Just Cause 3 Review - Thinking Creatively with Explosions

Just Cause 3 Review - Thinking Creatively with Explosions

Published: December 10, 2015 9:00 AM /


Just Cause 3 Title Shot

I'm not the kind of person who gets hyped for games. Let's face it, there are a ton of games worthy of my time out there that I can play right now. Games that people overlook on a regular basis despite being some of the best experiences of the year, like Renowned Explorers: International Society, Dropsy, and Victor Vran. So when it comes to trailers for games that have not yet hit the market, the skeptic in me comes out 99% of the time. Asking questions of whether or not this promotional material is truly indicative of gameplay, whether it's DLC practices are going to actually bring reasonable content, and everything in-between. However, I do have those moments where I throw all skepticism out the window for a particular game release, especially when I think the trailers are passing my basic checks. Yes, there are times where I am ready to hop on the hype train and get a game that I've been looking forward to. For me, this year's sole game that stood out was not Metal Gear Solid V. It wasn't The Witcher 3. It was Just Cause 3.

[caption id="attachment_64799" align="aligncenter" width="587"]My face when I first got Just Cause 3. My face when I first got Just Cause 3.[/caption]

Having put a bit of time into this game's predecessor, I know that the Just Cause series has always been a game that knows exactly what it is. It's there to be your sandbox and to let you blow things up in hilarious fashion. Funny enough, I'm not usually a sandbox type of player when I think about it, but Just Cause was always an exception. Now, Just Cause 3 is out on the PC, Xbox One, and PS4 with upgraded graphics and a few new tricks underneath its sleeves. Will it be able to live up to the hype that I had for it, or will some flaws that were festering with the series overtake it in the third chapter?

Let's first hit the basics of the story. Rico Rodriguez, the bad-ass from the previous games, returns to his home in Medici and meets his childhood friend, Mario. He comes back to a country engulfed in a civil war, with a rebel force fighting against the dictatorial reign of General Di Ravello. The rebel's forces are seemingly losing the fight, and need the dictator removal specialist to join their cause. No, seriously, that's his title, and that's really what it comes down to. A rebellion story that you've seen before.

[caption id="attachment_64787" align="aligncenter" width="587"]I would love to get this on a business card. I would love to get this on a business card.[/caption]

The game knows that its story isn't going to be the main focus. To say that these characters are clichéd would be an understatement. Rico, the bad-ass action hero with literally no faults. Mario the bumbling childhood friend and sidekick who comes through in the clutch. The paint by numbers super villain. The scientist who has to make up for a past mistake. They're all on display here. Despite all that, it works. The characters are likable and make enough of an impact that you don't immediately want to skip the game's cutscenes. Having said that, you may still want to leave a YouTube video playing in the background.

There's one character that stands out to me overall, and it's not a main character, or a side character even. He's not even named. It's the Medici News Announcer. Honestly, I felt like the supporting dialogue for the progress updates and minor information is where the game's writing shined. In fact, it propelled me to liberate more areas of the game even when I didn't need to. Having the guy coming up with reason after reason as Rico liberates town after town and base after base is the highlight here. There's character growth that's more in-depth than any other character in the game, which is somewhat sad when you think about it. I have to hand it to the writers for this character in particular, especially with the unraveling that happens when the game races to its conclusion.

[caption id="attachment_64793" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Of the main characters, Dimah probably has the best moments. Of the main characters, Dimah probably has the best moments.[/caption]

The game's story isn't revolutionary, but it works for its own environment. The game is self-aware, knowing that it's cheesy and clichéd, and it plays off that to an extent. It doesn't apologize for what it attempts. It tries to fill in holes, like how it introduces the unstable element of bavarium to explain why some things decide to explode for no good reason. This element is what General Di Ravello is using to power his country and why he's held in power. The writing may make you groan at times, but it's seemingly because it wants you to groan.

