In many ways, Just Cause 2 was the sleeper hit of the last generation. Overshadowed by the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row during its pre-publicity, it came out to generally favourable reviews yet not much fanfare. Yet then word slowly began to spread that you could tie people to jet fighters and take off with them screaming behind you, or cause giant explosions that could level military bases in the most ridiculous of ways. Couple this with the endless YouTube montage makers that were the big thing at the time, and suddenly everyone wanted to be playing the game. And rightfully so – it was fun, it was chaotic, and it was worth your time and imagination to come up with the stupidest stunts you could possibly think of. So, with the dawn of a new generation of console technology allowing for even grander explosions and mayhem, as well as a now established fan base chomping at the bit for the means to act even more stupidly, surely Just Cause 3 could do no wrong?
Well, that’s where you’d be surprised, because it turns out that Just Cause 3 does many a thing wrong, in many ridiculous and infuriating ways. The core gameplay – that is, causing as much destruction as possible – does survive alive and well, there’s just so much inhibiting or preventing it it’s actually hard to know where to start. For instance, the ability for equipment to be airdropped in to you like in the last game has now for some odd reason been made significantly worse – there’s a strict limit on the amount of items you can call in with beacons, unless you restore your beacon total at certain points on the map that seem to be woefully irregular. This, in turn, means you can often be left stranded without in the middle of nowhere, with no ability to call anything in that might actually be able to help you. Even worse, call an item in and the game places an arbitrary time limit before you can actually call that same item in again – accidentally crash a helicopter 30 seconds after it’s arrived? Too bad, you have to wait fifteen real life minutes before you can have it again. To add to the problems even more is the fact that a massive chunk of the game’s remotely interesting gear is actually locked away from you until you liberate the right military base. Want to know which base that specifically is? Too bad. Game’s not telling you.
Manage to get past all that and actually gear up in a way you want, and often things don’t get better. You’ll enter a military base or town and start your attack, only to realise that a lot of the equipment at your disposal just isn’t satisfying to use. Practically every car or land based vehicle in the game handles horrifically and therefore becomes no fun to drive; likewise, so many of the guns feel like they have no weight or substance to them there’s therefore no sense of satisfaction when it comes to actually shooting them. Pulling out the rocket and grenade launchers does pump up the satisfaction quota a fair bit, but blow up anything that causes anything that remotely resembles large explosion and the frame rate will stutter horrendously, often taking a good while to recover. There’s no variety to capturing these bases or towns, either – liberate one or two and you’ll have done everything that you’ll simply be repeating for the rest; an endless chain of trying to blow everything up (It in itself a source of annoyance – the last item you need to destroy is never easily highlighted out for you, leaving you to do guesswork on the map), only for the cycle to monotonously begin itself again.
If you totally ignore the objective of liberation via destruction and try and get creative – the core of what made Just Cause 2 great – things still keep going wrong. Ignoring the issues with item supply as noted above, half the cool stuff (like more grapping hook tethers, better explosives and so on) are locked behind challenges that you have to complete. You unlock these challenges by, of course, having to liberate towns. A lot of the challenges themselves aren’t fun either; feeling more like an arbitrary boring thing to check off your list than anything actually exciting. To steal a line from Games TM’s review of the game, for a game that so heavily encourages the use of imagination, it’s disappointingly bereft of it itself. The game makes you work for your fun so hard at times it feels like it really wants you to actually stop playing.
It’s a shame, because when everything lines up perfectly, the game does offer up truly astounding moments. It’s fun to fire a cluster missile at a set of giant antennas, and watch as they come crashing down in a roar of fire and burning metal. Likewise, power yourself up and the ability to fling people round using your grappling hook, or tether them in unusual or downright weird ways, is something that doesn’t lose its appeal fast. There’s many other cool catches of brilliance on offer, leaving you laughing like a madman or looking on in shocked awe among many other emotions in between, and thankfully any issues the game may have can really help to diminish them.
Oddly enough, though, the game’s greatest accomplishment comes not from blowing things up, but actually just travelling around in order to reach the next destination to blow things up. The combination of endless parachutes, your grappling hook and the new wingsuit means flying around the island can be done with breathtaking ease. You’ll jump off mountains, the wind roaring around you, only to pull out the wingsuit and soar majestically inches away from the ground, weaving around trees and through tunnels like some sort of weirdly brilliant crossover of Spiderman and Batman. It helps also that the island of Medici, where the game is based, looks downright stunning. It’s not a map with tons to do on it, but the ability to navigate through its technicolour landscape in such a wonderful and exhilarating way proves to be the highlight of the game by a large margin.
It’s immensely disappointing that Just Cause 3 does end up getting so many things wrong, as there are moments of pure fun to be had out there. It’s especially frustrating because so many of the gameplay issues listed above should have been so simple to avoid, or at least so easy to rectify – yet we’re left with a game that just simply can’t live up to the promises it made by a long shot. In short, it’s that in itself which really provides a just cause for complaint.