Just Cause 3: Ode to Explosions

Posted December 7, 2015 in

Just Cause 3
Avalanche Studios/Square Enix

Reviewed on: PS4
Available on: Xbox One, PC
Street: 12.01

About halfway through parachuting out of a speeding luxury car in midair—and mere moments before it collided with a row of giant gas canisters in a glorious orgy of explosive power—it occurred to me that I might be having a little too much fun in Just Cause 3. This game, above any other, seduces the player with the sheer inertia of action, much like a great—if cheesy—action film. You never have to stop for more than a minute or two at a time, and even that is mostly for short cutscenes and loading screens. The rest of Just Cause 3 is nothing less than an invocation of the muse of violence, a poetic ode to grappling hooks, parachutes and explosions.

For those among us who haven’t heard of Just Cause 2, don’t worry. There’s really not much tying this installment to previous games in the series aside from the odd cameo. The story is about as paper-thin as such things get, and the villain is about as straightforward and hateable as they come. Most players won’t need much prodding to take out the army of an insane, egocentric dictator, and even those that might will enjoy the sheer delirium of causing chaos on a massive scale. The plot here is little more than an elaborate pretext to engage in its gleefully souped-up action-movie gameplay, and frankly, that’s the way it ought to be.

The Thrill of Speed

Just Cause 3: Because surfing an ICBM never gets old.Just Cause 3 begins with Rico Rodriguez on the roof of a plane, shooting down F-16s with a rocket launcher. Just let that sink in for a second, because this moment will set the tone for the entirety of Rico’s adventure through his former homeland. Every major action set piece is so elegantly constructed to produce a kind of disbelieving laughter in the player as they blaze a trail of devastation. Even aimlessly exploring Medici’s lush archipelago yields up a myriad of opportunities to sow chaos and discord—and sometimes inadvertently help you in the long run.

In fact, while the game installs, the developers give you the ability to mess around on a depopulated map called Boom Island, where you can practice your goat-shooting skills and hone the delicate art of using Rico’s tools to get around. See, Rico runs at a pretty reasonable pace, but the real locomotion of Just Cause 3 comes from learning how to abuse the linear velocity of the grappling hook as an advanced catapulting mechanism. I often find myself only running from place to place when I’m trying to find a new vantage from which to fire my grappling hook, preferring to glide from place to place at improbable speeds.

One of the best additions to this game’s vast repertoire of travel options is the wingsuit, which allows Rico the alternative option of flying around Medici like a gods-be-damned superhero. I found every available opportunity to zip around the map in the wingsuit, and it felt so beautifully natural and logical in the amplified physics engine of Just Cause 3.

Another fine addition to this iteration in the series is the looser, asynchronous form of multiplayer, in which you can compete for little mini-achievements like “most explosions caused by a single explosion” or “longest wingsuit flight” with anyone online and playing the game. This is by no means intrusive, but whenever you find yourself doing something crazy or cool in Just Cause 3, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to rank on one list or another. Instead of feeling like a tacked-on feature, I actually kind of enjoyed the game’s constant prompts to up the ante on my play. It’s a delightful sort of competition that encourages boldness and creativity in the player base, and saw me grappling from car to car to see if I could win the bragging rights for “longest grappling hook ride.”

Along with these more intangible rewards, one can also participate in specific challenges that test a particular in-game skill. Successfully passing or exceeding certain expectations can yield some awesome upgrades, which range from the extremely useful to the “strictly business” variety. The challenges themselves are, in fact, pretty fun, although almost all of them are just time-based races. True, some are races to see how much mayhem you can wreak upon a settlement, but most of them felt fairly similar in terms of requirements. However, one of the more interesting side-benefits of taking part in these challenges is that they really will improve your skill as a player. One car-racing challenge helped me hone the drifting mechanic and get a real feel for how to navigate Medici’s winding roads, while one wingsuit challenge taught me how to really push my luck and bend the physics behind the suit to my will.

The Fear of Death

Just Cause 3: Prompting farmers everywhere to consider a career change.Of course, Just Cause 3 is far from perfect. One of the biggest stumbles for this game is how repetitive it can get over an extended session. Liberating settlements usually plays out exactly the same every time, and while the first few times I tore down a giant, Stalin-esque statue with my grappling hook were pretty awesome, having to do it just about everywhere got kind of old. The small complement of available weapons, while well-honed, feels a little constricting, and though the plot is mostly just making an excuse for Rico to detonate everything in his path, it felt a little too paper-thin at times.

All that being said, this isn’t the kind of artistic achievement in gaming that will endure through the ages, standing as a testament to the power and beauty of the medium. However, Just Cause 3 is an absolute blast to play, featuring some of the most incredibly liberating gameplay I’ve ever experienced in an open-world game. It’s great for the dutiful quest-hounds and for those of us who play sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto to experience life as an unconscionable sociopath.

Even though Just Cause 3 lacks a bit in the variety department, by the time you toss yourself out of a helicopter two kilometers over the earth and begin your two-and-a-half–minute descent via wingsuit to your objective marker, you’ll be hooked, too.