Following the critical success of Just Cause 2 in 2010, Avalanche Studios has brought us yet another unforgettable open world adventure. Just Cause 3 was easily one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2015, and rightfully so. There were those at the time who thought Just Cause 2 was the best a videogame could get – but what Avalanche released on December 1st blew those expectations away.
We arrive in Medici, a fictitious tropical island located in the Mediterranean. Similar to the previous iterations in the Just Cause series, the country is ruled by a powerful dictator – this time named Di Ravello. Medici possesses a unique – and highly dangerous – mineral known as Bavarium, around which the plot revolves. The intriguing story plays a much bigger role than the excuse plot we saw in Just Cause 2. We now see ourselves wanting to learn what happens next to push along the plot, in contrast to skipping the distracting cutscenes of Just Cause 2.
As per usual with Avalanche titles, Medici is a massive open world area to explore, with three regions and 29 provinces between them. Youtube Channel 8-Bit Bastard discovered that it takes about 9 hours to walk/swim across the entirety of Medici – compared to approximately 5 hours to walk across Panau, the setting for Just Cause 2. Needless to say, you’ll definitely be traversing Medici for a very long time before you see everything the archipelago has to offer. Take into consideration that you aren’t exploring bland landscape either. Medici is densely packed with beautifully arranged scenery and elegant towns and villages.
There is one big issue, and it’s one that needs to be got out of the way early. Just Cause 3 has some nasty DRM, focing the player to connect to the Square Enix servers constantly in order to update the live leaderboards. The only way to avoid this is to manually disconnect your internet connection and launch Steam in offline mode. The game has an offline mode built-in, but every time you attempt to open the map while in this mode, the game will automatically try to connect you to the servers once again, making it nearly impossible to play. This is an absolutely absurd feature, adds nothing to the player’s experience other than some mildly interesting reward-free challenges and should have no place in Just Cause 3.
That irritant out of the way, we can get back to the better aspects. The graphical fidelity is phenomenal in every aspect in Just Cause 3. It is truly the most gorgeous videogame that I have seen to date. From the open expanses to the busy structured areas, Medici looks incredibly beautiful. Fortunately, the audio quality complements the visuals quite nicely. The sound effects for the explosions are top notch, which is very important in a game centred around blowing stuff up. In addition to the amazing presentation, a brand new user interface has been created. There are perks as well as nuisances to this. For one, the screen is almost entirely clean, even lacking a mini-map (which is not so great). The developers definitely went a little too far into the form-over-function side of things. In settlements where players have to destroy specific objects, small icons are displayed on the left of the screen to signify what you need to do. The pictures can be unclear and in most cases you will have to memorize them or else you won’t be able to tell what they are. Additionally, the lack of a minimap means breaking up the action to check the locations of the object you still need to destroy on the main map, which breaks flow. A streamlined UI also includes no health bar, so it’s very difficult to tell exactly just how much danger you are in.
So, what’s new in terms of gameplay in Just Cause 3? Well, Rico is now equipped with a handy wingsuit, which has become my favorite form of transportation in any videogame. Players can simply reel in towards one point with the grappling hook, and deploy the wingsuit for an elegant take off. The animations are spectacular, proving just how smooth the wingsuit really is. It’s difficult to master, but the reasoning for that is actually one of my favorite things about the new gadget. Much like the parachute, players are required to grapple onto a nearby surface to pull themselves along and continue to stay airborne. This isn’t a problem with the parachute as it is so slow moving and generally used at high altitudes. The trade off for the extra speed of the wingsuit is that Rico has to be much closer to the surface that has been grappled, and he is pulled towards the surface ever so slightly. This proves to be tricky because you have to navigate through Medici while coming very close to objects along the way.
