Just Cause 3 is probably the most goddamn fun I've had in a game this year.
Like its predecessors, Avalanche Studios' latest is a sprawling sandbox of destruction. Rico Rodriguez is the living embodiment of imperialist colonization: free beleaguered citizens from tyranny by blowing up all the stuff around them. Sometimes you'll even blow them up. S'all good. (Fun fact: The series' name comes from the US invasion of Panama.)
A Tale of Freedom
After freeing two other island nations, Rico has returned home to Medici, which is under the dictatorial control of General Di Ravello. This is an older Rico, sporting a new gruff exterior, Ezio Auditore-like voice, and essentially the exact same method of operation that worked so well for him before.
There is a story to Just Cause 3, involving Rico interacting with his various allies: former best friend Mario, CIA handler Sheldon, rebels Annika and Teo, and disposed scientist Dimah. Di Ravallo is mining Medici for Bavarium, a volatile and powerful substance he can use to build advanced weapons and explosives. Rico is nominally back to stop the Bavarium operation, while also freeing his home.
You'll remember the story missions for the things you do, not the people you interact with. They're not particularly annoying characters - they do their job in an enjoyable manner - but you'll more likely to remember the time you surfed on a jumbo jet tethering fighter jets together or when you rode a missile into a lake. The story missions serve to break up the rest of the game and act as breadcrumbs, leading you from one region to the next.
That's good, because you need it. The world of Just Cause 3 is huge. Once I liberated the first few towns and outposts, I checked the world map to see my overall progress. I zoomed out a bit and decided "Hey, this game is pretty big", only to realize I could zoom out farther. Then I realized that at full zoom, I was only looking at the smaller bottom half of the overall map. Over the course of the entire game, you'll jump from idyllic Mediterranean countryside to temperate forests and lakes, stripmined deserts, and snowy peaks.
Just Cause 3 looks amazing on PC at least. Sure there's a lot of trees and mountains, and you may tire of the look of many towns, but Avalanche made sure to add a splash of color to the game. Soaring above seas of yellow and purple flowers, tearing through a forest in an ATV, or screaming by a cold mountaintop in a jet; it all looks great. Performance-wise, it ran well on my rig (Intel Core i7 4790k, 16 GB RAM RAM, Geforce GTX 970), though some crazy explosions can cause a dips below 60 fps.
Pimp My Suit
The game doesn't show you every area you can liberate. Some have to be found by wandering around the world, though you can make solid educated guesses as to where a base or outpost may be. It promotes exploration, making you float, drive, and fly around the area to find your next target. It's good then that Rico can get around much easier than he used to.
Like Just Cause 2, Rico has his grappling hook and parachute, in addition to the ability to hijack any vehicle he finds. New to the series is the Wingsuit, which you gain within the first few story missions. With the wingsuit available, the parachute loses some of its control options from JC2, but they're no longer needed.
Together, the wingsuit, parachute, and grappling hook form a perfect trio. The wingsuit is all about cruising along the environment at high speeds, the parachute is more suited to vertical movement like falling from above or scaling mountainsides, and the grappling hook is for quick point-to-point movement. The hook also enhances the other two, by allowing you to gain a boost of speed by grappling onto the landscape.
Once you've mastered all three in tandem, getting around Medici without the help of a vehicle is pretty simple. Soaring around on the wingsuit is the most freeing sense of movement I've had in a game, even more than gliding around in Batman: Arkham Knight. Once you understand the mechanics - the wingsuit has a learning curve and the game doesn't give you any tips - it's easy to get around. The wingsuit is so good that I don't think I can go back to Just Cause 2. It's one of those concepts where you're confused how you ever lived without it.
Tools of the Trade
Your movement equipment aren't the only tools in Just Cause 3. You still have a whole host of unlockable weapons in three categories: dual wielded, two-handed, and special (explosives, yo!). That's backed up by grenades and C4, the latter of which is an unlimited resource. If you need to refill on ammo, there are stations around the world, or you can call in a Rebel Drop.
The Rebel Drop system returns from the previous titles. Select unlocked weapons in the three categories or your unlocked vehicles - you unlock vehicles by liberating bases or stealing vehicles and driving them to Garages - and they'll be air-dropped to your location. The Rebel Drop is limited by the number of available beacons you have and a timer preventing you from requesting the same vehicles over-and-over, but honestly I didn't use the system enough that I felt limited at all.
Early on, you may feel that Rico actually has a rather low power curve. You're pretty capable of destroying objects in with your starting set of equipment. (Pro-Tip: The easiest way to deal with helicopters is to tether them to the ground and reel in. Same with boats if you tether them to the ocean floor.) Most of the weapons you'll unlock are all about efficiency; bigger explosions, more range, and different firing modes. An explosion is an explosion, progression is just a matter of various types of explosions and bullets you can send out into the world. That's a contrast to something like Arkham Knight or Shadow of Mordor, where you feel your character is becoming much stronger; Rico is more about adding variety.
