Just Cause 3, A Sequel That Hax Monster Actually Likes!?

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , ,

I’ve been procrastinating this month’s review like a suicidal man with vertigo on the edge of the Empire State Building. If I found myself in that position now chances are I’d leap off straight away, because if there is anything Just Cause 3 taught me it’s that there is no fall you can’t overcome, especially if you use a grappling hook to make the ground come at you even faster. In spite of, or more likely because of its rather casual relationship with the real world Just Cause 2 managed to realize sandbox destruction-fuelled craziness on a huge scale like never before. The question is merely if the sequel keeps this up. 
Recently I finished my one hundredth game (yes, I’m the kind of guy who keeps track of that) and over the years I’ve picked one or two things up on the progression of franchises. Based on this my estimate before going into Just Cause 3 was that it would not grasp the vital essence of Just Cause 2 and that it would therefore be the game that would end the franchise after JC2’s peak in the series. Partly I had that expectation because of the fact that the protagonist, Rico Rodriguez, seemed to have changed from a carefree rampager to an old guy with a beard and usually, when the main character grows old and no longer enjoys being in a game that is a good sign that it’s spark is fading. 

 The years have been rather kind considering his job.

However, in this case I stand corrected. After 45 hours of violence and fire I can safely say that Righteous Goal 3 has actually improved on its predecessor which is a rare sight in a world where publishers usually regard sequelizing as an opportunity to make a quick penny rather than a good way to take a franchise to the next level.

Just Cause 3’s high overall quality doesn’t mean that my suspicion was entirely unjust. The game’s opening scene, where you are dumped in the Mediterranean island of Medici, shows it’s most important flaw right away as JC3 aims to have a story that is more than the trusted formula of ‘You need to kill dictator X to liberate country Y’. If the intro is to be believed, Rico Rodriguez has some personal interest in liberating oppressed island nation number 176167 where the game takes place because of that he was raised there. To make this halfway credible, they removed his trademark Hispanic identity from the previous games and quite blatantly replaced it with a more southern European accent and appearance and make him occasionally blurt out a word from some vague mix of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese which to non-Europeans might as well be Klingon. 

 Its a good job we have all these guns since melee is non existent unlike most self respecting Klingons.

Medici being his home was never mentioned before and, come to think of it, the first two games tell us nothing about Rico at all, besides heavily suggesting a certain southern-American vibe. So besides the annoying Hispanic-to- Mediterranean retcon no one is going to care about Rico’s origins if we have never heard about them. That’s for the same reason why we would not be able to feel invested if a theoretical Half Life 3 wanted us to care about Gordon Freeman’s quest to steal Barney’s desk lamp because of that it bears such a similarity to the one he used to have.

Besides Rico’s past there’s the issue with characters, which is another thing the game really wants while it really doesn’t do it any good, like a small child in a chocolate crystal meth store. In many cutscenes and dialogues a handful of characters are introduced and given quirks and backstories but aside from Rico’s close friend Mario, they all are as engaging as watching the women-only beard growing competition. The story in it’s entirety is quite a dissonant since the bad guy is depicted to be such a gritty murderous villain and the game even flirts with a bit of moral ambiguity in the story. That would fit a game like Spec Ops: The line, but it doesn’t fit a game that keeps track of how far you managed to drag enemies across the motorway by tying them to your monster truck. 

 Who are these people again?

Finally, the final little wart that reminded me of the Just Cause 3 I had predicted is the social gaming nonsense where the game constantly reminds you of complete strangers who bested you in setting extremely arbitrary records. I doubt that many people had a lot of motivation to beat these random records so I’d appreciate it if the game would stop reminding me of it. All of this would not be much of a problem if this was the extent of the social gaming system, since all it really does is occasionally show a little box with records in which you were beaten, but my main issue with it is that this system requires that the game is constantly online while you play, even though there are no other multiplayer functions. 

Consequently, if your internet dies the game tries to log you in to the server EVERY TIME you open the map, go to the menu or breathe too loudly and every time that takes about thirty flow-breaking immersion-shattering seconds. On one occasion I tried to quit the game in between these log-in attempts but the game retried logging in mere seconds after the last failure so it took me multiple minutes to be able to click the ‘quit game’ button! An option to turn this off would have solved all problems, but is unfortunately as absent as common sense was among the Australian officials that banned Hotline Miami 2 in their country.

 Now this is a drive by mechanic.

Just Cause 3’s core gameplay can best be described as gunplay combined with an extremely high movement speed as well as a copious use of vehicles. For the uninitiated, Rico uses a grappling hook that lets him swing himself around the battlefield like he is Spiderman, without having to wear a dumb spandex suit like he got lost on his way to the ice rink. In combination with that he is able to use an infinite number of parachutes which essentially makes him Rambo without having a brain with fewer cells than a prison in Liechtenstein. Rodriguez already had these two tools in Just Cause 2 and they were the defining factors that explained why that game was fun while the first game in the franchise was a boring awkward mix of GTA and Far Cry 1 that didn’t know what to do with itself. 

Like the good sequel that it is, Just Cause 3 does not strip anything away and adds a wingsuit which lets you move at a higher speed than the parachute and, like the chute, can be propelled by pulling yourself forward with the hookshot. So now Rico can also be Batman without needing to be more joyless than a graveyard in 1946 Hiroshima. All this creates for an unprecedented degree of mobility as you zoom around the islands as Rico ‘Spiderrambatman’ Rodriguez.

