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Just Cause 4

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Avalanche
Release Date: Dec. 4, 2018


PC Review - 'Just Cause 4'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 7, 2018 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

Set in the fictional South American world of Solis, Just Cause 4 introduces tornadoes and other extreme weather events to the open-world, action/adventure series.

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About this time three years ago, Just Cause 3 was released on what was then the latest generation of consoles. It remained a fun game, elevating the insanity that came from the second entry in the series, but it also arrived with a slew of technical issues that hampered the fun. The PC version didn't come away unscathed, as a decent amount of patching was needed to handle issues with AMD cards, and there were a few bugs and performance issues. The result is that the arrival of Just Cause 4 on the PC is met with equal parts anticipation and dread for those same reasons. The PR campaign for this game has mostly focused on the PC build and how the launch results are supposed to be better than before, and we get to find out how true those statements are.

The story in JC4 is written to the point that it can be roughly interchanged with any of the tales told for previous titles, and no one would notice. You once again play the role of Rico Rodriguez, a former member of The Agency, and he's still quite adept at taking down oppressive governments all by himself thanks to his wonderful cache of toys. This time around, Rico is in the country of Solis, a land that has a multitude of different environments caused by the dictator's weather machine. After a failed mission to destroy the machine solo, Rico realizes that he'll need some help to destroy the machine and its clones while taking down the dictator along the way.

What's funny is that while JC4 tries to give the tale more gravitas, it barely puts any effort into it. There's the notion that Rico's father and your associate Mira's uncle helped build the machine in the first place, but its importance is lessened as time goes on. The same goes for the fact that Mira's cousin is working for the enemy as a high-ranking officer, giving the story a family feud dynamic that's briefly touched on only in the beginning. The characters you encounter are fine, but be prepared to forget about them the moment you shut off the game. There are a few attempts to tie this in with all of Rico's previous adventures, but there isn't enough to make you care about the narrative.

If you've played any games in the series before, then you know exactly what to expect. The big open world is about roughly similar to JC3, but with more elevation to make up for a lack of expanded space. You can drive a multitude of vehicles, and there are a number of stunt spots to check out, but you'll mostly want to be airborne with either a jet or a helicopter — or your combination of wingsuit and parachute, if no vehicles are around. The game actually has fewer guns than its predecessor due to the removal of pistols and throwables, like C4 and grenades. To make up for that, every gun you pick up has a secondary fire option. For example, one submachine gun may have the option to throw out a concentrated burst fire, while another machine gun can be used as a turret mount. This does a good job of making sure almost all guns are valuable while simultaneously keeping the firepower options the same.

This is nice, but any fan will tell you that the series is all about the grappling hook. The basic grapple and whip abilities remain, so you can easily zip across the battlefield, scale buildings, commandeer vehicles from afar, or hang upside-down like Spider-Man. The tether retract is still present, so having two objects meet up to destroy each other is still a thing. Mini-boosters also return, so anything can become a missile. The new ability is the Fulton balloon, allowing everything to float if you have enough helium-filled balloons to make it go skyward. All of the abilities may be silly, but in terms of creating chaos and destruction, they succeed in providing endless entertainment.

JC4 wants you to obtain and use the new abilities as quickly as possible, as evidenced by the fact that everyone involved in granting and upgrading the abilities can be found within the first two hours of the game. You also know that the game wants you to use the new tools often, since it takes plenty of bullets to kill you, and if you fall to a critical health level, your self-healing is faster than normal. On the one hand, this makes you live up to the legend of being a one-man killing machine. On the other hand, it also shows that the game knows to not take itself too seriously, so you can toy around with everything you see, conventional rules be damned.

With all of the toys at your disposal and your surprising resilience in combat, it's a shame that most of the missions are rote exercises you've done countless times before in the series. There are escort missions with allies who do a decent job of fending for themselves. There are rescue missions where those who are rescued are quite hardy and can withstand some bullets. There are missions where you go to a facility and just blow up stuff, and there are also side missions that encompass those same things or just ask you to perform stunts. Again, they're fine, but after so many games in the series ask you to do the same thing, it would've been nice to see something different.

The missions are also infuriating at times due to the witless AI for both sides. Enemies stand around firing at you while waiting to be shot or whipped by your grappling hook. Despite claims that they're looking for you after you assault a base of theirs, you never see anyone taking an active role in doing that. Meanwhile, your allies behave in a similar manner, and that gets worse when you have escort missions, since allies don't know how to correct their vehicles when they're pushed off their designated path. There are countless times when you'll fail a mission because your friendly AI was nudged to the side of the road, and they'll go in circles or drive off a bridge.

Despite the changes to some of the key gameplay areas, all of the praises and complaints about JC4 sound just like the issues in JC3. Based on the marketing, the biggest change in with the artificial weather systems coming from your enemy, with the tornadoes being the highlight of that bad weather. The tornado is exciting, as you're now faced with something capable of unleashing the same amount of destruction on you, if not more. Passing by the tornado leaves you gawking at how much is affected by its wake, and daring to actually ride the twister is exhilarating and unforgettable. With that said, the tornado isn't as big of a gameplay element as you're led to believe, since you mostly get to experience it when the story calls for it. Even then, it only appears in certain sectors of the map, and spontaneous appearances of the phenomenon are so rare that you'd be forgiven for thinking that random twisters just don't exist in this game.

The other weather phenomena fail to elicit the same level of excitement. Sandstorms greatly reduce your visibility, but that limitation doesn't hinder your enemies from getting a bead on you. This forces you to use the grappling hook blindly, zipping around recklessly, and hoping you'll hit someone. The snow in the opening mission only increases the wind, but there's nothing that makes you go out of control when using your parachute. The same goes for the lightning storms, which look very pretty but otherwise don't affect traversal in the slightest.

Another new change is in the open-world progression. The whole world is open from the outset, but if you want to travel to a new area and not get attacked relentlessly, you'll need to recruit enough troops to build up your small army. To build the army, you'll need to create enough chaos to inspire people to your side. Crazy video game logic aside, building up that chaos and performing the steps needed to make the new area safe for yourself seems exciting at first, but the repetitive nature of it soon takes its toll as well.

Just like the rest of the game, the changes to the presentation aren't very apparent at first glance. You can look at the review of JC3 and apply those praises and complaints about the graphics in JC4 almost wholesale. Explosions look great despite other things, like the water, looking subpar; the game does a good job of populating the world with lots of debris and enemies, and the texture pop and low quality remain an issue despite the engine tweaks. It's under the hood where the real improvements are seen, at least on the PC. The frame rate is much more stable this time around, but dips still occur for no apparent reason. Load times are also drastically improved, so you're only seeing a load screen for a few seconds before you can jump back in to the action. The experience is better than JC3 at launch, but there's still some room for improvement.

The audio remains largely unchanged. The voice work and sound effects are good. The music has more variety now, with some of the heavy action scenes adopting more of an epic action movie vibe, while vehicles allow you to tune in to a ton of radio stations, some of which have humorous DJs, so you feel like Just Cause is throwing its hat into the ring for wacky on-air personalities, joining Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row.

For fans of the series, Just Cause 4 ends up being one of those virtually critic-proof titles. The story is forgettable, and the repetitive mission types can feel like a chore. With that said, the chaos that all of your tools can cause creates a type of destructive madness that few other games can replicate, and the fun springing from that anarchy is undeniable. It isn't a masterpiece by any means, and it could certainly stand to be improved in the area of graphical presentation, but the moment you get your hands on the game, you might not care so long as there's something you can blow up.

Score: 7.0/10

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