That's backed up by the Gear Mod system. As you liberate areas, you'll unlock extra courses for Rico to complete. Crash Bomb has you riding explosive-laden vehicles to a location within a time limit. The various Frenzy courses have you using different weapons to cause chaos. Shooting Galleries test your precision with different guns. Races involve time trials in a set vehicle. Wingsuit courses are like a mini Pilotwings, tasking you with flying through aerial hoops towards a finish line.
You'll have a preference for certain courses; I was never big on the Frenzy courses, while Wingsuit courses were my jam. Completing courses offers a certain number gears depending on your performance and these gears automatically unlock mods in specific categories as certain milestones. If you want better explosive capabilities for example, then you need to complete Frenzy courses. More options on your Rebel Drop vehicles? You need to finish the Races.
A number of these items are simple upgrades, including more tethers for your grappling hook, stronger tethers, or more grenades. Other mods are for flavor. There's one mod that turns your C4 mines into rocket boosters and you can have a ton of fun attaching those to vehicles and enemies. The Glass Grenade mod makes your grenades explode on impact, while the Homing Grenades mod does what it says on the tin. There's a mod allowing you to jump in Rebel Dropped cars (Awesome!) or another to allow you air brake in the wingsuit. Once you've unlocked a mod, you can turn them on or off; it's all about the experience you want to have in the game. If you want more of a challenge, turn the mods off. If you want to get crazy, there's some interesting cocktails of abilities available.
Viva La Liberation!
Within the early hours of Just Cause 3, towns, bases, and outposts may seem similar, but at some point, things quickly start to change. Within each region, Rico has to liberate areas within a certain hierarchy: towns, outposts, bases, and command centers. The outposts are small knots of violence you can clear relatively quick and towns remain largely the same, though they get bigger as you move forward. It's with the bases and command centers that Just Cause 3 has a bit of fun.
The bases have a ton of variety. Some are near docks, some are nestled in high mountaintops. There's an underground base that's a vast complex hidden under tons of rock. There's one that's nothing but tall vertical spires jutting into the sky. Avalanche really worked hard to make the bases feel distinct from one another. Each is a different puzzle: how do you best cause chaos and destruction? You'll actually want to use different vehicles and weapons to tackle the bases, depending on where they are and what kind of layout you're looking at. It helps to keep what could've felt rote and boring more interesting than some other open-world titles.
Avalanche Studios also fixed a major issue with Just Cause 2: no more looking for the last Chaos object in a base. As you whittle down a liberation area, the final objects start appearing on your map. Big thumbs up for that addition, because you could spend an hour in Just Cause 2 looking for one lone transformer to blow up.
Liberating targets is still largely player-driven. You'll unlock new weapons and vehicles, but for the most part, the drive to unlock areas is all your own. Just Cause 3 is a sandbox like its predecessors. It doesn't force you along, which can be a plus or minus depending on what type of player you are.
Just Like Icarus
Unfortunately, Just Cause 3 isn't all sunshine and rainbows. There's a few small issues that cause the experience to stumble and one big issue that can halt it altogether. In the small issues category, there's a bunch of things that are simply missing. A bit more explanation of certain systems would've helped. Flares for example, are supposedly needed to Fast Travel to liberated areas, but you can also Fast Travel without any flares. I have no clue how the system is supposed to work, even though it never got in my way, because they never really outline it in-game.
The minimap, which was rather helpful in Just Cause 2, is gone here. That means if you need to check your heading, you have to load up the map, which is slightly annoying. Also, there's no way to close the wingsuit immediately. You have to switch to the parachute and then close that. Alternatively, there's a mod that closes the wingsuit when you air brake, but that's not as smooth as simply allowing you to close the wingsuit at the press of a button. How can Rico immediately close his huge parachute, but doing so with his wings is a problem?
The major issue in Just Cause 3 is the online connection. The game tries to keep you online, so that it can share leaderboards of certain tasks, like the most time spent wingsuiting or the most kills in a single clip. For most of my review period, the online wasn't an issue. It wasn't until the last few days that it became a problem.
See, if the online disconnects, it halts your game completely. It'll try to reconnect and if it doesn't, it'll give you the option to drop into offline mode. The problem is, if you pause to check the map - again, no mini-map - it tries to reconnect again. Essentially, a poor internet connection can make this almost impossible to play at times. Avalanche Studios needs to patch in the ability to simply stay offline until you choose to reconnect, or Square Enix needs to beef up their servers. It's a big issue that otherwise mars a nearly perfect game.
Just Cause 3 is Just Cause 2, but better. The wingsuit is a necessary addition to the series, the graphics are great, the explosions are bigger, and the world is huge. If you liked the previous game, this is more of the same. Luckily, more of the same is exactly what I wanted when I loaded Just Cause 3 up. I wasn't disappointed.
The lack of mini-map hurts what is otherwise a great interface.
Once you cleared out the huge world, all you have left is achievements and sitting atop the leaderboards. Clearing the world is still around 70-80 hours of play.
Just Cause 3 is an amazing-looking game with solid performance on PC.
Avalanche Studios returns with another sandbox of destruction. Just Cause 3 is a lot like Just Cause 2, but a host of additions including the wingsuit and gear mods make the game a joy to play. Add in some amazing graphics, stunning explosions, and a huge world and you have a nearly perfect title. One only brought low by online connection issues.