You’re reading Short Takes, our sort of first impressions/mini-review hybrid in which we provide our opinions of a game in slightly truncated form. This may be a game we’re eventually going to fully review, it may be a game we don’t have time to play to completion and review right now, but it’s a game on which we want to share our thoughts. There are tons of games that come out every week, and we can’t play and review all of them, so this is our way of joining the conversation and chiming in on the titles that interest us as we work through the weekly release schedule. Short Takes will not include a numbered score.
As we near the end of 2015, the last of this year’s major releases are hitting as we roll into December. While Rainbow Six: Siege still needs to prove itself, Just Cause 3 appeared to be the game that would end the year with a bang. Some hilarious pre-launch press releases included phrases like "Answer guns with bigger guns," and I felt myself getting swept up into the hype surrounding Just Cause 3. I enjoyed the little bit I'd played of Just Cause 2, so I figured this next entry would be a sure fire hit for me. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong.
Title: Just Cause 3
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (version played), Xbox One, PC
Price: $59.99 (Collector's Edition $109.99)
What Is It?
Just Cause 3 is the next installment in Avalanche Studios’ bombastic open-world franchise. The series has always been about showcasing an enormous open-world full of things to blow up! Just Cause 3 follows protagonist Rico Rodriguez as he returns to his home of Medici (pronounced Med-eechi) to free it from a dictator named General Di Ravello, a tyrant hell-bent on world domination. It's up to Rico to help lead the rebellion to reclaim Medici so the people may continue living in peace.
Just Cause 3 features a number of different ways to take to the skies in order to travel throughout the game’s massive world. Whether it’s gliding in the wingsuit, piloting a helicopter, or simply using the game’s invaluable grapple hook/parachute combo to zip across the ground and slowly drift through the air, there are a variety of ways to traverse Medici. While helicopters are great for traveling between land masses, the wingsuit brings with it the joy of flight, operating as if you had stepped into the shoes of the Dark Knight himself. The wingsuit feels like the perfect pairing with the game’s grapple hook, as zipping through the air and utilizing the hook for additional momentum feels fast and efficient. The parachute may not come in handy as often as the wingsuit or a helicopter, but it's the perfect tool for getting up into the air quickly and, at times, sets up a great location from which to open up the wingsuit. No matter which of these methods you utilize, each feels sufficient for quickly traversing the game’s enormous world.
I have spent several hours playing the game between story missions and just running around reclaiming cities or camps, and I can honestly say that this game just isn't getting the job done for me. Despite its choppy frame rate on the PS3, I enjoyed the little bit of Just Cause 2 I played several years ago, so I thought I had an idea of what to expect here with Just Cause 3. I can't pinpoint exactly what it is that is holding the game back for me, but there are a number of glaring issues I take with the game thus far.
The story follows Rico and his band of rebels as they try to overthrow an evil dictator who rules Medici with an iron fist. There’s some potential there for a mildly interesting story, but it’s squandered due to how cartoony Rico and several of the rebels are portrayed. Everything comes off as a joke to Rico and his buddy Mario and l, while their bantering back and forth has been the most entertaining thing about the game so far, it’s not enough to make any of the characters even remotely likable in my eyes.
That being said, I know people aren’t picking up Just Cause for the story. These games are all about action! I mean, the very first thing you do is blow tanks up with a rocket launcher while standing atop a helicopter! Sadly, everything just sort of drags on once you hit the ground. Traversing the world is time consuming as Rico’s main mode of getting around is using his grapple to propel himself forward. He sprints slowly, so covering a lot of ground will see you repeatedly grappling…parachuting…grappling…grappling…you get the point.
Once you finally reach an area that has things to do, it becomes a matter of seeking these things out. Now, we’re not talking about outposts in Far Cry here, we’re talking about a small city; finding the things you need to blow up to liberate the city isn’t exactly straightforward at first. There’s no dedicated legend showing what all of the various icons mean that appear in the upper left area of the screen, but if you bring up your map and highlight the city you’re in, you’ll get a list of the things you’re looking for. You can set waypoints over the various objectives on the map but, much like Rise of the Tomb Raider, there’s no mini-map to glance at to see other objectives that are in the same area. It’s a minor gripe, but having to bring up the map screen when there are literally over a dozen things to blow up becomes a chore that could easily be remedied with a mini-map.
Traveling between areas also presents some frustrations. I hop into a helicopter whenever possible as that’s the easiest way to cover the large amount of ground between objectives. Cars are also an option I’ve dabbled with, but the driving controls are surprisingly bad. Compared to the solid driving controls found in Avalanche’s other recent open-world game, Mad Max, just 2 months ago, cars in Just Cause 3 don’t feel very responsive at all. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice a second of input lag while driving some badass sports car I hijacked from a civilian who just didn’t know he needed to donate it to the cause. These frustrations really come to fruition when doing any of the game’s side missions that involve you racing through various points on a timer. The clunky car handling really hindered my enjoyment knowing it was a timed event. I felt the same way about another side mission that saw me driving an ATV loaded with explosives. It was set to detonate if I was driving too slow and, as this event was also on a timer, the clunky vehicle handling reared its ugly head again, turning a potentially fun mission into more of a chore.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of things to unlock in Just Cause 3, from vehicles to weapons to perks. Sadly, many of these are dependent upon completing the game’s side missions. Of the few side missions I’ve sampled so far, I can’t say I’m enthused to tackle any more of them. Different mission types lead to upgrades or perks, such as adding a nitro boost to cars, and there are side missions for almost everything in the game, from wingsuit courses to boating challenges. I haven’t done any of the plane courses yet, but I feel like those have the potential to be the most entertaining for me. I’m sure there are more missions that let players just blowup tons of things in a certain amount of time, but I’ve been hesitant to dive into a lot of this side stuff right now.
Blowing things up, thankfully, is as satisfying as ever, and explosions look suitably majestic. Several of the story missions see Rico escorting allies, whether by land or air, and these have been where I've found the most fun to be had. From bringing down a chopper with a rocket launcher, to shooting out the tires of your armored pursuers, watching your foes go down in a fiery blaze just feels so satisfying. Those gorgeous explosions do come at a cost though, as the frame rate does take a hit when multiple things are blowing up. Granted, it’s nowhere near as bad as Just Cause 2, but it’s still noticeable here, especially if you set off a chain of explosions. It doesn’t take away from watching everything erupt into a fiery cloud of satisfaction, but once you you’ve had your fill of that explosion, you’ll notice a little bit of a stutter as you valiantly walk off into the sunlight.
What I’ve Played So Far
In the eight hours I’ve managed to put in so far, I’m seven chapters into Act 1 and I’ve reclaimed about 10 cities/outposts. I’ve sampled three side missions and flew around Medici, touring various places that had anti-air guns ready to blow me out of the sky. I’ve also just messed around with driving the various cars, bikes, and boats that populate the game world, and I've also spent a fair amount of time just running around blowing things up, because why not?!
Should You Buy This Game?
I realize I’m probably being a little overly critical of what’s on display in Just Cause 3, as I’m sure fans of the series will enjoy the breadth of content there is here, but I just can’t shake how much this pales in comparison to some of the other open-world experiences out there now, including Avalanche’s own recently released title, Mad Max. Just Cause 3 is another by-the-books sequel that ultimately falls flat for me. I’d be a little more inclined to point people towards Mad Max, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, or even last year’s Far Cry 4 to get their open-world fix. Just Cause 3’s gorgeous explosions,sadly, just aren’t enough for me to recommend this one to anyone.