If someone decided to make a film of Just Cause 4’s development, Franceso Antolini would absolutely play himself. He’s got the accent, the manner, the look, the hairstyle that made me think “Yup, that’s Just Cause’s Creative Director.” No, he’s not a wild haired Doc Brown type (yet?), but you can still see exactly where so many of the ridiculous things that Rico can do in these games came from. The thing is that looking back at his presentation at Gamescom, it makes me a bit sad.
So Rico’s back, and Just Cause 4 is set to be his biggest, most ridiculously over the top adventure yet. That could probably go without saying, but it’s absolutely true. The kinds of chaos and carnage that the game world and that you can create within it are truly ludicrous. There were more than a few instances when the collected audience of games press and content creators let out ripples of genuine laughter and surprise at what we were shown. Every viral video that came out of Just Cause 3 is about to be bested when this game releases in December.
It all starts with Solis, the largest world that Avalanche have created for these games yet. Inspired by South America, it has the distinction of being the first game landmass that isn’t an island and it’s by far the most diverse creation, sporting rolling grassy hills in one area, desert in another, huge mountains inspired by the Andes, and more. Within that there’s sub-biomes, such as Mina Rocanegra that’s been dug into the heart of the desert region and an oasis town that pops out of nowhere, helping to break things up from sand dunes and rocky outcroppings. Avalanche know it’s big, which is why little icons in the top left corner of the screen alert you to what’s nearby, and why they’ve tried to ensure that there’s different handling when bouncing over the sand to racing along the roads.
It’s huge for a reason, given the rapid rate that Rico can cross it with many of the different vehicles he can call upon. Obviously the wingsuit and parachute return, with the added ability to grapple to the ground and simply pull yourself forward for more speed, but let’s come back to the vehicles. Their number and variety is huge. There’s monster trucks, bikes, speed boats, attack boats, cherry pickers, cargo trailers, the mobile jump ramp known as the Banda Conveyor, and dozens and dozens of tanks to choose from. No matter how big they are, once you’ve unlocked them you can just call upon a cargo plane to drop them from the sky, with an amusing explosion as a much, much larger tank or fighter jet sprouts out of them.
For creating explosive carnage, these ought to be more than enough, but what if you use Rico’s newly souped up grappling hook? What if you could attach heavy duty airlifting balloons and remote controlled thrusters to a tank? What if you could make a flying tank and drive it using your thrusters while firing explosive shells down on an enemy encampment? Obviously that’s a thing you can now do.
Rico’s triple threat of a grappling hook can be upgraded to your demands, letting you change how high the balloons will fly, the strength of their lift, whether they’re armoured, if the boosters will follow Rico around. Avalanche crunched the numbers and there’s 4 million different combinations to all of this. Sure, there might end up being just a dozen or so different archetypes that most people end up using, but that’s kind of beside the point.
The show-stopping new addition to Just Cause 4 is with its dynamic weather system, and the natural disasters that seem to have a thoroughly unnatural cause in this game’s story. We’ve seen the huge tornado wrecking everything in sight at E3, and Avalanche teased us with a distant sandstorm, but the reveal for Gamescom was of the huge lightning storms that can be turned to your will.
Trying to secure an area for Rico’s allies, he was tasked with rigging up three lightning rods in the middle of a thunderstorm, while also battling various enemy groups in the area. Lightning strikes are basically yet another recipe for explosions, and much like in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, they’re just as much a threat to Rico as they are the enemy. When a lightning strike is coming, the most metallic thing in the area will start to shimmer with electricity, giving you just a few moments to redirect it by getting near a more metallic object, diving under a bridge with an enemy tank on it, and so on. It looks really extreme, and from the demo seems to do a great job of forcing you to stay on the move and think creatively about how you can use it to your advantage.
There’s so much crammed into this game that I’ve not even talked about the wind gun, riding a hot dog cart across a lake, turning a radar into a catapult, the Frontlines system and Rico building an army to fight the Black Hand PMC.
The problem is that even in Just Cause 2 or 3, these kinds of shenanigans will likely be limited to the 1%. No, not the richest of the rich (who can pay people to be good at video games for their fetishistically vicarious delight), but the 1% of those mad creatives that can master the game’s awesomely nonsensical flexibility. Just Cause’s simulation lets you think and play well and truly outside the box, but the vast majority of players will be firmly stuck inside the box just making things explode.
That’s not really a problem, just play to your own strengths and you’ll have fun, but knowing that I likely can’t come up with the more ludicrous contraptions or pull off the most audacious of stunts makes me a little bit sad.