Avalanche Studios just want you to blow stuff up. The game’s stylised opening credits set you up for what’s to come, with the wonderful strains of a laidback cover of Prodigy’s Firestarter nailing the tone perfectly. The revolutionary poster art scrawl introduces you to the main cast as you return to the role of Rico Rodriguez, who returns to his home of Medici to liberate it from the ‘enthusiastic’ dictator General Di Ravello. The entire Mediterranean archipelago is your playground, from the mountains and fields to the sea and the sky. It’s a sun-kissed beauty spot that you can be certain will hold some explosive surprises along the way. You’re joined in your mission by childhood friend Mario Frigo, radio personality Alessio, and Dimah, a scientist with poor inter-personal skills, but largely it’s you against the hordes of Di Ravello’s personal army.
Perhaps the opening moments of actual gameplay do the game a disservice. Flying in on the wings of a plane while grasping a rocket launcher should feel epic, but instead feels like any other turret section of a game, as you fire rockets at distant foes highlighted by a reticle. The fact that there’s another turret section mere moments later doesn’t help.
You’re then re-introduced to your grappler, and things immediately take an upswing, a swift tap of the LB button sends you shooting forwards towards your target. Launching into gliding with your parachute may not feel totally dissimilar to the Rocksteady Batman games, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite operate with the surety of Batman’s gadgets, and I often found myself grappling to a high point on a hillside and sliding back down rather than leaping to the top. You’ll also accidentally grapple to the underside of objects, or the side in the heat of the action, simply because you didn’t have time to properly aim.
Things really get interesting when Dimah upgrades your grappler, allowing you to tether two items together before drawing them in. Of course, the first thing you do is secure explosive barrels to fuel containers and sit back to enjoy the fun. It’s safe to say that Just Cause 3 isn’t stingy about handing you the tools you’ll want and need, as you’re also very swiftly introduced to your new wingsuit, with which you can leap from vantage points and hurtle towards the ground. Again though, it’s quite apparent that Rico has been cribbing from the Dark Knight’s ability sheet, but it just makes sense.
The wingsuit is an unbridled joy to use. It’s more forgiving than renditions in other games, and the world looks fantastic as you speed towards an objective, or simply fly and enjoy the view, if you prefer. It’s a hugely successful addition to the game’s repertoire and one which you’ll use at every opportunity, especially as it’s amongst the fastest ways to get about. Rico’s running speed is far too relaxed considering the chaos that is often going on around him, and you’ll really want to be in up in the air, particularly as you discover the incredibly overpowered fun to be had in a heavily armed helicopter or bomber plane. That’s not to say that cars and bikes aren’t useful, and indeed they handle well for an open world game.
Primarily your task is to liberate the island, and you do so region by region. Each town has a set number of government controlled items, from billboards and propoganda spewing trucks to the local police station. Only after you’ve removed all of these can you raise the rebel flag and seize independence. Once you’ve liberated the towns in a region you can move onto the General’s stronghold, to firmly eradicate them from the landscape.
That might be the overarching goal, but the purpose you’ll find from moment to moment involves finding red coloured objects and blowing them up, which, whilst fun and cathartic, doesn’t initially seem to offer much variety. Then again, it’s all about using the different tools available to you. Why not hijack a helicopter and attack from the air? Or how about attaching an explosive barrel to a car full of enemy soldiers to take them out?Or stick a cow to… well, anything.
Getting the tools you need has also never been easier, thanks to your Rebel Drops. You can access any vehicles or weaponry that you’ve unlocked and have them dropped to you via beacons that you acquire through play. Just make sure there’s nothing in the way above you, as you’ll watch you’ll likely just watch your precious cargo bounce off into oblivion – equally, you can take out objectives by dumping a tank on them if you want.
The story itself is a great deal of darkly comedic fun, and your nemesis General Di Ravello is gloriously insane, but the tone struggles to shift for more serious moments. You’re also not helped on your way by a lack of a mini-map, and objective markers aren’t incredibly clear. It just seems like an unnecessary step backwards to have to open up your main map, select a waypoint as the mission is too far off for an objective marker to kick in, and then exit back out, when it could be so much simpler. It makes little sense when you’re looking for the last couple of Chaos items to blow up in an area and you’re jumping out to look at your map all the time, but particularly when you consider that there was a mini-map in Just Cause 2.
