Reviews

Just Cause 4 Review – The Okayest Playground Of Destruction

Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Having been named the leader of an entire rebellion and charged with incredible responsibility I cannot help but feel my troops may be questioning their choices as they watch me float a cow into the sky before triggering the booster rockets strapped to its backside, sending it spiralling into the air before it crashes into a nearby cliff. This isn’t some cunning ploy to distract the enemy or some ingenious new bovine weapon, it’s just me dicking around. This revolution is screwed. The oppressed masses are about to become the squashed masses.

Once again over-the-top-cool-man Rico Rodriguez is back on another landmass that is being ruled by an evil dictator who must be taken down via the medium of explosions. The big news is that this evil dictator has machines capable of controlling the weather itself and Rico’s father was somehow all wrapped up in it. So it’s up to Rico and friends to build their Army of Chaos and unleash a revolution while also discovering what role Rico’s dad played in events.

Really, the issue I have with the plot above all else is that the none of the writers seemed to decide on the tone. Sometimes it feels like everything is being taken relatively seriously, while other times there are knowing winks to how daft everything really is. There’s nothing wrong with the story jumping between those tones but instead it settles into a weird middle ground. It’s never funny, and it’s never emotionally interesting. It’s not character driven, but it’s not plot driven, either. It’s only in its gameplay where it finally manages to figure out what it wants to be; bloody stupid.

The one saving grace is Rico himself because everything else is a blur of meh. It’s not that he has a lot of depth to his personality or anything like that, rather it’s just that he’s suave and cool without feeling like a douchebag. Really, though, who cares about the plot? It exists purely to provide some vague context to what you’re doing, but that’s it. It’s all about blowing up Black Hand troops and finding new ways to make things go boom. Want to skydive onto a helicopter then hijack it? Can do! Want to attach rocket boosters to a cow? Can do! Want a memorable plot or characters? Nah. Look elsewhere for that.

If you’ve ever touched the previous three games or even just watched some of the gameplay on Youtube then what Just Cause 4 offers is more of the same with just a couple of minor tweaks. It’s essentially just a clone of Just Cause 3, so if you’re looking for a big improvement this won’t be it.

At the core of the experience is how you get around the vast map using the grappling hook, an infinite supply of parachutes and a wingsuit, all three of which can be combined so that you can fly around the world like a freaking lunatic while firing off a rocket launcher. It’s an incredibly fun and satisfying system to use, standing second only this year to Marvel’s Spider-Man and its web-swinging.

The basic formula remains largely the same with everything colored red indicating that it can be blown up to fill your Chaos bar. The Just Cause series has pretty much been a case of, “what would a Micheal Bay directed video game look like” and this fourth outing sticks true to that idea with explosions absolutely everywhere. Fuel tanks, cars, helicopters, towers and bunches of other stuff can be blown up, dragged, collapsed, floated into the air, rammed and shot to make them explode, often triggering another explosion somewhere else. Like before, there are swarms of A.I. trying to stop you, the amusingly named Black Hand sending in dozens of helicopters and hundreds of troops in a bid to end your miserable life but they’re an inneffective and stupid bunch who exist primarily as cannon fodder. You’ll only die because you got a bit too sloppy or caught up in trying to take something out in a certain way.

Speaking of which, the ability to use your grappling hook in a variety of ways is pretty cool when it comes to creative destruction. At the most basic level you can tether two things together, like hooking a helicopter to a car. But then you get three basic things you can add to your tether via a menu; balloons that will lift whatever they are attached to, a retractor for pulling stuff and booster rockets if you fancy watching something go wooshing off or spin like a top-hat. One, two or all three of these can be applied to your tethers at the same time, allowing for some fun experimentation with the game’s physics. But on top of that there are unlockable modifiers that let you tweak the behavior of tethers, like making the balloons automatically pop at a certain height or adding a powerful yank effect to the retractors. It’s great fun to play around with and almost every destructible target can be brought down with some tethering, or you could just use it to float an enemy tank up into the sky before tapping the button that activates the boosters as well, sending it careening through the air along with the hapless crew driving it.

What I’m saying is that as a destructive playground Just Cause 4 completely succeeds, letting you play out an explosive action movie. This is the kind of game that lets you hang upside down from a jet before wingsuiting down, opening your chute, grappelling to a nearby helicopter to throw the pilot out, then launching RPGs as you parachute around a military base before stealing a humvee to make your getaway. Many of the game’s various glitches even help out, like how my tank got launched thousands of feet into the air when it took a small bump, or when civilians jump out of the truck I sent high into the sky, although that one may not be an A.I. problem, I suppose. Silly virtual humans and their death wishes. There’s just so much joy to be had from causing carnage.

