Just Cause 4 is really all about Rico’s grappling hook. Where you could, if you really wanted, play through the entirety of Just Cause 3 just sticking to the various vehicles and weapons, it almost feels as though you can do the exact opposite in Just Cause 4 and go on a pacifist’s run through the game. That’s all thanks to the new abilities and almost limitless flexibility the grappler has now been given.
For one thing, it’s no longer just a grappling hook, but quickly gains modifications for a Fulton-style balloon and rocket thrusters. Alongside the ability to still tether objects together, you’ve now got so many more possibilities to play around in this sandbox open world, but it feeds nicely into the moment to moment action as well. As soon as I got the ability to attach balloons to enemies, that was absolutely my go-to for dealing with the enemies and vehicles chasing after the truck Rico was escorting. Stick enough of them onto tanks and they just float up into the sky, helpless to do anything and neutralising the threat very effectively. It’s just a lot of fun, like Metal Gear Solid V on speed.
However, these abilities can all now be customised and triggered in different ways. The standard tether can be adapted to repulse objects from one another once they touch; the balloon can be on a delayed trigger, you can set the height at which they stop rising, the speed at which they climb, whether they will follow Rico or go to where he’s aiming; the rockets will explode when they reach the end of their boost time, or not, if you don’t want them to, the direction in which they will thrust, and so much more.
Combining them as you play takes a bit of getting used to, with a mixture of immediate action and triggers of pressing or holding up on the D-pad. You also have to create separate loadouts for different tasks, switching between up to three of them using the D-Pad so that you’re then spitting out a different kind of grapple, but with the triggers remaining active regardless. I’m not sure the interface is the cleanest or that the implementation is going to be the simplest to grasp – hop into a vehicle, and you can still trigger the grapple, and though switching presets is now possible it’s a ludicrous system that has numerous possibilities.
With a little bit of effort, even I – someone who got sad at the thought of having to try – can pull off some of the silliness that the game enables. It helps that Avalanche are leading with a few clear examples to, for example, have Rico on a bike that you then repulser grapple to a wall, sending him and the bike arcing through the sky, have a bunch of explosive barrels head toward a target of your choice, or attach balloons and rockets to a tank for a rather unexpected aerial assault on an enemy base. If Just Cause 3 was already a factory for sensational gameplay snippets, that’s only going to increase with Just Cause 4. My own contribution to this would be creating a vast and morbid flotilla of enemy soldiers, sending them on balloons into enemy bases to scare the AI silly.
Those bases are now created as more narrative structures, rebranded as Strikes for this game. Where capturing bases and territory in JC3 was always pretty straightforward, here you’ll often be given different objectives as you head in and cause chaos, there’ll be certain switches to flip, structures to destroy, but they’ll change from one location to another and you’ll always have one of the other friendly characters chatting to you about why, exactly, you’re working to capture the location.
More than that, you’re leading an army, the appropriately named Army of Chaos, as it rises up against the Black Hand PMC. Rico’s always been a lone wolf, even when JC3 saw him fighting alongside rebels, but this game does a much better job of making it so that you feel like part of a wider war. Opening up the map shows a kind of meta-game as your growing army – which expands through completing missions and causing as much chaos as possible – can be directed to capture weakened territory and push the frontlines across the map. It’s a largely symbolic shift, but it’s realised as you’re exploring the island of Solis and see the two sides battling across long stretches of land.
What caused Rico to run with a whole gaggle of insurgents though? Well, he’s on the hunt for information about his dad, who seems to be all caught up in the mess of the Black Hand PMC and what they call their home island. It’s dragged him here, where he’s suddenly found himself outmatched, but also finds allies of convenience along the way. Just Cause 4 isn’t going to win any Oscars for the story or acting, but even then it’s surprising just how quickly his objections to putting untrained island citizens in the line of fire disappear. While the search for his father points to a more emotionally charged story, I guess Rico’s all about those explosions.
Still, it’s as good a reason as any for Rico to go to an island that’s wracked by freakish and unnatural storms. The uprising across the island will see you targeting three corners in particular, trying to capture the three Black Hand facilities that are guarded by these storms. The island of Solis is vast enough to feature distinctly different biomes, from the grasslands of the south and forest of the east through to a desert in the north west corner and a central mountain range that is blanketed in snow. They’re guarded by these storms, like mythological beasts, with tornadoes, tropical storms, sandstorms and blizzards, respectively. You can just drop in on these spots from an airlift if you want, but even Rico will get battered.
After the sensationalism of Just Cause 3, it’s actually rather impressive just how far Just Cause 4 manages to push the game on, from the added flexibility and nuance of the grappling hook to the huge storms, and even just an added depth to the enemy AI and gunplay. Even if you aren’t producing viral gameplay clips, there’s still plenty you can do with a more restrained style of action play. Of course, I’m sure a few of you are wondering where on Earth Avalanche can take Rico next?