Just Cause 3

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Release Date: Dec. 1, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'Just Cause 3'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 8, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Just Cause 3 is the latest installment in the action/adventure series, and takes open world freedom to new heights.

The Just Cause series has always excelled at being a sandbox of destruction. The open world lets you commandeer any vehicle you want, and there's no shortage of ammunition to let you blow everything to pieces. However, the more interesting means of conveyance, like the infinite parachute and grappling hook, are what make the series memorable. While establishing a base for how things would go in the first one, it was the second title that really gained fans due to the various methods and level of destruction you could accomplish. Just Cause 3 comes out five years after the second game, and it promises an amplified version of the same fun. It achieves its goal but does so at a cost, especially for console owners.

Once again, you play the role of Rico Rodriguez, a government agent who specializes at the toppling of government regimes worldwide. The job is the same this time around, but it's more personal as he returns to his home country of Medici, a once-peaceful island that has been overtaken by a crazed dictator. Making matters worse is the fact that Medici is home to a rare element that can be highly volatile in the wrong hands. Backed up by his childhood friend and a ragtag bunch of rebels, Rico seeks to take down the dictator, one fiery explosion at a time.

The story has never been the one of the series' strong suits, and the trend pretty much continues here. The pacing tries to go back and forth between tongue-in-cheek and semi-dramatic, but neither approach succeeds. You can see the jokes coming a mile away, and beyond a few chuckles, there's not much to make you react. The same goes for dramatic moments that seem to be thrown in for the sake of balance but are placed so haphazardly that the shift isn't warranted or even worthy of being rewarded. Meanwhile, none of the characters are very memorable, and as before, Rico is merely a cipher as he is otherwise devoid of any real personality.

To its defense, the series bills itself as a pure action sandbox where anything goes, and it certainly makes an impression from the beginning with an intro where you're riding on top of a plane and firing an infinite amount of rockets at anti-aircraft missile launchers. The tutorial missions that follow teach you some of the basics, like driving and commandeering gun emplacements, before you're given the chance to tether objects and try the game's new wingsuit. After another mission, where you're given a chance to perform remote detonations and hack anti-aircraft missile launchers so they work for you automatically, you're given free rein over the title.

If you choose to go for the story-based missions, you'll find them to be pretty pedestrian for open-world games. You've got a standard slate of escort missions, fetch quests and protection gigs that occur all over the game world. Enemies are familiar, and they wouldn't be so bad if everyone and everything on your side weren't so fragile. The opening mission to meet Mario is a perfect example of this; you only have a few seconds to take out the enemy soldiers before Mario gets inexplicably killed by a few bullets. Consider for a moment that you can withstand everything except for a hail of bullets accompanied quickly by multiple missile barrages, and the frailty of your friends can become frustrating.

It can also be something of a chore to locate the story mission locations. The open world of Just Cause 3 covers roughly 400 square miles, and the levels are expansive horizontally as well as vertically. You won't realize this until you pull out your map and pull the camera back to reveal it all. Even though the world is generally sterile like before, there are a few more animals, cars and citizens roaming around to give it a bit of life. What can be bothersome is how far apart those story mission markers can be. It isn't a complete game-killer, but the lack of a natural flow to area progression can be frustrating. Eventually, you'll reach points in the story where the only way to progress is to free towns and blow up bases, and this is where the real fun starts.

Freeing towns is basic but can be pretty engrossing. You start with small things like tearing down billboards of the dictator and destroying the loudspeakers that spew his propaganda. This escalates to taking down projectors and political vans until you take out surveillance towers and statues. You'll even destroy the town police stations that house his soldiers, killing the opposition in the process. After fulfilling all that is needed to free the town, you ultimately raise the flag of the rebellion, theoretically weakening his hold on your home country.

Blowing up bases still comes with a checklist of things to tamper with, but it really embraces the idea of destruction. Things that are known to blow up are helpfully marked in red, and you'll see lots of that in a base, including ammo boxes, electrical generators, fuel tanks, radio towers and satellite dishes. Taking over bases gives you a much bigger benefit, as you can access vehicles without having to get rid of a passenger first.

You still have your grappling hook, so traveling up and down vertical surfaces is a breeze once you master the controls. Tethering is also back, but instead of it being an automatic thing once you find two objects to attach, you can manually control when the tethering occurs. You've also got the ability to attach multiple tethers together before you reel things in, so it is entirely possible, when fully powered up, to take out a base without having to fire a bullet. This also means that you can engage in plenty of shenanigans, like tying up soldiers to propane tanks to watch them fly away or having a jeep propel at top speed to a turbine and take out any enemies along the way.