However, where it starts to fall apart is towards its conclusion. There are clichéd elements here, but sometimes the clichéd nature of the story goes to far. The game attempts to set up plot elements that may seem like a “twist” (and I use that term loosely), but they are too obvious and played far too seriously. In fact, the last 1/3 of the game's story is so by the numbers, you may wonder if it was the outline rather then the script that was published. In particular: the last mission of this game disappoints in wrapping up the game up to that point. Instead of going out with a bang, it went out with a whimper, and that whimper pales in comparison to the explosions that the game constantly throws at you. It felt rushed. It felt like “well crap, we have to finish the game out here.....OK....um.....RANDOM BOSS BATTLE!”. Even knowing what it was, the conclusion still disappointed me, and really made me wonder if this was what they had truly planned in the end.

[caption id="attachment_64800" align="aligncenter" width="587"]The game rushes so fast to its conclusion, you wonder where exactly the plot went. The game rushes so fast to its conclusion, you wonder where exactly the plot went.[/caption]

In the end, you're not here for the story, and it shows. If you bought the game expecting a masterpiece of writing, you're in the wrong place. There's another reason why you're here of course. The bread and butter of this game, which is the gameplay. Whether or not you're an old Just Cause fan or not, you should know what to expect from this open-world sandbox. Things to blow up, enemies to kill, and stuff to tear down. Just Cause 3 is Just Cause 2 Plus. And frankly, that's what you should have expected out of it

Here's how the game breaks down. You have your main missions that move the storyline along, but in order to unlock those, you'll have to liberate regions in an area. Each region has a certain number of provinces, and you'll need to free them from the arms of tyranny in order to move along the story. Within these provinces, you'll have specific objectives to complete, whether it be blowing up propaganda spewing speakers or tearing down the larger statues of the general himself. If it's a town, you'll have to also raise the flag when you're done at the end to signal the liberation, which can lead to new side quests being unlocked.

The side missions run the gamut of different activities that the game has, from basic races with planes, boats, and automobiles, to throwing around a magnetic ball and using the power of science to gather points. These side missions unlock the gears of the game that will give Rico his upgrades. These upgrades range from a tiny bit useful, to "HOLY CRAP DO THESE MISSIONS AS FAST AS YOU CAN TO GET THIS UPGRADE". The missions I'm referring in particular are the Scrapyard Scavenge challenges, which help upgrade Rico's tether to be stronger and able to pull together bigger items in the environment.  There are reasons to do these challenges, but honestly sometimes the upgrades don't necessarily match the task that they're asking you to do. That's not helped by a lackluster set of driving controls in certain vehicle types. These courses can be pretty demanding at times with some of the results they want out of you, and with the differences between vehicles over the long haul, can cause repeated attempts to get anywhere near a reasonable grade out of it.

For those unfamiliar with the Just Cause series, two of your major tools are your tether, with allows you to grasp on to things and throw yourself toward them, as well as your infinite parachute (which yes, they actually refer to it in-game as an infinite parachute at one point). This combination provides the basis for your short range travel, as you can launch yourself into the air using the tether, then deploy the parachute to get some air and some speed. You will need to get a hang of systematically using the tether and parachute to move along the environments.

The game adds the wingsuit, but I feel like it's impact is very situational at first. It helps to move you from one point to another provided that your starting point is significantly higher than your destination. However, it does take some time to really get a grasp of using it in small elevation situations. Most of the game, I alternated between the tether and parachuting in order to journey around, similar to how I would have in Just Cause 2. It took me a while to add the wingsuit into that combination, you do get a hang of it eventually, and it does add a tiny bit of speed to the process.

While the controller can be used for the game and not suffer that much, I preferred the keyboard and mouse, especially when engaging in firefights. The sensitivity of the controller just didn't do it for me for gunplay, while the keyboard obviously shined. Driving felt even in terms of the control schemes, but the controller had the upper hand when it came to flying.

[caption id="attachment_64790" align="aligncenter" width="587"]I'm glad I don't have a pilot license. I'm glad I don't have a pilot license.[/caption]

It's also somewhat why I enjoy the parachute and tether combination more than vehicles in this game. Simply put, some of the vehicles drive like bricks. Each car has its own stats of course, but the range of those stats is all over the place. In some cars, you try to do a slight turn with the handbrake, and then you're suddenly in a ditch. You'll find that you'll be grabbing a helicopter when you can, as they control the best out of all the available vehicles and they have the control you need while still maintaining some speed.