You do find much more variety in the story missions and the world itself, and when you clear a region you unlock a range of additional challenges, such as the Off-Roader Bomb Blast, where you can’t allow your vehicle’s speed drop below a certain point while trying to delivery it to a distant target. Successfully completing these challenges unlocks gear mods that improve various aspects of your gear so they’re definitely worth taking part in. You can only activate a certain number of mods at any one time, allowing you to boost the abilities you use without becoming ridiculously overpowered. The only annoyance is that a restart often means an overly long reload, rather than an instant jump back to the beginning.
There’s an excruitatingly long load time when you start the game, some of which is due to it checking in online to log and track every aspect of your performance in Just Cause 3 against everyone else playing. From One Clip Killer, which sees how many enemies you can remove before reloading, to Wingsuit Wonder, which sees how long you can stay in the air without touching the ground, there’s constant updates to the leaderboard that lets you know that someone has just beaten you.
It’s a wonderful distraction similar to Need For Speed’s Speedwall that allows you to play mini-games against the world within the beautiful sandbox of Medici. I did suffer a couple of times where I lost contact with the server, though the game simply offers to continue offline, but on the whole it remained connected and updated throughout, providing a stream of extra targets to achieve and distractions from the story missions.
As in Just Cause 2, the game is definitely generous over how much damage you can take, but Rico is not indestructible. You have to remember to open that parachute after using the wingsuit, or to grapple away when presented with too many enemies. You will survive a crashing helicopter if you time your escape well enough, but that reduced level of realism suits the outlandish combat and tone. Fortunately one element that has been improved is the gunplay, feeling much more solid here than its predecessor, though still with room for improvement.
It’s a very attractive game, if not stunning at times, but some elements can equally look a touch basic. The bright, over-saturated colours brought to mind Forza Horizon rather than Sunset Overdrive, and when you take to the skies and see the island set out in front of you it’s genuinely impressive, and lends a great sense of place. It always feels alive, with cars on the roads and residents going about their business while soldiers patrol the area.
Unfortunately, Just Cause 3 is not without technical difficulties. It’s not uncommon to find enemies and allies stuck in the scenery, or having sunk through it entirely, in one case severely glitching while the game tried to drop them into the world. There is also texture and item pop-in, though more often than not it doesn’t detract from the experience, nor the overall visuals. It’s at its worst when drifting slowly with your parachute as the game seems to struggle to know what it should be trying to render, leaving textures to shift kaleidoscopically or have the clouds’ moonlight shadows click by like some Galaxian enemy wave.
The frame rate also takes a major hit on Xbox One – reportedly to a lesser degree on PlayStation 4 – when the action becomes too intense or when you’re speeding through the island in a vehicle, and spinning the camera will cause frames to skip. It doesn’t drop to a point where it’s unplayable, but it can be both noticeable and distracting, particularly when the visuals are so spectacular at other times. Another problem is the game’s camera, which can lose track of you in the midst of what is going on, or getting stuck within a building or behind a tree. It’s just another small annoyance that takes away from the otherwise raucous enjoyment to be had.
You begin to get the sense that Just Cause 3 has reached release with too many bugs when the game struggles to load for the umpteenth time. Restarting a challenge is fraught with anxiety as you hope it reloads the level, rather than getting stuck at an endless loading screen. Hopefully these issues are swiftly patched out as they rob the experience of its spontaneity and fun, and make the more difficult challenges an exercise in frustration.
Just Cause 3 is a wonderfully constructed open-world, that successfully builds on its predecessor’s legacy with humour and aplomb. The key problem however is that at the moment there are too many technical problems which hamper play. You’ll want to be wild and free, blowing everything to hell in a variety of ways, and so often you can be, but that only serves to emphasise those moments where Just Cause 3 struggles to keep up.
Version Tested: Xbox One