|Platform Win, PS4, Xbox One|
|Publisher Square Enix|
|Developer Avalanche Studios|
|Release Date Dec 1, 2015|
Just Cause 3 is a different kind of open-world game.
It knows exactly what it wants to be, and executes on that vision with a dedication to purpose that can often feel rare in games of this scope. Just Cause 2 didn't break any records when it first launched, but over time the game has had a successful life in mods and Steam sales, finding millions of players. That grassroots enthusiasm is borne of an appreciation for the series' priorities: creativity and chaos over realism.
Developer Avalanche Studios hasn't just cut the sort of rote drudgery that comes from hunting five bears to make a wallet; it actively encourages creativity on the part of the player. Just Cause 3 is a pure sandbox, aware of its own ridiculousness even as its ambivalence toward the lives of the people you're trying to save can often feel uncomfortable.
At one point, Rico tells another character, with a straight face: 'Having ridden a missile, I can tell you that it's pretty cool.'
Just Cause 3 stars Rico Rodriguez, an action hero who operates as sort of a one-person wrecking crew / revolution machine. Medici is his home, you see, and he wants to liberate it from its dictator. At one point, Rico tells another character, with a straight face: "Having ridden a missile, I can tell you that it's pretty cool." That's just the kind of guy he is, and that's really all you need to know about the game's plot and setup.
What's most impressive about Just Cause 3, outside of the improved locomotion, is how little it suffers from the bloat that can make open-world games feel so unwieldy. Outside of the cutscenes, you are the only character that matters in the game.
It feels like everything that wasn't proven fun in playtesting was stripped from the Just Cause 3, and the game is better for it. The world of Medici is the same size as the map of Just Cause 2, 400 square miles, but I never felt lost or overwhelmed. The island is full of cool things to do, but none of it feels like bullet points on the back of a box. The memories that stick out aren't story or characters, but small moments where everything came together to show me something that felt like an event, even when nothing in particular was going on outside of my decision to remove an object from the countryside.
Rarely has the act of blowing up a gas station been rendered with such love or care; it's as though the entire game were informed by the best parts of Michael Bay's considerable talents at capturing mayhem. Just Cause 3 throws a number of deceptively "simple" systems at you and then delights as they collide with each other, both literally and figuratively. I connected an explosive barrel to a person and then zipped them together to blow up my victim. I often used my zipline to connect cars to a passing building, stopping chases quite literally. I connected a helicopter to the ground. Heck, I connected two helicopters to each other. I caused some very interesting destruction without the use of grenades or even bullets, and the game rewards that sense of adventure with its liberal use of explosions and internally consistent physics.
The magic here isn't that you're controlling a hero with interesting weapons and ways of getting around the map, but that everything works together in so many seamless and often satisfying ways. Much of this is made possible by an important tweak to Rico's grappling hook. As in the previous games, you can fire a hook into one object and then another, connecting the two. But whereas this would automatically pull the two together at high velocity in Just Cause 2, here, objects (or people, or helicopters or ... you get the idea) will remain tethered to one another in place until you manually "ratchet" things together.
Also new to the series is a wingsuit that allows the player to glide from place to place, which is a welcome addition to the parachute and zipline. While the zipline and parachute have always been useful, the wingsuit makes it much easier to cover large amounts of ground quickly. The Just Cause series has long had a strong sense of verticality, but the wingsuit adds speed to the mix, and goes a long way to making Just Cause 3's move set feel complete.
Rico's locomotion went a long way in keeping me engaged, and I usually skipped fast travel in order to enjoy the varied and often beautiful nature of Medici's scenery. While some open-world games make travel a chore, locomotion is one of Just Cause 3's chief joys. It's satisfying to flick yourself up the side of cliffs and through mountains. While those sorts of acrobatic, or even aerobatic, maneuvers are inherently satisfying, the game goes out of its way to give you some social rewards for mastering movement.
Just Cause 3 tracks damned near everything you do, while ranking you in real time against your own best work and, crucially, that of your friends as well. You'll want to spend as long as possible in the air, not to mention create the largest chain reaction of explosions or the farthest free fall, not just because it's a good time but because you're always in competition with other people playing the game.
Watching your maximum height when your parachute is deployed tick up as you fly up the side of a radio tower is enjoyable enough, but match that feeling with the knowledge that you'll be #1 with just a few hundred extra feet and you have a compulsive need to figure out how it all works, and how to use it the best.
That sense of focusing on player agency and reward continues to the inventory and gear systems in place. Just Cause 3 now features "Rebel Drops," which allow you to call down any weapon, vehicle or explosive that has been unlocked. Certain powerful weapons will require a cooldown, so you can't call in the best gear time and again, but this system makes it much easier to play with your favorite toys. You're even given an unlimited amount of plastic explosive permanently mapped to a single button, although you'll have to get close enough to manually place it.
The overall focus on enjoyment and destruction is largely handled well, but there were few times in Just Cause 3 where new story missions were locked until a certain number of provinces were liberated. A province could be made of one base, or many. This is a game that's already filled with fun content you'll want to play; gating the story missions felt like padding in a game that needed none. It can also cause some jarring transitions in the few moments where the game tries to handle a more or less serious story or character beat.
While Just Cause 3 takes place in a world of exaggerated characters and oversized explosions, there is a certain amount of tone juggling that doesn't quite work. The characters may joke about riding on missiles, but the few moments where the game tries for gravity or weight fall flat after you sit in a helicopter and rain missiles down on a small village in order to "liberate" it, and Rico jokes that "this place looks better in flames" as civilians scream and run. The game's sandbox mode invites you to "re-oppress" each settlement with the press of a button if you'd like to repeat the process once you've finished the core game.
Just Cause 3 makes it clear that it's always winking; there's also a joke about kissing a cow, and a character tells Rodriguez to lighten up while pointing out his "infinite" parachute. But it's hard to ignore the huge amount of people being killed on both sides of the conflict when I grabbed a jet to plan a bombing run over a civilian city.
For better or worse, Just Cause 3 worships at the altar of violence and destruction, and doesn't leave room for much else. No matter what you do or how much damage you cause, you're always going to be the hero.
The actions you'll be performing in the game as you play, the actual shooting and vehicle handling, are passable but not remarkable. But the strength of the game's design shines through in the interactions. Flying a jet is one thing, but getting out to walk on the wings to fire at other planes with your rocket launcher before jumping off and zipping to the ground — that's quite another. Just Cause 3's strength lies in the way the often utilitarian parts of its whole work together to create something beautiful in its possibilities for destruction and chaos.
Just Cause 3 is comfortable in its skin
If you can judge a game based on the moments that make you put it down for the night, Just Cause 3 is hard to criticize: I only stopped when I needed to sleep, not because I wanted to put the game down. The "did you see that?!" factor seems unlimited here, and it kept me coming back to discover what unexpected domino of explosions I could start next with a single grenade. The formula of the Just Cause series hasn't been expanded, but it has been improved. And it's rare that a game is so comfortable in its own skin.
Just Cause 3 was reviewed using a final "retail" Steam download code provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews