Just Cause 3

FBT plays the video game adaption of Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions

Just Cause 3 is not only a retread of the previous JC games, it ticks every open-world box that’s been ticked before – Far Cry meets GTA meets Borderlands meets Saints Row. Yet for all its seen-it-all-before, meet a really good game.

The Just Cause series has always been the underdog. Constantly overshadowed by bigger Open-World experiences, it didn’t help itself stand out by dropping Rico, a Che Guevara meets El Mariachi gun-for-hire, into the same situation over and over; in JC he helped rebels overthrow a dictator who’s taken over a peaceful island to produce WMD, in JC2 he helped rebels over throw a dictator controlling a peaceful island’s oil wells; but this time he’s going home. To help rebels overthrow Di Ravello, a dictator mining his peaceful island’s natural reserves. Rico heads home in style - from the top of a plane while firing rockets. This is not a subtle game; JC3 is a shower not a grower.

The place is huge, and calls to mind Far Cry 3 if Jase had lasted long enough to westernise it. Made up of several islands, each has multiple areas Rico must disrupt to weaken Di Ravello’s hold, allowing the rebels to move in and flush out his troops. Although the islands are generally similar there’s a lot to them, and it has a really beautiful, detailed and realistic feel to it; open roads, quaint little villages, you can see why Rico wants it returned to its former glory - by destroying all the concrete checkpoints and military installations. Not sure wanton destruction adds to the beauty, and maybe the rebels could have used the infrastructure but hey, let’s not sweat it.

Rico, much like the plot, hasn’t changed a great deal, we're an adrenaline junkie, too-cool-for-school Antonio Banderas dude. With a saviour-like reputation amongst his fellow Medicians (they’re often excited when he jacks their car or ask for autographs when he swaggers by) Rico is the islander’s poster-boy and rallying call. And the game makes damn sure you live up to that legend. Heath replenishes as you’d expect from someone this heroic and while he can manage a sidearm, main weapon and explosive weapon, if he’s caught short, unlocked weapons or vehicles can be airdropped - a shipping container will fall out of the sky and open (with confetti) to reveal whatever insane thing he’s requested. While every open-world game nowadays features a delivery service, it works well in JC3; getting a helicopter dropped in a container doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but at least it arrives intact unlike Saints Row or Sleeping Dogs where you’d watch an overzealous NCP destroy your vehicle on-route, leave it somewhere inaccessible then get run over.

In order to drive Di Ravello’s army off, Rico has a bunch of insane tricks up his double-denim outfit. The wingsuit and parachute make a return and they’re a lot easier to use, calling to mind Saint Row 4’s flying dynamics and it’s great to have a game that wants you to fling yourself off buildings and cliffs. All the vehicles can be stolen including tanks, boats, helicopters and planes, and when you’re not making like it’s GTA you’re making like Batman – Rico has his trusty grappling hook and this thing never gets a rest once you get the ‘hang’ of it. It’s so handy, using it to grapple along the streets to get somewhere quicker, leaping onto or off cars, from ground to roofs and up the side of buildings, hang upside down, latch onto passing helicopters, make your way up cliffs, just about everything is traversable, including gravity itself; fall out of a plane or off a high-rise and just before hitting the ground a quick grapple onto the pavement will leave Rico unscathed somehow. The grapple gun can also let you tether things together and once you nail that, there’s nothing left standing. Gas canisters are conveniently everywhere and latching one to people or passing cars provides hours of sky-high fun as do later explosive upgrades while tethering cars to cars, or people to cars or boats or helicopters or anything to anything brings out the ridiculous in you. Not unlike Red Faction or Stranglehold, absolutely everything is destructible, and you will destroy it. In fact it’s a mystery how the island is still standing. It’s one of those games were you emerge from the rubble and think ‘Am I actually helping or making things worse?’

Taking out the army strongholds calls to mind Far Cry (again) but instead of outposts we liberate suppressed villages, army-controlled infrastructures and utilities by destroying various items; propaganda in the villages or supply dumps in the installations. The outposts also include SAMs – if you attempt to attack via the air they’ll make short work of your whirly-bird unless you reprogrammed them. While every liberation is great fun, including the troops calling in increasingly powerful support that can force you to retreat (Rico retreat? Never! Vive Medici!) the liberation missions are all the same; it’s usually fatigue or boredom that pushes you back to the main mission. But that’s a little boring too.

As is often the case in Open-World games, the biggest failing in JC3 is reason we’re there; the main mission. You should be constantly torn between a gripping main mission and the fun stuff, but JC3 doesn’t pull it off; this being Rico’s homeland isn’t really a compelling enough reason to get stuck in and the dictator is the same confidently evil guy we’re always facing; the missions while bombastic aren’t that whoa to play, and Rico himself doesn’t seem that invested; he’s too cool for that, he just smoulders and cracks Arnie one-liners as he destroys everything in sight. Medici itself can get a bit disorientating, leaving you struggling to recognise one place from another, and it doesn’t come across as a place that really needs saving; it’s lovely looking, with the rolling fields full of sunflowers, coastal roads, clear warm water and winding villages – I’d be quite happy to be oppressed here. But it does heat up; it ends in a helicopter fight over a volcano.

There are niggles; the ground vehicles are easy to crash compared to GTA V or Saints Row's smooth, intuitive rides – you never keep a car for long - while battling in the choppers or boats means you’ll not be in them for long due to the lack of free-look, so you can’t anticipate attacks and the aiming is impossible - and everyone is a better shot than Rico is. One of the biggest annoyances is Chaos rewards you get - rather than XP unlocking upgrades, it’s adds to a pointless leaderboard score; who cares if I’m blowing up more crap than some kid halfway around the world? Upgrades are gained via a score system tied to challenges, which is another annoyance – Rico, hero of Medici can’t even precision aim until he’s unlocked it by winning a few races. Huh? And there is an argument that Medici is beautifully generic; if you've seen one island you've seen them all, it looks like the kind of thing Crysis aced a decade ago and what you do on one, you explode on another so nothing really changes. But grumbles aside, and despite feeling like it should be dismissed as derivative, JC3 works. It throws so much freedom and possibility at you, the sense of fun saves it. The challenge isn't in saving the island, it's finding hilarious ways to muck about in it. There's so much of everything you've done before it’s like a Best Of compilation but somehow, it's not a cash-in, it's fun.

We’ve still not had a good guerrilla game; Boiling Point tried and failed while Homefront The Revolution just failed. One day they’ll get it right but JC3 isn’t aiming for that; it has a rideable pogo-stick, that's what it's aiming for and it aces it.

2015 | Developer Avalanche Studios | Publisher Square Enix

Platform Win | PS4 | XO