I haven’t overthrown a dictatorship or blown anything up while jumping from a moving plane since part two, so the series that makes the most out of its ridiculous physics is back to do what it does best and entertain. Now, Just Cause 4 drops players in the fictional South American country of Solis, an impressive and developed region that is being held captive by its rulers via malicious weather machines.
We take control of Rico Rodriguez once again, who makes me feel like a sexier Hispanic 007, even if he is missing a few deeper personality traits other than enjoying humming during the carnage he causes. It feels like they could have done so much more with his relationships in the game other than just his distrust of Sheldon, and having a villain that only shows up two or three times, never leaving an impression. Missing character development and the lack of an interesting plot isn’t the reason anyone shows up to play these things, though.
The story is incredibly one-note and minimalistic, but many of the missions make it worse by feeling too similar. The busy work here isn’t too bad at first, but for many, their limits will be met quickly by the game stacking annoying elements: escorting, defending the point, driving segments, and aerial combat all in the same ten minute clump while an obscene number of enemies keep respawning is almost nerve-racking . Though my least favorite thing is when a task requires a certain vehicle, because the driving is horrendous, so imagine my joy when there was a scenario where it required me to pilot multiple within a time limit.
I hope everyone likes the above things, because every mission will have at least one of those involved, and it bogs the gameplay down. The bigger crime here is that the experience becomes bland and begins to meld together, save for a few standout encounters. It is more fun to venture out and create personal mayhem, but missions must be completed to gather squads. These units are used to unlock more areas on the map and progress to new story segments. There is anywhere from twenty to thirty-five hours of gameplay here for most, but monotony will set in long before that. Fans of the series know that the reason to play a Just Cause game is for the insane moments that can be created with its mechanics. It makes a better sandbox than it does a tool for narrative structure or nuanced gameplay. Nothing beats that feeling of doing something cool with the tether physics or killing an enemy in an extremely creative or unexpected way.
I was streaming one of the earlier parts on Twitch when I had two friendly NPCs in the helicopter with me, but we were attacked and I thought I was supposed to take care of them. Instead, I accidentally jumped out of the vehicle and launched myself to the enemy aircraft, leaving my team to fall to their fiery deaths in a perfectly good multi-colored flying machine. My rebel friends crashed into our target, destroying it, and when I restarted the checkpoint, the game had counted my achievement. So mission accomplished, I guess? The physics are fun and amazing to watch in action, but sometimes manage to hinder a player’s accuracy or just cause unwanted chaos during simple maneuvers. They offer this great toy box, but it isn’t practical in most situations.
There is a focus on weather here, and these new elements help to make some cool moments in gameplay, but there should have been more. I can only be hit by lightning so many times until I just feel like a lab rat. It is kind of awesome being a weather witch, though, once you’ve conquered the storms. Each basic weapon has a cool alternate fire and there is solid gunplay, but I can’t figure out why no one in this country owns a single pistol. Things like lightning guns and air cannons are a hilarious distraction and being able to have these items dropped to Rico at a whim is excellent.
Once the initial wanderlust wore off with this new environment, many of my issues with the core gameplay were more visible. Much of this has to do with the controls. There are a few design choices that simply keeps Just Cause 4 from being ‘my style,’ like not having a run button, no cover system, and some subpar vehicle combat.
If there is a way to fire a gun out of a non-militarized automobile, I never found it, and firing from a motorcycle was annoying enough that I stopped trying. I appreciate the Black Hand vehicles all looking like Cobra knockoffs, but why must they drive so horribly? I have never felt like the handling for vehicles was so unresponsive and still somehow slippery so much in a single experience. It’s almost impressive to make motorcycles not enjoyable to drive in an open world game.
This is made worse by the jerky camera, especially while flying, but I eventually began to anticipate its clunky nature and was able to compensate somewhat. Swimming is also a pain because there is no button to raise or lower in the water, but it is done with the direction the camera is facing and was always annoying when I took an unplanned dip.
Rico has use of his grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit, which can make getting over the landscape easier once using all three in conjunction is mastered. Traversing the map can be a bit tedious otherwise, as there is a lot of land to cover, but thankfully fast travel points are quickly unlocked and getting to them is fast and easy.
I may never want to drive a car to get around, but I appreciate the work put into the in-game radio. There are multiple stations and some excellent licensed tracks that fit the South American setting while bringing some energy. There is also a good mix of background tracks for missions, if it can be heard over all of the explosions. I give the audio in this game a lot of credit, but the visual presentation is more of a mixed bag.
Playing on PC, the game looks great for the most part and I was impressed with some of the extreme storm conditions and massive explosions. Little touches like crops being destroyed when I gently landed a massive helicopter in the field was nice, but there were too few of these details. This is all thanks to a new version of the Apex Engine, and I’m told it performs better than Just Cause 3, especially when it comes to stability. This will obviously look better with more GPU power to back it up, but sometimes too much happens on screen (enemies, weather elements, explosions, and multiple grappling hook mechanics all firing off at the same time) and there are dips and jerky hang-ups that sometimes pushed my Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 and Intel Core i5-7600k.
The textures do suffer, sometimes at great distance or when moving fast, there are pop-ins and a low amount of details in some areas. Seeing enemies or vehicles spawn in randomly is also a bit jarring. Smaller instances, like certain backgrounds or views making Rico’s hair see through, do happen often, but most of this is because the mechanics make it easy for hit detection and collision to fail. It is easier for items and NPCs to glitch, the player to move through objects they shouldn’t, or like when my weapon became stuck in its alternate fire mode. I did notice a couple of lighting issues also, though they were rarely distracting. One cutscene had the wrong color palette later on and the game crashed on me once, but nothing that made it much harder to play.
The game boasts better AI this time around and that shows in some of the missions involving multiple friendly soldiers, but the enemy doesn’t seem that much better at killing Rico. They are like more aggressive flies now, tracking him down and buzzing a bit louder, but the snipers are the only effective ones. I especially liked how some of the enemy drones kill themselves on tall obstacles and several of the creatures you encounter barely react to anything. Less wildlife and more like mildlife.
I’m not a fan of the UI here either. Buttons feel mapped wrong, navigating menus takes a while to get used to, and the map can be a bit confusing and hard to read. The game doesn’t give information in the expected spots either and it is easy to look over necessary bits. I played with an Xbox One controller and it still feels this way, but I hear it is so much worse for keyboard users.
All of that is easy to look past for the hours of fun and amazing ‘oh my god’ moments that happen. Sure, there are better open world games out currently, but most of them don’t work the action movie aesthetic nearly as well. I had fun playing Just Cause 4, but I imagine there are a lot of people who won’t finish it. That isn’t to say there aren’t reasons to jump back in and mess around with the physics or track down all of the Easter eggs, but is that enough? The allure of the explosions will wear off in time, but for the right price, anyone can enjoy their own revolution for a little while.
Rico is back to cause chaos and brave a new literal storm as he starts another revolution, but this new sandbox is only fun for a while, even with its fun toys.