The game’s optional challenges really test your ability as some of them require you to use your wingsuit to complete precise courses for maximum points. The more points you gain, the more gears you earn. Gears are used to unlock Gear Mods, a sort of equippable upgrade. These upgrades are collected from a linear progression skill tree for categories such as abilities for your wingsuit, grappling hook, air vehicles, and a few others. The frustrating part about this system is that for you to be able to use a Gear Mod at the end of the skill tree, not only do you have to unlock it first, you have to have the previous Gear Mods all activated. So if you have a Gear Mod that is fantastic, but the one before it isn’t worth the gears, you still have to deal with it. The system would benefit greatly if you could earn the gears to spend on Gear Mods separately and use them however you would like. This wouldn’t be nearly as bad as we’re making out if the challenges had more variety to them. Sure, the wingsuit courses are very entertaining, but the same style of go-through-the-rings repeated for every class of vehicles is annoying and a poor use of resources.
Let’s now discuss one of the other new systems that make this game so incredibly unique. The tether mechanic in Just Cause 2 was entertaining, but severely limited. Avalanche evidently understood this, because they overhauled the tethering mechanics and turned them into a means of varying the gameplay in a massive way. Now, Rico can obtain up to 6 active tethers (with Gear Mods obtained through challenges), which can be retracted to cause devastating chaos. It is unbelievably enjoyable to find interesting uses for the tethers to bring down a statue than to simply use explosives. My favorite way to destroy a watch tower in Just Cause 3 is to attach to tethers extending diagonally across the 4 support beams of the tower, retract the tethers, and witness the tower collapse on itself. If you prefer, you can tether a solider between two tall structures and fling them slingshot style into the sea. The possibilities for the grappling hook are truly endless.
The all-new tethering mechanics aren’t quite perfect. In a Just Cause game, you fight a lot of enemies. So many, in fact, that you are almost constantly engaged in combat, especially when you are actively performing crazy stunts and mayhem is ensuing. It is very difficult to experiment with the tethers and the objects around Medici when you are constantly being threatened by the military forces of Di Ravello. It seemed like a great plan to give players free reign over how they cause destruction, but the level of chaos can hinder their ability to do so in the heat of battle.
Rebel Drops are not new to Just Cause 3 but have been tweaked significantly since its predecessor. In Just Cause 2, players used the in-game currency to select a weapon or vehicle to be dropped off to them. What we have gained is the choice of 3 weapons and a vehicle to be dropped all at once. We have, however, lost the ability to do so endlessly. Because the game does away with in-game currency, players are limited in two ways. First, you need Beacons – found throughout the world in the same way as ammunition – to call in Rebel Drops. Without a Beacon, no gear for you. The second, and more obscure limitation is a cooldown time for each item that you call in, to prevent spamming. It’s as if there are two locked doors to get through for each item that you want, and doesn’t seem necessary to include both.
The tactics involved with gunplay are so light that there are really no differences in guns other than whether they are semi-automatic, burst firing, or fully automatic weapons. While enjoyable, some enemies take seemingly hundreds of bullets to kill because they are so heavily armored. It hasn’t added anything to the gameplay of Just Cause 3, only made it seem longer and less exciting. Vehicles do vary a lot – from motorbikes to jeeps to attack jets to warships – and are nice to have, but they’re seldom necessary. The wingsuit is so fast and lovely that there’s never a need to give the time of day to any vehicles Medici can throw at me. But if you enjoy that sort of thing, there’s still tons of vehicular fun to be had.
The core of the game, which is destruction and chaos on a massive scale, is spot on. The unlimited explosives are handy, to say the least, and are just one of the ways – like removing the quick time event sequences for hijacking vehicles – the game has been streamlined in favour of embracing the destructive nature of the game. Some might say the gameplay is repetitive because the main draw of the game is to blow things up, but that is where experimenting with the tools at your disposal comes in very handy. The amount of interactivity within the world objects is absolutely insane, and unlike anything we’ve seen before. It might simply be compensation for an essentially unchanging goal, but Just Cause 3 has struck a perfect balance in that respect.
The folks at Avalanche have outdone themselves once again, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for gamers next. We’ll be playing Just Cause 3 for a long time, and at time of publishing it is undoubtedly the most fun a videogame has ever given us.