When you’re talking about bombastic gaming franchises, few can compare to Just Cause. This dark horse of destruction, fronted by nonchalant former spy Rico Rodriguez, has made blowing everything to hell in the noisiest way possible its calling card, and now, coming into its fourth instalment, its developer Avalanche Studios has more or less perfected the formula for chaos.
This time out you’re joining forces with the snappily-named Army of Chaos, who you train, work and fight alongside you to take down scheming baddy Oscar Espinosa and his Black Hand organisation. Now you’re fighting on their home turf, leading a resistance to try and force them out of the fictional South American state Solis. You help to expand the area of control by doing what Rico Rodriguez – and apparently this army – likes best; causing chaos.
The more explosive destruction you administer, the more people rally to your cause, and you can then move troops to capture the next section of the map by pushing the front forwards, gaining upgrades and unlocks as you liberate the entire country. It’s represented as you play by actual front line battles in the world, which is a nice touch. Sadly the narrative that dresses all of this up is pretty forgettable and doesn’t display the same level of humour, or heart, of the previous game.
Rico Rodriguez may be a former secret agent, but in Just Cause 4 he’s more of a superhero than ever before. While leading the revolt he will wade through nearly anything, surviving missile fire, bullets, being blown up and falling from leg-breaking heights with little more than a red tinge to the corners of the screen, and that’s before you use his catalogue of traversal moves.
There are few things as satisfying in gaming as Rico’s grappling hook/parachute/wingsuit combo and by utilising all three you’ll be able to zip about the map with instant Twitch-ready style. The level of empowerment that Just Cause 4 affords you as a player is incomparable, and the phrase ‘one-man army’ has never been truer.
You can easily destroy an entire enemy facility all on your lonesome, dropping in from a dying helicopter that inevitably falls onto something explosive, causing a cascade of fiery death as you plummet to earth with your wingsuit before opening your parachute at the last minute and filling all of the remaining evil henchmen with righteous lead as you daintily land on your feet. It’s hilariously stupid, grin-inducing stuff, and few games can come remotely close to its hyper-stylised take on guerrilla warfare.
Those are compliments that you could also level at Just Cause 3, but this latest adventure has a few key improvements over its forebear. The new grappling hook upgrades give you twice as many things to play around with as you’re unleashing mayhem, and you can switch between multiple loadouts so you’re constantly in control. These range from attachable balloons that you can use to lift things out of – or into – the way, to the returning thrusters that you can now stick on nearly anything with your hook to help shoot them across the map. Within these are now granular options to alter the strength or speed of each attachment so you can find just the right ridiculous tool for the job.
It’s here that the most creative players will have no end of fun, tinkering with the millions of combinations as you look for new ways to cause destruction. It ranges from lifting explosives into the air, speeding them across a ravine and then letting them fall on an unsuspecting target, to creating an airborne tank that’ll rain destruction from the sky… or spiral uncontrollably into space if you’ve put too many thrusters on it. It’s a shame then that barring a couple of examples there’s no real narrative drive to force you to make use of these physics-based toys if you don’t want to, and there’ll be plenty of people who miss out on the wealth of possibilities that Avalanche have dropped in their lap.
The other major new addition is the introduction of weather effects. Each of Solis’ four distinct terrain biomes plays host to its own spectacular set of extreme weather that pushes the Apex engine further than ever before. Remarkably it holds together despite the strain of full lightning storms, tropical hurricanes and tornadoes filling the screen while attempting to rip you and the landscape apart. They might not be quite the game-changer that Avalanche intend them to be, but they’re certainly exhilarating, impressive displays of the game that Just Cause has become.
In fact, where Just Cause 3 fell down was in its own ambition, with the game engine creaking under the strain of everything Avalanche put into the game. This time out performance is much improved, at least on a suitably sturdy PC, and even during the most extravagant moments of weather-based mayhem it holds relatively steady.
It’s a different story on console, where they trade resolution and graphical quality for a more stable frame rate. Having primarily reviewed on PC, our preliminary testing suggests that the original PS4 scales all the way down to 720p on a lot of occasions, even when not much is going on, while the PS4 Pro often only musters around 1080p. Performance is a much steadier 30fps because of this, even when near some of the major weather events in full force, but the combination of motion blurring and shimmering aliasing is a very noticeable tradeoff.
The menus aren’t the most intuitive out there, and strangely laggy to boot. It’s in here that you can tinker with your own personal loadouts, and in particular it’s your grappling hook you’ll likely be messing around with the most. You’ll be jumping in and out of the map fairly regularly too, whether to look at what needs blowing up next, using the fast travel system, or requesting a supply drop.
While I managed to incur a couple of crashes during my playthrough they seem to have been fixed by an interim patch and there’s a list of minor known problems that should be sorted with a day one patch. Just Cause 4’s biggest issues are more to do with its ultimate similarities to the previous game and that the further you play the more likely it is that repetition will begin to set in.
Avalanche have done their best to alleviate this with plenty of different mission structures, including some pretty tight time trials, and some of the silliness you’d hope but the bottom line always comes back to blowing everything and everyone to hell. You’ve got the tools to keep things fresh and lively, but you have to wonder how many players will exploit them to their fullest.
Just Cause 4 is the best entry in the series to date, offering spectacular free-wheeling destruction on a scale that’s not been attempted before. Rico remains one of gaming’s most enjoyable protagonists, but more than ever before, it’s really all about what he’s capable of doing rather than the events unfolding around him.
Version Tested: PC
Also available on PS4 and Xbox One