As someone pretty unfamiliar with the Just Cause franchise, I walked into Just Cause 3 with just one expectation: explosions. Lots and lots of explosions. A game created as if Michael Bay created Grand Theft Auto with Die Hard’s John McClane as its lead. And sure enough, at its best, the game’s mayhem delivers the feeling of a testosterone-fueled, off-the-wall blockbuster movie. Unfortunately, it also comes with a host of technical glitches, excessive loading times, frame rate drops, and other issues that bring down the whole experience, even after patching.
It’s difficult to say these issues are enough make Just Cause 3 hard to recommend, but it’s a shame that a game this thrilling has to come with a warning label.
Just Cause 3 tells the tale of Rico Rodriguez, a revolutionary looking to tear down the regime of General Di Ravello in his home country of Medici. Di Ravello rules the island with a Machivellian fist, rising to power through infiltration and manipulation, then using propaganda and military might to keep everyone in check. Rico’s answer to Di Ravello’s rule: blow it all up. Working with his childhood best friend, Mario Frigo, and a host of other characters involved in the local militia, Rico uses a gigantic arsenal of firepower combined with James Bond-esque gadgetry to bring the noise at every possible moment…and it’s a blast to do so.
Just Cause 3 employs an open-world sandbox approach like Grand Theft Auto or Far Cry, giving you the option to explore the world at your own pace. No matter where you are in the game, there are plenty of ways to travel: hijacking cars, boats, and planes, combined with Rico’s parachute, wingsuit, and grappling hook. Chaining these tools together allows for travel across the game’s large map not only efficiently, but also in a way that just…feels cool. The “cool” feeling extends into the games missions, too: taking over outposts and reclaiming towns usually involves a combination of various types of mayhem: blowing up statues, breaking people out of prisons, and taking out tons of enemy infantry and vehicles.
Once an area is reclaimed, it opens up a host of challenge missions: races, explosions fests, and other tasks to unlock upgrades for your vehicles and weaponry. It’s reckless action, and Rico’s friend, Mario justifies all the destruction early on in the game by saying, “We’ll rebuild it!” That said, this game isn’t really about thought, and it doesn’t spend much time trying to force contemplation of morality or war. That’s not to say that Just Cause 3 doesn’t score some intellectual points along the way.
The story that Just Cause 3 does bring to the table generally focuses on person-to-person interaction, and for a game meant to feel like a big-budget action film, the game’s characters feel personable and interesting. Rico, full of one-liners and Bond-like suaveness, shares a friendship with Mario unlike those seen in most games between partners-in-crime; it’s a combination of “buddy cop” and brotherhood that’s both heartwarming and hilarious. Just Cause 3 also features a variety of characters with varying backgrounds and personalities: the “Q” of the game, Dimah, is an Egyptian Arab with a scientist-like directness, Mario Frigo brings a distinctly Italian-esque flavor to his comedy, and even Tom Sheldon, a stereotype of modern cowboy Americana, manages to feel like a fleshed character from time to time even as he fills the role of Team America: Manipulative World Police.
As in Grand Theft Auto V, the cast’s diversity of backgrounds and experiences enriches the game world and its story. But a game’s story and characters can be washed away by poor experiences in the game itself, and Just Cause 3’s hiccups in functionality hold back its overall potential.
As much as I love pieces of this game, the loading times, online instability, and frame rate drops can turn an adrenaline-packed explosion fest into an exercise in frustration. Yes, Just Cause 3 is a gigantic world with tons of loading-free free roam exploration, but that comes at the expense of a massive initial front load and significant loading times between missions. The front load can be so lengthy that I’ve actually quit outright and moved on to other titles simply because I lost the drive to explore Medici, and this gets particularly bad when the online connectivity is unstable.
Just Cause 3’s online functionality uploads all of your statistics to leaderboards, ranking you with your friends in everything imaginable ranging from most kills with a single clip and number of headshots in a row to greatest altitude gained in a single parachute deployment and longest wingsuit flight. It’s great for the competitive folks out there, but when the connection to the network is unstable (or drops entirely) it searches to reconnect every time you open the pause menu or map, again putting a large, unwelcome pause in the action. There’s no way to have the game stay in offline mode either, meaning that even those who don’t care about competing with their friends have to suffer through endless reconnection attempts.
And though it’s hard to expect a consistent frame rate experience with a game that features so much sporadic chaos, it sucks the wind out of the sails when you’re parachuting away from an exploding power generator, helicopters chasing you in the background, and all of a sudden you’re bombarded with screen hitching. It’s never quite bad enough to make me not recommend staying away, but the combination of issues are bad enough that even people who generally forgive technical errors like myself can’t help but feel a bit turned-off by the experience.
Just Cause 3 is a paradox for me as a reviewer; I love the game when it’s working, and I hate it when it’s not. Part of me feels like it’s rushed and unfinished; even the loading screens look like they were captured from a PC stuck with 800×600 resolution from back in the early 2000s, and I just don’t understand how those could have made it into a final product for current-gen systems. That said, the majority of the time I spent playing was fun, light-hearted, and exciting, carrying a humor and free-spirited nature you don’t see in darker sandboxes like The Witcher 3 or Far Cry 4. As is, Just Cause 3 is difficult to recommend in its current state, but with continued patching could become an easy buy for those looking for a madcap, destructible world to stage a revolution in.