Just Cause 3 – Review
PC, Xbox One, PS4
There isn’t much by way of comparison to a top shelf B-grade action film. It’s a difficult mix to perfect; lying somewhere in between realism and ridiculousness. It’s a line the Bond films have straddled for decades, sometimes successfully and other times not. It’s similar with video games. A good, dumb action game needs a visually spectacular setting and half decent excuse to blow it all to hell.
Enter Rico Rodriguez and Just Cause 3, stage left.
The game’s opening screen serves as a stark reminder of what you’re here to do. It shows Rico sitting quietly on a beach, nursing an assault rifle against his sun chair whilst a pillar of smoke billows off on the horizon. A large explosion swallows the smoke plume before it grows twice in size, and Rico lifts his glass to toast the spectacle. Taking down a dictator in the form of Sebastiano Di Ravello is no small task, but it’s bloody fun. However, your enjoyment could well be dependent on which platform you play on. I’ll elaborate on that a bit later. First, the good stuff…
Medici is a large open world set in the Mediterranean, and it looks the part. It’s a sun drenched paradise made up of a number of islands. Some are smaller, but the main ones are absolutely enormous. Similar to Just Cause 2’s Panau, they aren’t flat either. Some of the larger islands feature mountains that climb several kilometres into the sky, showing off the Avalanche Engine’s incredible draw distance. It’s an awful lot of terrain to cover, over one thousand square kilometres of it if Square Enix and Avalanche are to be believed, but thankfully you have access to an awesome variety of ways to move yourself around almost instantly.
Returning from Just Cause 2 is the parachute and grappling hook. Both are marvellous when used separately, but even better when combined together. Parachuting is far more stable than it was in the last game, allowing for considerably better control over your aim whilst flying. It’s slower pace through the air compared to Just Cause 2 does leave you open to retaliation, and makes it a less suitable option for traversal from one place to the next. Thankfully you have the wing suit at your disposal at all times, allowing you to make a quick escape to another location, or if you’re like me, face plant into the nearest hill. Learning to use the wingsuit and grappling hook in tandem carries a bit of a learning curve, but is well worth the effort to master.
The grappling hook is also an excellent tool for causing mayhem. Tether a couple of fuel tanks together, detract the tethers and watch as both crumple into each other before exploding in grand fashion. You can also use the tethers to attach yourself to other vehicles, either to pull the driver or pilot out and take control of it yourself, attach a few remote mines if you so wish, or just hang on for the ride.
You can now freely walk over vehicles as they move along, which is both a blessing and a curse. Movement speed when walking on vehicles is almost glacially slow, which is fine if you’re carefully walking across the wingspan of a large plane whilst in motion, but when you’re on a slow moving boat, being shot to hell by a chopper, you’ll curse bloody outrage at how ridiculous it is that Rico, someone who flings himself off kilometer high cliffs with reckless abandon, doesn’t think it’s safe enough to sprint across a boat deck.
What you do with the tethers, and by extension how much fun you have them, is almost entirely down to your own creativity. All of this is possible thanks to Avalanche’s powerful game engine, which provides all the physics based bells and whistles that make each fiery moment in Just Cause 3 unique. Buildings and structures all blow apart according to the size and placement of the equipment you use. Strategically placing a few remote mines on one side of a tower will see it topple over in emphatic fashion, with the debris crushing anything that happens to be unlucky enough to be underneath it. You can’t tear down everything, but there is enough variety in what can be toppled that repetition is never a problem.
In addition to the more traditional weapons available to Rico, including a gamut of machine guns, RPG’s and his trusty dual wielded pistols, you have unlimited placed explosives at your disposal. You can only place four at time from the beginning, but like most things in Just Cause 3, this can be upgraded in the form of mods which are earned by completing challenges. It’s a simple enough system, though it sucks a little to learn that some of the challenges can’t be completed fully without already earning a few mods.
Most of the challenges are genuinely fun, however as well as putting many of the better mechanics on display, they also show some of the flaws in the control systems. Many of the vehicles lack any kind of nuance in the controls, especially motorcycles. Planes and choppers are fast and zippy, as are some of the sportier cars you can pilfer from the locals, but in general vehicle controls could’ve been better.
Alongside the challenges are the online leaderboards. Everything you do in Medici is tracked, be it the number of enemies killed using a single clip, to highest altitude gained using the parachute. All of these are tracked in a way that shows your current position on the leaderboard in real time, which is tops. The big problem here is that every time you are beaten you get a notification flashing up to remind you. Logging on after an extended break can often see notifications popping up for a good few minutes at least, and there is no option to turn them off outside of disconnecting completely from the online servers. Why Avalanche felt like you absolutely must know that you’ve just been beaten out of 18th place on the Stunt Driver board, I’ll never know.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Just Cause 3 might seem a bit gaunt. Much of the depth here is in the mechanics, so if you’re not the kind of person to get creative and take advantage of the physics sandbox nature of the world, everything will feel a tad one-dimensional. But to be fair, that’s exactly what it should be. Just Cause 3 never seems to take itself too seriously, else it risks everything blowing up in its own face, and rightly so. Where it does start seriously misfiring though, is its performance on the consoles.
Our review copy was for Xbox One, and it is by far and away the worst performing of the three platforms, the others being PS4 and PC. The Xbox hardware very clearly struggles to handle everything Just Cause 3 throws at it, almost never managing to maintain a consistent 30 frames per second. Even when moving the camera side to side, the Xbox One drops a few frames whilst loading in the massive levels of background detail. When there is heavy action on screen, forget about it. Everything is affected, especially the controls which become infuriatingly slow and unresponsive. Driving a tank in a town is task riddled with danger, as when the enemies start coming at you hard, performance drops off a cliff.
It’s a touch better on PS4, with a consistent 30fps being reached on a more regular basis. Add to that PS4’s native 1080p resolution, compared to 900p on Microsoft’s machine, and PS4 is certainly the winner out of the two consoles. The best experience is reserved for the PC master race though. With the right build, you’ll pull 60fps in glorious 1080p, which is a pretty massive game changer. The difference is plain as night and day.
Occasionally atrocious performance issues on consoles aside, Just Cause 3 is my kind of game. I have spent hours just toying with the physics engine; tethering people to choppers which are tethered to bridges, pulling the trigger and watching all hell unleash. Even with the ungodly slow down the Xbox One experiences, I still want more. I’m still having fun watching the simulation at work, and that’s the bare bones of what Just Cause 3 tries to be. It largely succeeds, but if you’re looking for it on console, be prepared for a little pain to go along with that pleasure.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.