Where the game’s problems can be found are within its repetitive and dull missions. There are bunches of Strikes that you have to complete before you can invade a region and capture it in order to progress the story, and each one has you attacking an enemy base but with a small selection boring goals such as standing around while consoles get hacked or finding specific vehicles so that you can pass through scanners. The major story missions fair a bit better with a couple of fun set-piece moments – like leaping around skyscrapers as you make a tornado even larger so that you can dive into the middle of it – but again the objectives themselves are utterly boring, simply asking you to blow something up or defend something again and again. There’s a lifelessness to the design that almost makes me think the developers just didn’t care about the missions. With the way you can slingshot around the environment, the fun physics and the tether system there is so much scope for entertaining and unique missions that make use of them or that encourage the player to expiriment, and yet despite having the game’s strengths at their fingertips Avalanche opted for dreary, repetitive missions.

That isn’t to say the missions can’t be fun, because with all the tools at your disposal you can often pull off some daft stunts that spice the action up. It’s just such a shame that you so often get stuck in a little area defending something rather than tackling objectives that really let you play around with the mechanics.

Outside of the story missions and Strikes there are some side-missions scattered around the world that serve to earn you points which you can spend to unlock modifiers for your tethers. But once again there’s just such a lack of variety or interesting designs, so you spend your time wingsuiting through three wings or passing through a checkpoint at a certain speed or in a certain vehicle. It’s as boring as it sounds. Some of the bigger side missions at least offer up slightly more interesting context for what you’re doing but again rely on defending things or pressing buttons.

Progressing through the game has been complicated by a new system that initially looked really cool. Essentially you’ll earn new squads in your Army of Chaos and you can dispatch them to take over regions of the map, slowly expanding your control and thereby also earning some new goodies like a lightning gun, tanks and other stuff. When I first saw the map I thought it would be something like Risk where I would deploy squads to take locations or bolster my defences, but it’s not. All you do is send some squads and that’s it. There’s a bit of complication added in how some regions can’t be conquered unless a Takeover mission has been completed there, but that’s the whole thing and it feels…pointless, a weird complication that doesn’t do anything.

This is something of a minor complaint, but I want to raise it anyway because in some ways it’s a prime example of how weirdly designed Just Cause 4 can be; you see, smartly you can call up your Chaos Army chums and get them to make a near instant delivery of equipment or vehicles to your location via a massive cargo plane. Wicked stuff, right? It’s pretty cool to get a tank dropped off or just get a warship delivered on a whim. However, for some reason despite the size of the cargo plane and the containers it can drop you can only order up a single item at a time, even if you only ask for an assault rifle. That means if you want to get fully kitted out with two weapons and a vehicle you’ll need to faff around in the menus three times. I’m pretty sure a massive cargo plane is capable of dropping off a dirt bike, a gun and a rocket launcher at the same time.

Another complaint would be about the weather and how it gets used. Having an evil dictator capable of summoning up tornadoes and dust storms sounds epic on paper, and indeed the first time you run into a tornado slowly making its way across the map or hurtle through a lightning storm it’s pretty cool, but sadly the system never seems to get used as much as you would expect nor does it have a heap of impact even when it does turn up. Hurtling into a tornado just sees you bouncing off of it like it’s a solid object, while flying around it only throws you around a bit.

Just Cause 3 was a mess on consoles as it struggled to keep anything resembling a stable framerate, so this time around Avalanche have taken raw performance very seriously and I’m pleased to say that Just Cause 4 does much better. On the Xbox One X, the game managed to generally stick to 30FPS, though in some situations involving a lot of explosions it would drop a little. As it turns out all those explosions and physics do strain the game’s engine a tad, but this is still light years ahead of Just Cause 3.

However, the much-improved performance seems to have come at a pretty hefty cost to the graphics. The game can look outright ugly at times thanks to horrible jagged edges, poor facial models and animations, and an incredibly heavy-handed use of motion blur. When you’re just out cruising the world and wingsuiting around it all looks okay, but whenever you get into a cut screen it looks terrible. The various character’s faces are horrible, and facial hair is just a mess. But the worst thing is how there seems to be motion blur in the cutscenes, too, which results in things being completely blurred or appearing out of focus even when they’re barely moving.

There’s a number of bugs and glitches to be found, though I have to say I didn’t find anything game breaking. I encountered lots of cases of friendly NPCs failing to get in vehicles when the were supposed to, bits of scenery becoming stuck within cars, enemy A.I. just standing around, moments where the physics engine went bonkers and a whole host of other things that indicate a bit more polish is needed.

At times Just Cause 4 excels at being a playground for destruction, a welcome bit of silly entertainment that lets you ride on top of a car over the edge of a cliff before jumping off, opening your chute, pulling out a rocket launcher and raining down hell. If the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 are beautifully crafted plates of food put together by top chefs then Just Cause 4 is a juicy burger grabbed from a fast-food joint, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

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