A fun, explosive playground.
Rico Rodriguez, the star action hero of the Just Cause series, is the king of explosions... causing them, surviving them and looking cool while walking away from them. In fact, he should probably change his name to Rico Explosion. In Just Cause 3 Rico returns to his childhood home of Medici, and throughout his journey to liberate the island from a tyrannical dictator, he can use a variety of tools and abilities to obliterate the infrastructure of the oppressive government and bring freedom to his fellow natives.
The island is as beautiful as it is massive, stretching from sunlit coastline to inhospitable mountain peaks. Medici is not short of variety or colour and you'll have plenty of time to appreciate the vistas as you travel between missions and challenges. Developers Avalanche Studios have provided a bevy of options for traversing the stunning landscape: cars, planes and boats are in plentiful supply, but none are as fun as utilizing Rico's own equipment. The grappling hook, wing suit and parachute combine to give Rico a great range of movement whether travelling at speed or during combat. The grappling hook can be attached to anything in the world, allowing Rico to speed towards it before opening his parachute for height or his wing suit if the opportunity to glide presents itself. Using all three abilities in harmony takes time to master. For the first few hours, I was grappling myself into the floor more often than not, but it's worth persevering for the increased freedom and control.
It's not all sightseeing though. Rico has a job to do. Medici is full of towns to liberate and government buildings to destroy and destroying them can be as fun or as dull as you want it to be. You could walk into a town, throw a few grenades, shoot a few guys, maybe even blow up a barrel, and you'll save the town. Then again, you could parachute in, land on a roof, tether a car to the barracks fuel tanks, retract that tether, let the resulting explosion destroy the occupying forces, and then save the town. Just Cause 3 gives you a range of tools to complete your objectives and it's up to you how you use them. Stick to the same tactics, and weapons and boredom will set in quick. It's better to approach each challenge differently and creatively, or just bring a fighter jet.
Rico's arsenal is full of hugely powerful weapons, including hydra launchers -- capable of firing multiple missiles at once -- propulsion mines, which can launch their target in any direction before exploding -- even nuclear bombs can be used, but it's the grapple hook that has the most potential for creative destruction. Just like traversal Rico's trusty hook can be attached to any surface. The other end can then be attached to something else, and at the push of a button, pull those objects together. Helicopters are a real nuisance until you tether them to a building, or is there one soldier giving you a hard time? Tether him to a moving car, or another soldier, or... anything! Things get even crazier when you gain the ability to attach more than one grappling hook. My favourite game is putting a few soldiers on my helicopters blades and watching them spin round, like a human windmill. Am I sick?
As well as the missions and liberations, Rico can partake in several challenges that test his ability to glide, drive and, of course, blow things up. The challenges are a fun diversion... the wing suit and destruction challenges being particular standouts. The former highlights interesting routes through Medici's landscape and the latter either gives you free reign with an awesome weapon or vehicle, or asks you to use less obvious equipment in creative ways to maximize your score. As fun as the challenges are, they highlight Just Cause 3's biggest problem: the load times. Completing a challenge gives a star rating out of 5. These stars are used to unlock useful new abilities and upgrades for your equipment, and getting the top rating can be very difficult. Some of the wing suit challenges took me many, many attempts to complete. That's fine, of course. What isn't fine is the up-to-90-second load times as the game restarts the challenge. The extremely long loads often drove me away from the trickier challenges because I wasn't willing to wait. The load times are the same if Rico dies. Thankfully he is incredibly durable, so death was rare.
Despite the large amount of content populating the game's enormous map, a lot of it feels very similar. Despite the amount of options you have to tackle your objectives, each town or factory feels like the last, and the story missions don't do enough to break up the tedium, often tasking you to do the very things you have been doing in the overworld anyway. It is a game that relies heavily on the player's willingness to simply mess around with its world and mechanics.
There's a story binding Just Cause 3's various missions together which is enjoyable in so much as it doesn't get in the way of the outrageous action. It doesn't take itself too seriously for the most part either, with several tongue-in-cheek jokes and over-the-top characters. When the story does try at poignancy it tends to fall flat thanks largely to how silly the action is; a scene showing the games villain's callous disregard for his denizens can only be taken so seriously when I was shooting gas canisters tied to soldiers and watching them fly off moments before.
In its best moments, Just Cause 3 is a hilarious, destructible playground that throws away the laws of physics in favour of player-gratifying stunts and explosions. These high points are marred somewhat by repetition and exorbitant load times, but if you are creative and willing to experiment, then Medici is where your wildest, most destructive dreams can come true.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One with a digital copy provided by Square Enix.
Images courtesy of Square Enix and Avalanche Studios.