There are times when Just Cause 4 sings. Moments where everything comes together, where Rico's throwing explosions left and right, diving off of moving vehicles, tethering enemies to objects, and sending things flying every which way with rockets and balloons. These are the moments that Avalanche Studios designed the game for. It's the magic of barely controlled chaos.
The problem with Just Cause 4 is it doesn't stretch the series formula far enough, while also losing parts of what made it great in the first place. It's a game I love in places, but overall I want to love it more than I actually do.
Just Cause 4 brings back Rico Rodriguez for what feels like his final outing. It's clear that he's getting up in the years; the act of single-handedly leading armies and enacting violent coups has put a few years on our boy. Rico heads to the vast island of Solis, diving into the military and technological shenanigans of The Black Hand, a mercenary group that-*dramatic pause*-might have ties to his father.
At its base level, Just Cause 4 lifts most of its gameplay from Just Cause 3 and brings it over wholesale. After its inclusion in the previous entry, the wingsuit is now a firm part of Rico's locomotion, alongside the parachute and the grappling hook. Getting around the world as Rico is a breeze. Sure, he can steal a car, helicopter, or jet to get around, but most of the time, it's far easier to use Rico's standard gadgets. If Rico wasn't the slowest mercenary in the world on foot, I'd say Just Cause 4 has some of the best movement of any open-world title.
Other parts of Just Cause 4 feel like direct responses to complaints about Just Cause 3. Car handling has been improved, so it actually feels much better to drive them this time around. Players took Avalanche Studios to task for the uniformity of Medici's landscape, so Solis features a number of different biomes to cause mayhem in. Likewise, there was criticism about all the missions being largely the same-go here, destroy this-so the new progression system actually moves away from that.
The issue with the latter change is the new progression system shares the same problems as Just Cause 3, while also missing what made the past games great. Rico is fighting a large scale revolution in Solis, helping local citizens slowly push back the Black Hand at each location. You begin in one area, and by completing missions there, you gain squads that can be used to push the frontline back and gain more territory. This offers a good visual sense of your progression in regards to the overall world, but the problem lies in what you're actually doing to clear up the map.
Instead of going to a location and destroying everything in sight, now Rico goes to a location, stalls a bit while something gets hacked, and then moves to another location. Or maybe you have to escort an non-player character. It's surprisingly redundant through the entire game. Yes, Just Cause 4 breaks that up with the amazing extreme weather missions, but despite all the marketing, they're not the moment-to-moment focus.
Not only is the mission structure repetitive, but destruction takes a backseat. There are objects to destroy in the familiar red and chrome of previous games, but you don't need to in order to succeed. Most of the time, simply finishing a mission will give you the chaos needed to reach your next squad threshold. Base and outpost liberation missions are mostly gone. The number of chaos objects to destroy overall seems to be down. In attempting to fix the tedium that could crop up in the previous entries, Avalanche seems to have scrubbed away part of what makes Just Cause great.
The side task system is a bit of give or take. In Just Cause 3, you would go to a designated area and load into a task, like wingsuit courses, stunt jumps, and speed traps. Now these actions are just littered around the open world. This works because if you screw up a wingsuit course, you can just loop around and immediately try again, but I wish there was an option to retry an event. There are stunt jumps and speed traps that require specific vehicles, and it's not always easy to find the necessary ride nearby, whereas Just Cause 3 would give you the needed vehicle automatically.
I also want to note the lack of C4 in Just Cause 4. In previous titles, you could drop C4 on structures and blow them up remotely. Just Cause 4 drops throwable weapons entirely. This feels like a side effect of the new weapon system, which offers a ton of unique weapons, each with a secondary fire. This is successful, because the weapons themselves feel quite distinct, but I constantly found myself missing the C4.
That's where Just Cause 4 largely falters for me, but it's not all pain and heartache. There's still lots to do in terms of the sandbox itself. Primarily, Avalanche Studios has overhauled on Rico's grappling tethers. In previous games, these tethers could be used to pull objects together, allowing players to create their own tools of destruction. Just Cause 3 added the booster rockets as a new type of tether, and Just Cause 4 adds balloons, letting you send objects in the stratosphere or just let them float lazily along.
The new option is backed by a whole tether customization system. You can save up to three loadouts, each with a different effect on automatic use, button tap, or button hold. Within each loadout, you can choose whether the tether retracts or adds boosters or balloons to an object. You can change the retraction speed, the booster strength, or the height of the balloons. You can choose what happens when an effect ends, like your tether boosters exploding or the balloons popping at various heights. Hell, you can choose between different gases in each balloon. You can mix and match lifter balloons, retractors, and boosters if you want. It's an amazingly extensive customization system and stand as the absolute best part of Just Cause 4.
You can switch between each of your three set loadouts on the fly. This gives players the freedom to respond to various situations on the fly, or create some crazy setups just for fun. At the beginning of this review, I talked about the magic of barely controlled chaos, and the tether system is a major part of that. There are times in Just Cause 4 where I'd just sit and screw around with tethers, vehicles, and enemy soldiers. Not really doing anything in particular, but still having a ton of fun.
And that's good, because Solis is a wonderful playground. It doesn't feel like a realistic one, with the map going from beachbound cities, to arid deserts, lush meadows, vast jungles, and snowy mountain peaks, but Just Cause is a series that has always leaned towards "game" more than "reality." I enjoy the change of pace and scenery with each area and overall, this is one of the best maps that Avalanche Studios has built for the series.
It's here that the other big feature of Just Cause 4 appears. Marketing talked heavily about the extreme weather that would categorize this new entry. There are four persistent extreme weather events at specific regions on the map, usually confined to a specific biome. There's a tornado in the southwest, a lightning storm in northeast, a sandstorm that wanders the deserts of the northwest, and a blizzard around the central structure behind these weird formations. The first three events wander the map like MMO world bosses, slamming into civilian and Black Hand structures alike, while the last is a combination of the three and mostly acts like a barrier preventing you from accessing part of the game before the story calls for it.
It's surprising then that the extreme weather doesn't make its presence felt nearly enough in the main game. Seeing the tornado shuffle by, picking up cars, boats, and destructible structures is damned cool, and wingsuiting through one is even better. The weather events are impressive when you run across their paths or they intersect with a mission you're doing, but I honestly would've liked to see them a little more often. There's also a general lack of destructible structures, so the tornado sliding through a base is more like a vacuum cleaner than a force of nature.
I really enjoyed Just Cause 2 and Just Cause 3, but this entry feels like its fighting itself. This is bigger island with far more variety in terms of its biomes, and when the extreme weather rears its head, it's truly amazing. Rico's tethers have so much customization that you can easily make your own fun in this sandbox. But the mission structure is tedious and actually works against what made Just Cause great in the first place: the rampant destruction. There's a nugget of something amazing in here, and the sweet spot feels like a game in-between Just Cause 3 and Just Cause 4. But that ultimately means Just Cause 4, while fun, isn't entirely up to snuff.
There are times when Just Cause 4 is amazing, but the final result is a game that loses parts of what made Just Cause great in the first place. The new mission structure repetitive and causes the series' staple destruction to take a backseat. The tether customization is top notch and the new weapons are a winner, but things like throwable C4 are gone. And the extreme weather, which is exciting when it appears, doesn't make its presence felt during most of the game. I had fun with Just Cause 4, but it's a game I want to love more than I actually do. Temper your expectations.