For gun related gameplay it's what you should expect. Dual wield pistols, assault rifles, SMGs can all change a tiny bit in fire rate, damage, and burst firing between variations, but in the end they are just guns that shoot bullets, and only have slight differences compared to each other. The variety however exists in the weapon choices available in the special slot. You have your RPGs, grenade launchers, aerial strike weapons, and then the sniper rifle, which feels out of place. It is powerful, but it's hard to justify taking it over an RPG which can destroy buildings. You also have grenades and an unlimited amount of remote explosives that can be placed four at a time. The third person gunplay is what you'd expect out of the genre up to this point, having similarities to games like Grand Theft Auto V. It's solid and keeps the action going in most cases.

[caption id="attachment_64801" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Bang Bang. Bang Bang.[/caption]

The game will throw more and more problems at you as your panic level rises, which is also similar to Grand Theft Auto. You'll start with ground troop reinforcements, but soon it'll be helicopters, tanks, bigger helicopters, even missile strikes. There's a reason why the game tracks how long you stay in Level 5, and the game is at its best when at its most chaotic. The challenge does pick up in the latter half of the game with upgraded enemies, and scenarios where you can literally have an entire army come down on you at once. There are rebels around that you can recruit to help you in these fights, or you can accidentally blow them up while running for your life. It's the second one most of the time. This is a core part of the game, and while not much has changed here from previous games, it still works rather well.

Sooner or later you'll run out of bullets and need a ride, so you can summon a supply drop to refill. Of course, you can drop it on top of someone just for the fun of it.  You can replace your three main weapons and procure a vehicle with every supply drop, but you do have a wait out a cooldown before you can get that specific item again. Although, while waiting for that cooldown, it can be funny to summon a bus in the middle of the fight.

But frankly, I feel like the supply drop access in the early game can really hurt the game's progression and "fun" factor. Don't get me wrong, when you get to the late stages of the game and want to mess around, it's good to be able to summon whatever, but I feel the game is at its strongest when you have nothing in your arsenal but one grenade, your other explosives, your grappling hook, and barely any ammunition. Having to use the environment and your own improvisation is where the game not only stands out, it is where the game feels strongest.

The game shines when you just let the experience naturally play out, and react to what is happening around you. Some of the absurd situations that you can get into and then have to get out of can be fantastic. Being able to grapple onto a huge dump truck which is exploding and jetting into the air. Taking over a helicopter and then flying around and firing despite the anti-air machines all around you, panicking as you attempt to avoid missiles while still actually doing some damage. Dragging a helicopter down into a building using your grapple. The possibilities here and how you take advantage of them will determine how well Just Cause 3 plays for you.

[caption id="attachment_64795" align="aligncenter" width="587"]The tether is the best thing about the game. The tether is the best thing about the game.[/caption]

The tether in particular makes a bigger impact in this game thanks to the ability to tie elements together and retract, which pulls them together. Your creativity here is key, and if you play by the numbers, Just Cause 3 won't necessarily stand out for you. However, if you really use the tether wisely and perform feats like causing a domino effect of fuel tankers, you'll feel like a secret agent that can't be beaten. Having two foes knock together into each other by tethering together? Always worth a laugh. You may have rockets, you may have machine guns, you may have helicopters. But frankly, I would trade them all in a heartbeat if it meant that I couldn't have the tether.

Don't get me wrong, you can get creative even without the tether. Part of the fun of the destructible parts of the environment is to let physics take control. Systematically shooting out the support beams of a water tower and having it fall to its demise is one thing, but a flying sphere of explosive doom? That's just good times right there. Figuring out how to take out elements in a fast and systematic fashion is the core of the game, and makes for good YouTube videos on a whole.

Some will find the discovery elements of the game frustrating. It doesn't necessarily point you to where settlements are located at times, so you'll have to find them yourself. There is a learning curve to understanding where those settlements will be, and the game will basically teach you it in your failures, particularly when you come across ruins thinking it may be a settlement. Your map is something you'll keep coming back to, but you'll be wishing there's a mini map at times. Especially in the larger areas, where you'll keep going back to it when attempting to find the one last transformer you need to blow up.

