At its core, Just Cause 3 is a self-aware Michael Bay film set in a fictional archipelago of Italian islands named Medici ruled by a Fidel Castro knockoff. This premise is complemented by one of the best destruction engines since Battlefield: Bad Company 2, an extensive armory, and a redesigned tethering system that brings new meaning to creative destruction.
It’s difficult to review a single player game without looking at its main quest line, but it feels so secondary in Just Cause 3. The main cast is made up of a bunch of action movie tropes, from the anal-retentive scientist who is occasionally lovable, to the drunk best friend who is always in danger, the characters are all there. While it is fun to watch these people interact throughout the storyline, there is never really a way to connect with any of them, and they don’t seem to drive the main plot beyond clunky lines of purposefully expositional dialogue. A lot of this is saved by the fact that Just Cause 3’s campaign plays like a B-movie, and was developed to feel that way. Even so, the events of the campaign do not seem meaningful other than a way to string together new chains of explosive combat and ridiculous action set-pieces.
Just Cause 3’s main character Rico has not changed much from the other games. He’s still the same action hero with a disregard for safety and penchant for making an entrance. This works in the sense that it allows the player to justify why Rico needs to blow up everything in sight, but also runs into issues when contrasted with the game’s main plot. It centers around Rico returning to his home country to free it from an oppressive dictator, which works fine as a plot premise, but when the civilian body count grows to the thousands (I’m sure there could have been less, but I was working from a spray and pray mindset), and no one seems to care, it makes Rico’s actions seem unimportant. Civilian cars driving along the highway are nothing more than improvised wrecking balls to be tethered to enemy vehicles and take out soldiers. The game offers no reward for saving civilians, and in most cases encourages using them as weapons. However, this can also be one of the most entertaining pieces of Just Cause 3’s gameplay.
Whether it’s tying a car to a gas station and pulling the chord, strapping remote bombs to civilians and sending them towards the police, or riding in on a giant missile while yelling “F@%& you!”, Just Cause 3 wants the player to cause chaos in their own unique way. One of the most innovative ways to do this is with the improved tether system. In Just Cause 2, Rico was able to use one cable at a time to tie objects together for hilarious consequences. The developers decided that Just Cause 3 needed a serious upgrade, and delivered a system that allows for up to six grappling lines at once that can be reeled in or released at the player’s whim. This combo allows for endless possibilities when approaching enemy bases, and means that there’s always a new way to wreak havoc.
As it turns out this variation is necessary, as the rest of Just Cause 3 can become very repetitive. Aside from the bland campaign, the map is very sparse. This is understandable when the size is taken into account (200 square miles), but in this case bigger is not always better. A lot of the military bases and settlements feel very similar to one another across the map with only slight variations. There are a bunch of Easter eggs to find, which is fun, but it feels like a slightly smaller map might have made the game feel more alive. As it stands, the map and its various biomes are beautiful, but there were stretches where the islands felt like empty wastelands.
Traversing these vast expanses of open terrain can be daunting at first, but the game allows for a variety of mobility options. First, there is a sizeable array of cars that the player can hijack, allowing them to cruise the islands’ twisting roadways through gorgeous scenery. This would be more fun if the driving mechanics had been more honed. More often than not, it was easier to avoid motor vehicles all together, as they handled sluggishly, and would send Rico to a fiery death off a mountain turnpike. This is improved with upgrades such as nitrous, and hydraulics that launch cars into the air, but there is no upgrade for handling.
In addition to land-based vehicles there are also helicopters, planes, and boats. Each has enough variety that hopping into a different model feels unique and fun. However, these vehicles also suffer from poor control mapping, and an inability to change them from the settings menu. Flying planes was one of my favorite activities in Just Cause 2, but with the rudders mapped to X and B on the controller (rather than the traditional bumpers), I often found flying to be more challenging than it needed to be.
The wingsuit is by far the easiest and most fun way to traverse the Just Cause 3’s massive map. The mechanics of gliding across Medici are easy and far more intuitive than any of the air-based vehicles. Traveling for long distances by wing suit can be difficult at first, but by playing through challenges (wingsuit race courses), more upgrades can be unlocked that make it easier to keep Rico airborne. There is also the added bonus that most of the time, hitting the ground while in wingsuit mode won’t kill Rico. Instead it will send him skidding across the ground, cursing, but ready to take out some bad guys when he lands. It may not be realistic, but it fits with the game’s stylistic tone, and almost always has an amusing end.
Even with some of the inconveniences in Just Cause 3’s transportation options, it’s beautiful destructive playground kept bringing me back wanting more. The true masterpiece comes in the way that the team coded each explosion. The big set pieces, such as rolling, fiery, fuel containers that are ten times Rico’s size are impressive, but the attention to detail in even the physics behind the detonation of red barrels makes the game fun. Objects break apart realistically, and the explosions that ensue blow back enemies with hilarious force. This blend of realism and action movie is where Just Cause 3 truly excels.
It’s important to note that a lot of Just Cause 3’s fun will come from a player’s own creativity. The game’s campaign can be run through using only the weapon arsenal, and hardly ever firing a tether, but this is repetitive, and does not showcase the game’s true potential. Freedom is both a blessing and a curse, as it allows the player to beat the game however they want, even if it happens to be boring. The truly amazing moments of play come when cars tethered to cows, tethered to fuel tanks, interact in unexpected ways to topple the island regime. In this sense Just Cause 3 is a success by promoting individual driven gameplay, but may not appeal to more linear players.
Finally, a word of caution about performance issues. I did not run into any bugs or crashes when running the game on my PC, but I also installed it to a solid state drive and am running a GeForce GTX 970. There have been reports that when not installed onto a solid state, or when played on console, the loading times for the game can be very long. Gamers have also reported frequent crashes, but again this is not something I experienced in my time with the game. When in doubt, check the game’s optimal hardware settings on the Steam page.
Overall, Just Cause 3 is incredibly fun, and a worthy successor to the other games in the series. The explosion physics have been crafted with the loving hands of a team of B-Action film buffs, the variety of uses for the game’s new tether system is innovative, and the island itself looks gorgeous. There are issues with a lackluster campaign, and repetitive side-missions, but fans of the series will likely come in expecting this. I would recommend this game for anyone who is looking for a massive sandbox in which to cause destruction and mayhem, but caution that the game requires a “create your own fun” mentality.