An awful lot of people felt that they got burned by Just Cause 3 on console, finding that, while the game was a lot of fun conceptually, the performance just didn’t hold up, all too often finding that the CPU and GPU in the PS4 couldn’t keep up with the chaos that Avalanche wanted to throw up on screen. Just Cause 4 takes the ridiculous action to the next level with showstopping weather events that dominate the large open world once more. With promises that the game will look and play better than ever, have they managed to optimise the game enough? Not only that, but can the more powerful consoles hold up?
Our testing was focussed purely on PlayStation 4, with an original PS4 and PS4 Pro. The positive is that performance feels much more solid, but it comes at a big cost to the game’s visuals. 30fps is still the target here, but the newly dynamic resolution drops lower than you might like. On base PS4, it’s meant to be able to hit 1080p, but from our spot testing is most commonly found at 720p even at moments of relative calm. It’s a similar story on PS4 Pro, which typically plays at 1080p despite a theoretical 1440p maximum (as reported by Digital Foundry).
Not only that, but there’s minimal anti-aliasing, with the game instead having a heavy and unrefined motion blur applied every time you turn to reorient the camera or start moving at high speed in a car, for example. It can make the base PS4 version look particularly ugly at times and cutscenes also highlight a lack of detail to some character models and backgrounds.
But when this is all about the mayhem you can wreak in the world, such sacrifices could be worth it. Just Cause 3 struggled in a number of different ways, but Just Cause 4 goes a long way to stabilising and making the game more uniformly playable.
Looking at the base PS4 and it’s not perfect, but in run of the mill gameplay, it will generally only drops one or two frames. Most of the time is spent at 30fps, which considering the speed at which you can travel through this world and the amount of assets needing to be loaded in is impressive. Those minor dips and stutters can still happen when there’s something new that’s suddenly appearing in the game.
That could be a massive explosion, it could be enemy AI, it could be the tornado – we focussed on this as the most spectacular and most physics heavy of the weather effects in the game. If there is a dip, and it’s not guaranteed, it’s generally only a blip if one of these is appearing on screen. However, combine two or three of these together and that can see the frame rate drop down to the mid-low 20s – the most consistent way is to drive a car at the tornado, where the point at which its physics lift you off the ground tends to knock a few frames off. Stand next to a gas station and blow it up as a tornado is rolling in? That’s another fairly sure bet to lower the frame rate.
The PlayStation 4 Pro can’t quite seem to iron out all of these kinks, either. By and large the smaller blips are almost entirely stamped out, but it does seem more prone to lower frame rate dips in mixed scenarios. One in particular had dusky skies, a tornado approaching, AI spawning in and oil tanks exploding. The frame rate dips seems to come in waves through this whenever the tornado was on screen in the background, and an AI spawn seemed to trigger a moment of in-game lag where Rico was pushed out of the way half a second before a bike drove into where he was standing.
However, this is with us intentionally trying to find the most stressful scenario, and it’s really the chaotic action on screen that makes this difficult to handle, as opposed to the frame rate. We never saw the frame rate dip below 20fps and it still felt playable. More problematic is just trying to spot the enemies shooting at you!
A few things do still stick out like a sore thumb, with an inexplicable juddering map as you pan around it and generally awkwardly organised menu system, and a certain oddity to the cutscenes. These have more noticeable frame skips thanks to fixed cameras and the motion blur being turned down or off, but they don’t seem to be load based, and are instead perfectly synced up between consoles. Avalanche have noted that lighting improvements are on the way for cutscenes, so these are being rendered in real time, making these stutters a bit of a head-scratcher.
They’ve also announced that changes will be on the way for motion blur, to both improve it and provide a user requested toggle to turn it off on consoles. And a general uplift in visuals on console is also targeted, which will hopefully see the game sticking less rigidly to the lower limits of the dynamic resolution range when it doesn’t need to.
On the whole, you have to say that Avalanche made the right call on Just Cause 4, going for performance as opposed to visuals. The performance hiccups that do remain are more understandable as the game pushes the physics and destruction further than before. That said, it’s still disappointing that they’ve had to reduce the resolution so far on both PlayStation 4 consoles.
I’ve been quite happy with the performance on my Pro except for some of the motion blur. One example that was truly terrible, I was going along at about 20 – 25 knots in a boat with mostly water on screen with a few hills in the background. The cockpit of the boat was shaking so much you couldn’t make out what it was meant to be or see the character at all.
I’m looking forward to be able to turn off the motion blur.