[caption id="attachment_64789" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Flying Dump Trucks can just happen once in a while. Flying Dump Trucks can just happen once in a while.[/caption]

There's a lot to do in the game, and the sheer size of the content is going to wear some players down over time. In terms of variety, you'll be doing a lot of the same tasks in the long run. The game does have a repetition problem, and while side missions and scene variety can help that, it's really up to you to keep yourself entertained. It's rather easy to get into a habit of taking things down methodically, like always shooting the electronic devices near the fuel pumps to quickly take them down, and the game will not give you much reason to play differently. It's up to you to take up that mantle and change up your gameplay.

Where the game's repetition starts to hurt it is in the level design. A large game with this much to do is going to need to reuse elements and buildings in order to prevent a ridiculous workload for the developers. How you succeed in adding differentiation is through the placement of those elements, using different layouts and arrangements of items in conjunction with each other. Then, take it to the next level with different altitude levels and environment placement. There are times that this works for Just Cause 3, especially with some of the smaller towns near the beginning of the game. However, a formula will start to develop, and those bases that do reuse elements that aren't repurposed and reinvigorated will stand out. For example, the off shore barges have a layout that is exactly the same almost every time you encounter them. With how long it can take to get to them, their copy and paste gameplay will start to wear thin.

At times, the upgrade system can actually work against you. It's great to have homing grenades, where they fly towards an active enemy when you throw them. But the thing is, when you have that gear turned on, it'll do that no matter what, even if your intention wasn't to use them against personnel. I wish that you could easily switch this up on the fly, where I could turn that grenade feature off so that I could use a grenade to blow up a transformer or some structure. I felt the addition of grenade types and  being able to toggle between them would have made a great addition here, because this wasn't the only case where an explosive did something that felt situational.

[caption id="attachment_64794" align="aligncenter" width="587"]AMD users may feel like Rico in this shot. AMD users may feel like Rico in this shot.[/caption]

AMD users take note, this game is apparently kryptonite to you at this time, and even Nvidia users have been hit with some bugs as well. Well most people. I really had no problems. I'm running an AMD FX(tm)-8350 Eight-Core (4 Ghz) with 16 GB RAM on Windows 8, with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Yes, I'm using an AMD process with a Nvidia graphics card. I'm a rebel. Just like Rico.

However, it should be noted that a good amount of users have had more troubled experiences with in-game stuttering, some problems with frame-rates, and more issues directly related to gameplay. In particular, the mid-level cards seem to be having problems, and there's no news on when a patch is coming for those affected users.

Once in a blue moon (that being about once an hour) there was an occasion skip, but honestly I only really noticed it when I was actively recording with Shadowplay. And for anyone who wants to know: No, I don't plan on using Shadowplay ever again, after the problems with the recording quality and variable frame rate and not being happy with the video this review was originally planned to be. I should have known this from the get go, and I apologize to you all. This is the price of teaching yourself everything.

[caption id="attachment_64805" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Learn from Dragnix, and make sure that variable framerate footage doesn't ruin your day when you go to edit it, like a dummy. Learn from Dragnix, and make sure that variable frame rate footage doesn't ruin your day when you go to edit it, like a dummy.[/caption]

There were things that I did notice on my side however. To begin with, the loading times seemed reasonably high. Once you get going, it's not to bad, but that first initial load was always noticeable. The frame rate for me was solid most of the time (I was getting 50-60 FPS, mostly 60 from what I saw, but I wasn't watching it too closely), and there weren't any spots that I really felt like the game was a true problem. Input lag was nonexistent, and the performance was what I wanted out of the series.

Also, while I like the leaderboards that appear in-game and what it tracks, it comes at a cost in the form of the always activated server connection. The ideal way to handle a lost connection to this server would be to indicate it on the corner of the screen and wait for the action to stop before doing anything more drastic. Instead, Just Cause 3 breaks into gameplay, pauses itself, and then slowly attempts to reconnect to the server. A game should never interrupt the action just to make sure a side-element of the game is functioning.

