Coming out of E3 2015, Just Cause 3 was one of the few games I was somewhat excited for. Just Cause 2 was a jewel in a wasteland of mediocre open-world sandbox games. It was the video game version of Die Another Day in the best way possible, with over-the-top missions, grand heists, and high-profile assassination missions.
Blowing things up in ways that would concern a school counselor had a sadistic joy to it in Just Cause 2, and seeing Rico’s return to the next generation of consoles would be a breath of fresh air, I thought. Which is why I’m now feeling sorta weird about Just Cause 3. It’s not bad, and some of the new additions made for more fun ways of messing around with the game world. But other changes made liberating a silenced nation more of a stop and start affair, feeling more like a chore than an engaging experience.
Just Cause 3 sets itself on the island of Medici, which, prior to playing the game, I had assumed was some sort of Italian island. However, a fair amount of people were speaking Spanish around Rico. As well, Rico has stated multiple times that Medici is his homeland, even though Rico is Mexican, complicating the issue. At this point, I just assume that it’s somewhere in the Mediterranean. It’s not really too important, but it’s something that should’ve probably been cleared up better in-game.
After the events of Just Cause 2, Rico retires from The Agency, a branch of the CIA that specializes in destabilizing dictatorships and governments that don’t like to play ball with America. In reality, it’s usually because the nation has some resource that only they have, and the US would really like to start trade negotiations with them. While Rico has retired from The Agency, he does receive intel and assistance from them every now and then. He’s decided now to return to his homeland of Medici, where the dictator General Di Ravello has enslaved the country and creating weapons with the world’s only natural reserve of bavarium, an element that has potential uses in creating energy, missile warheads, and armor plating. It’s up to Rico to liberate his homeland from General Di Ravello with a local resistance group aptly called The Rebellion.
The game’s base mechanics of shooting and grappling are pretty much copy and pasted from Just Cause 2, with a few added grappling options. Now you can place more than one tether down at a time, and the tethers can reel in towards each other, allowing for enemies to be slammed into concrete walls, flung like a catapult, or throwing explosives or vehicles towards enemies. While sometimes it can be a bit finicky, the new grapple abilities do add some more interactions between the grapple hook and environment that can create some interesting scenarios. Flinging a cow over a few hundred meters and then exploding him over the town center has exactly the right feeling to it that my middle school self thought it would.
However, while they were copying and pasting the shooting mechanics, they accidentally shifted too far down and grabbed the AI coding too, since enemies and friendlies alike all have the self-preservation skills of buttered toast next to marmite. They’re quick to stand in the middle of a road, shooting you with less success than a Stormtrooper in a snowstorm. But what they lack in brains, they make up for in numbers. Enemies infinitely respawn in bases until you capture them, meaning that the number of enemies at a base, while it is fixed, will quickly rise above their individual IQ’s, even after mowing down entire waves of them.
A new wingsuit mechanic has been added to Rico’s arsenal. It allows for Rico to get around without a vehicle quickly, as well as providing some gorgeous views of the map and exhilarating moments of worry when Rico begins falling a bit too quickly towards the ground. It does take some time to get used to. The number of times Rico’s head has slammed into the pavement or a mountain side would have, realistically, given Rico just as many concussions as an NFL linebacker.
For every change Avalanche Studios did well, however, another change made the game worse off. Upgrades can’t be found lying around in the game world. Instead, players complete specific race course challenges for specific upgrade parts. For example, getting upgrade points for air vehicles requires the player to play some air challenges, turning the game from “giving foreigners some freedom from the end of my rocket launcher” to “Microsoft Flight Simulator.” It breaks the flow of trying to blow up government property and attaching soldiers to civilian cars as they drive into the sunset. As well, it gives little incentive to run around searching the villages for the last part you need to upgrade your health.
The way you’re given resource drops has been changed as well. Avalanche Studios has eliminated the cash element to destroying objects in place of making drops limited. You can only carry one drop grenade at a time, meaning that you can’t transport in a tank, a getaway helicopter, and a backup bike for when the helicopter gets targeted and blown to more pieces than my Super Meat Boy runs. Each drop, however, does let you pop down one main weapon, one sidearm, one explosive weapon, and one vehicle in every drop, making piking up an arsenal quick and easy. But anything past that requires another rebel beacon grenade, which are about as common to find as the Holy Grail.
While the Just Cause series isn’t the most refined series of games ever, they’ve been very self-aware at understanding what they are. They take the typical sort of 007 spy character, mix in some Punisher, and add a dash of grappling fantasy, and plot that into an unstable nation with a totalitarian dictatorship bent on ruling the world. They try to be over-the-top, but do it with a straight face, making missions like riding a limousine down a snow-capped mountain while being chased by helicopters more fantastical and awesome.
Between Just Cause 2 and Just Cause 3, some of the magic was lost, but it’s hard to pinpoint where it lost it. Maybe it’s because it feels like the daily grind now of Rico entering a country with no freedom and exiting a country that looks like the testing grounds of a hydrogen bomb. It could be the obstacles that Avalanche placed in the way of blowing things up. It’s still better than a majority of open-world shooter games out there, and you’d be a fool to pass up trying it out. But Rico’s definitely lost some of his spark somewhere, and with him liberating his homeland, it looks like this might be his last adventure anyway. It might be best to hang up the RPG and retire. I heard there’s some good beach houses on Panau.
While still a solid open-world shooter that’s worth at least trying out, Avalanche Studios made too many changes to the formula, and for every one step they took forward, they took a step and a half back. The explosions are still there, but there’s less flow to it all and more obstacles in the way of enjoying yourself.