just Cause 4’s balls-to-the-walls action is a joyous celebration of chaotic fun. With all the modes of traversal and possibly the most varied and customisable arsenal I’ve ever seen in a game, your enjoyment of this title can only be limited by your appetite for destruction and your imagination and creativity. Being my first brush with the series I can’t comment on how it stacks up to previous entries, but I can safely say that Just Cause is not a series you should let wingsuit under your radar.