To that end, what you can use to travel between these areas of interest is equally as fun. The tether makes you feel like Spider-Man as you dart from area to area, and the parachute is a great means to break your fall or get an updraft so you can reach higher ground. New to the game is the wingsuit, which lets you glide around areas with ease. It is the hardest one to master out of the trio but the coolest item to use. Soon, you'll be able to do things like use your tether to slingshot yourself forward, your parachute to obtain height, and then your wingsuit to cover tons of ground.

Of course, if you are more of a traditionalist, you can still use basic vehicles to achieve similar results. This also means that you can get to them in wildly unrealistic but fun ways. Ride the top of a car before you drive it, latch onto a jet or helicopter and hang from it upside-down before commandeering it, and jump on a boat and steer it to open waters. Vehicle use can be anything but conventional, and that's part of the appeal.

Blowing up things and messing around with propaganda material is fun but is done mostly in short sessions due to the game's overall lack of variety on what you can do. With the exception of the layout of some bases and big set pieces, objectives mostly remain the same. It can be fun to blow up fuel tanks, tear down statues and raze prisons, but with the same tasks just about every time you visit a new town or base, the process can get old pretty quickly. This is a title better suited for short bursts of gameplay instead of prolonged sessions, especially if you initially don't have much interest in advancing the story.

One thing that may puzzle some players is how you can strengthen Rico's abilities and add more tricks to his roster. Instead of blowing up things and using your abilities to level up like in the previous game, you partake in the challenges that open up once a town is freed or a base is destroyed. They're the same kind of thing you've seen before, with vehicle races, timed destruction runs and wingsuit flights, but now they're more valuable since they reward you with gears that can be spent on improving existing abilities or unlocking new ones. The challenges reward you with gears in specific areas, though, so completing a car challenge doesn't mean you'll get better tethering improvements, for example. Still, some of the challenges are fun enough that you won't necessarily mind this new requirement.

Many players will recall that Just Cause 2 got something of a second life on the PC thanks to the efforts of modders who were hell-bent on adding multiplayer to the single-player title. Those who were expecting something similar in the third game via official means will be disappointed since the game remains a strictly single-player affair. The only form of online interaction is with leaderboards, whether it's taking out a number of enemies in one clip, chaining explosions together or having the furthest gliding distance. The leaderboards are also live, and they aren't limited to people on your friend list, so the updates spring up all the time, and there is no option to shut them off.

Graphically, Just Cause 3 is fine most of the time. Like the second title, the game features lots of different environments that blend well with one another. Textures are good, and the explosions are all very pretty. Character and vehicle models also look pretty great, and the weather system works very well. That being said, the graphics are a touch below other open-world games, with explosions and gunfire taking precedence over the environments looking more lush. This is especially evident in the amount of pop-up that occurs when you're either going at high speeds or taking on something from the skies; you can see radio towers disappear if you take on just the right angle. Frame rate is fine overall but not especially solid, as making fast sweeps of the camera or driving at near top speeds makes the experience rough.

With the game so focused on explosions and other means of destruction, it is comforting to know that those elements are done right. Explosions and gunfire are loud, and a barrage of missiles pounding down on the ground near you can be near-deafening. You'd be forgiven for thinking that these are the only sounds you'll hear in-game, as the music volume is turned down so low that it's almost unnoticeable except for cut scenes and the odd quiet moments in the game. When you do hear it, you'll find it to be a decent action score with some Spanish acoustic guitar accompaniment. Meanwhile, the voices seem to go all over the place in tonality and accents. All of the incidental dialogue you'll hear from pedestrians can shift wildly from serious to campy in the blink of an eye. The radio announcer who pops up after you destroy a base is genuinely chuckle-worthy. Meanwhile, Rico went from a bad Al Pacino "Scarface" imitator in the second game to a more reserved Italian in the third. His best friend also adopts the same Italian accent, although everyone around them has Spanish accents. It's strange but somehow still acceptable in this world.

While most of these things can be overlooked, one thing that cannot be forgiven is the game's load times. Upon first loading the title, it'll take about three minutes before you can go anywhere. Once you're in, transitions between cut scenes take about a minute, and the same goes for using fast travel or partaking in any of the challenge missions, which clock in at a little under two minutes. Death also means that you'll wait around for two minutes before getting back in the action. This was all done using a non-SSD USB 3.0 hard drive installed to the Xbox One, so installs to the internal drive will be even slower. For comparison, using a similar PC with the game installed on an external non-SSD USB 3.0 hard drive cut load times in half. When you consider that other open-world games on the system don't take nearly as long to load, you have to wonder why there's no optimization in this area for this title.

Just Cause 3 really serves its fan base. It delivers on the cavalcade of destruction with a few new tools to make it fun. It also does this in a rather large open world that is more populated than before but not interestingly so. It can start to feel monotonous after a while, and the presentation may not exactly be top-notch stuff, but the load times really dampen the experience. If you can live with all of that and just want some mindless gaming fun, Just Cause 3 fits the bill.

Score: 7.0/10

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