Just Cause 3 has moments when all seems serene and beautiful, when it soars above sparkling seas with the wind in its hair. And then it floats gently towards the earth and turns into an absolute headcase.
Like a ferocious animal in a tin box, Just Cause 3 bangs with all manner of violence. There's a part of you that wants to leave the beast well alone, but you know, sooner or later, you're going to unlatch the box and step well back.
What sets it apart from all those other deathly open-world maim-and-kill fantasies is that the whole spectacle is handled with a deft touch of humor and self-mockery. This is not a game that takes itself seriously at all.
It asks that you enjoy the slapstick of breaking things and people. Such a notion may seem contradictory, but there is a kinetic energy within this game that feels mirthful and even human.
It asks that you grab an armful of C4 and some wicked tethers and go mess around with the head of an evil dictator's statue. The end result is entirely satisfying. This is Just Cause 3's reason for existence. It is about enjoying blockbuster violence as a thing of silliness, rather than of reverence.
It approaches monuments and it blows them up.
"I just love action and blowing stuff up," said Christofer Sundberg, founder of developer Avalanche, speaking to Polygon. "That's what games are all about, having fun. I like games that don't take themselves very seriously."
In a live demo at a recent media event, Avalanche showed protagonist Rico Rodriguez rampaging across the Mediterranean archipelago of Medici, destroying stuff in the most ridiculous and amusing ways. At one point, he attacked a coastal oil refinery using an airborne sports car.
Rodriguez moves through this world using his trusty parachute and grappling hook as well as a wingsuit that lets him glide at speed. The grappling hook can tether him to the underside of vehicles or atop aircraft as well as roping things and people together for explosive larks.
Just Cause 3 tries to give you as many tools as possible in order to plan and execute your choreography of ballistics. If you believe a jet fighter will be handy, the game will supply one for you (assuming you have unlocked it). This insta-gratification skirts close to breaking all those game theory rules about placing limitations on player abilities, but there is plenty of challenge in just navigating this world, and encountering its perils.
"It's a gamer's game," says Sundberg. "If it was too easy, I don't think our players would be encouraged to explore and experiment with the game. That's half the experience of the game, just finding those 'holy shit' moments. 'Whoa, I didn't believe you can do that.' Re-creating those moments you see in Michael Bay movies."
Polygon spent an hour with the game at a recent media event, with many of the weapons and abilities in the game unlocked. Just getting to grips with the combination of multiple tethers, parachute, wingsuit and multiple weapons and vehicles is a steep and enjoyable learning curve.
This is one of those games where you can dive in, pretty much literally, and just fool around with stuff, experimenting with different combinations of vehicles, weapons and scenarios.
The Mediterranean setting is as pretty as you might expect, offering different islands of varying sizes, all of which contain nestling targets such as military depots and propaganda outposts. Avalanche's goal with this game, following on from its 2010 predecessor, was to offer more things to do and less open countryside to traverse in between doing those things.
"In Just Cause 2 there was quite a lot of distance between different places," said Sundberg. "That's something we focused quite heavily on for the third game."
Just Cause 3's story is about a character's homecoming and the toppling of a wicked regime. This is nothing we haven't seen before, but it's really a platform upon which Avalanche can tell an origin story for Rodriguez, who has tended to be one of the less striking gaming characters.
"We wanted to give Rico more of a personality in Just Cause 3, and give our players a little background on who he is and why he's doing what he's doing," explained Sundberg. "We know that we can create an interesting world that's tactically amazing. But I think we owe it to Rico to let players get to know him."
But players who are less interested in plot and more interested in 'pow' will get their wings. "We open the world up pretty quickly to make that sandbox really come through," said Sundberg. "It's about the sandbox and how we can give the players more and more tools to have more fun and blow up more stuff in the most spectacular ways. It's about allowing them to show off."
Despite the gaudy collection of missions and mayhem, there are some concessions to good taste. Targets tend to be located in military zones, so that Rodriguez can become a folk hero, and not be blowing up people's homes. But if you really want to blow up residential areas, or just wander around shooting people, you can. If that's your thing.
"It's a very fine balance between the super-serious and being really, really stupid," said Sundberg. "I think we've found that middle ground in all three games. Rico is a superhero, but he's kind of a believable superhero in a world that looks almost photo-realistic where you can do all this crazy stuff.
"In this game, civilians are happy to make sacrifices for the protagonist's cause, no matter what goes down. They sort of sacrifice themselves for the cause. You can steal someone's car and they say, 'oh, enjoy my car!' It's not a very serious game. It's not overly gory. We don't have any torture. It's done in a very humorous style."
Just Cause 3 is due to be released Dec. 1 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.