In terms of game breaking bugs that had a significant effect on gameplay and my ongoing enjoyment, they really were not there. Except maybe one, where I fell out of a plane before a mission began.  I had no crashes, and my saves weren't effected. Were there minor things that took me out of the moment? Indeed there were. The game is less polished than Mad Max, the other game that Avalanche Studios released this year, and that's a little bit of a shame. The physics in the game can be strange at times, but it honestly helped enhance the experience.

[caption id="attachment_64806" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Even at large distances, the skyline can be pretty damn cool. Even at large distances, the skyline can be pretty damn cool.[/caption]

The game's scenery can be breathtaking, and you'll really notice it in the latter third of the game. There are vast mountain areas with plentiful trees and sheets of snow on the ground. It can be pretty immersive as you take to the sky and fly above it all, having that moment of zen while just parachuting over the trees. Granted, you'll immediately want to summon a jet and drive off to your next battle, but I won't say that it's not a momentary distraction.

In particular, Just Cause 3's water effects stood out to me. When you're stuck in the water and need to swim all the way to shore, it can feels like you're stuck in an endless ocean. The way the ocean moves, having to fight its currents, or even being stuck in the path of a raging storm's, you felt ever wave hit your boat. Frankly, its something I did not expect, and though gameplay on the ocean may be limited, it certainly stood out.

The windowed buildings of the bigger cities also made a reasonable impact. Again, you only get this towards the end of the game, but it helped sell some of the themes the game was going for. You can see the class differences between the cities, down to the people who inhabited it, and there was a good job done in creating the society that lived within this world.

As to the characters, they did alright, however there was an odd element or two that stood out, in particular Rico's Tether Gauntlet. It doesn't feel of the world in question, instead leaning towards sci-fi in nature. You don't notice it in gameplay, but you can see how it stands out during cutscenes, especially when they draw focus to it. Bavarium as a whole added sci-fi elements in the form of shielded tanks, but this kept sticking out for some reason.

[caption id="attachment_64788" align="aligncenter" width="587"]The gauntlet doesn't look of this game. The gauntlet doesn't look of this game.[/caption]

The best way I can describe the sound design as a whole for the game is “smartly situational”. You'll notice the impact of your actions thanks to some great implementation of tone in things like the panic level. As you transition from your first panic level to the maximum panic, you can hear the radio announcer getting more and more flustered, to the point of barking orders and literally yelling in frustration. This complemented what I was going through on-screen, and helped sell that what I was doing was making a true difference in the fight. This is also sold by the explosion sounds, gunfire, and buildings collapsing. Great sound design all around in fact. The main voice acting here is competent, but not necessarily that good. Sure, it works, but I definitely remember more of the unnamed characters and what they had to say more than anything else. Oh, and Dimah, because Dimah was always fun.

The music of the game was a good complement to the action. It never stood out to me, but it also never stood out in the bad way. It always seemed to sync up with the action in question, especially during the main missions, and while I can't say I'd go out and buy a soundtrack related to the game, it's not worth turning off either.

[caption id="attachment_64796" align="aligncenter" width="587"]Come on, can you really hate a game with flying gas tanks of doom? Come on, can you really hate a game with flying gas tanks of doom?[/caption]

Just Cause 3 is a game that knows exactly the kind of audience that it's going for. Focusing in on the needs of the people who played Just Cause 2, it enhances the focus of those original games, creating a fun sandbox that doesn't really care about realism or story. It's a B-tier Action Movie with a AAA budget.

In the end, Just Cause 3 is hellish amounts of fun, and you'll get the hours out of the game with all that there is to do. It's mostly a graphically upgraded retread, but there are some special elements in here. The creative use of the tether allow fantastic moments to naturally happen. With the technical problems out there, it's something you need to keep in mind when thinking about making a purchase. Just Cause 3 has a flawed and repetitive nature that can be frustrating at times, but I enjoyed the thirty-plus hours I spent with it.

This game/tech was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC platform. Please note, TechRaptor was given a review copy of the game the day before release, but due to the time constraints and at the review's call, he used his already purchased copy instead.

Review Summary


Just Cause 2 Updated in the right places. The gameplay is as fun as ever, just as long as you can keep up your creativity with the tools in front of you. Worth a purchase, just make sure that you can run it on PC.

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Author: | Staff Writer