 Are we advertising game mechanics or a holiday here?

Gameplay is pretty much unchanged. You do a bunch of missions for the atrociously written plot while destroying as many military bases and state-owned pieces of property as you want. Since most story missions are absolute shite I got most of my fun out of the sandbox destruction rampage, which luckily is a lot less tedious now than it was in Just Cause 2 since bases are more varied and have more props. The downside is that destroying bases with helicopters is ridiculously overpowered. Many minor bases can be wiped off of the face of the Earth if you fire at them from outside of the relatively small area around the base in which the enemies actually notice you shooting. Maybe if they don’t see a helicopter actually firing missiles at them the enemy soldiers will assume that it is simply the work of god, against which there is no action possible, which would explain why they don’t react to the rockets destroying the base before their eyes.

This is pretty exemplary of the fact that Just Cause 3 is still a way too easy game. I know that playing as Rico Rodriguez makes it very hard for the enemy to pose a real threat, unless the Medician army has an inexhaustible supply of nuclear missiles, but at the very least the game could make me want to avoid dying a little bit more. The way it stands right now death does not undo anything you did up to that point, except if you were in a mission, and enemy vechiles that are meant to make your work a lot harder feel more like power ups since hijacking them is extremely easy and doesn’t even require a quicktime event like last time around. I have the feeling that there is a severe lack of tension at times, as if I’m walking a slack rope one meter over a net. The game could be a lot more interesting if I really didn’t want to die. Then, if enemy AA guns started firing on my helicopter I might clench my buttcheeks like I’m trying to crack a walnut but as it stands I hardly feel like putting in the effort to avoid enemy fire and if that’s the case, you really need to make your game less toothless. For the record, I was playing on the highest difficulty, which can only mean that playing on ‘normal’ ties every enemy’s hands behinds his back and straps a BFG 9000 to your every extremity. 

 Wait this was supposed to be a threat?
Like in Just Cause 2 there are a few loose challenge missions, such as races or shooting gallery challenges. Last time around those were about fun and useful as the ability to equip your assault rifle with fuzzy dice and apparently Avalanche noticed that because now you need to do an excruciating amount of those to unlock roughly half the game’s mechanics. It could be that I’m mad, but when I see a sprawling land before me filled with fun and destruction, my first instinct is not to grind the 313 slightly different gun ranges. I understand that they wanted these challenges to actually have a point in the larger picture of the game.

The dilemma is a bit like that of a man with a third, non-functional arm. Do you remove it so you can live your life in a normal way unhindered by that lump of flesh, or do you just make the most of it now that you have it any way and bolt some cupholders into it’s flesh? Don’t get me wrong, I like it that those side challenges are there, it’s some motivation for that group of players that is 100%-mad and that will feel like they have shamed their family if they didn’t do literally anything you can do, and also it can be an amusing feature on it’s own. What I don’t like is when the developer hides half the game behind it, forcing me to do the stupid challenges first before I can do the actual game, where all the effort went into, properly. 

We know what you get up to Hax Monster when you don't have challenges to do, you make your own.

One little peculiarity that stood out for me was the game world. Since Just Cause 3 is a game more highly paced than a race horse on the roof of a bullet train you would think that it shares the Call of Duty problem in that the entire game world, level design and the amount of attention for detail all turn out to have been neglected in favour of more explosions and swear words. A real mark of quality is a game world, that holds up if you were to take a calm hike around it and luckily Just Cause 3 has a world that does hold up if you aren’t breaking the speed limit for once. All of the game world is richly detailed; grass waves in the wind, butterflies frolic about and the forest floor has multiple layers of foliage and not just one texture, which you would see in GTA V. 

 Actually I wouldn't mind if this was a holiday simulator, this place looks amazing. 

The funny thing is that this level of detail is present everywhere, even in the cores of the game’s large forests where you will never come for missions or collectibles. I love how this shows the developers dedication to making a real and beautiful world that is not just an empty shell that has been strategically improved in the areas around the missions. Because of this, even though you can spiderrambatman your way around the map like your shoes are on fire you don’t have to do so. If you feel like it you can take a calm drive around the countryside and just take in the view while enjoying some wine and olives, an experience which is also helped by the fact that cars now no longer drive like the steering wheel will turn 180 degrees if a fly lands on one side. 

 Spiderrambatmaning through the wood is pretty nice too.
Generally speaking the game is fairly well finished, with it’s 45 hour length, great graphics and good optimisation as well as the detailed world. One downside are the bugs and glitches. Some cars always spawned with their right half inside a wall, there was more clipping than at the paperclip and rifle magazine factory and the game never ever would shut down properly and needed ten seconds of stuttering before the program would close and I could see my overpopulated desktop again. On about three occasions the game quit itself completely out of nowhere. but with the almost neurotic level of auto-saving that never affected my progress. 

What was more bothering was that those three fatal bugs made me nervous whenever the game got stuck for a few seconds and the image froze and that happens quite a bit. Since the game is already three months old at the time of writing I wouldn’t expect this to be patched anymore. In spite of that all that, Just Cause 3 remains an excellent game. It might even be the best thing I played yet that was launched in 2015 and I would love to come to Avalanche’s offices and congratulate them, also because then I could take a look at their arm-mounted cupholders collection.

Next up: Grand Theft Auto 5, probably.


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