“Born From Fire”
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: December 1, 2015
Just Cause 3 is unapologetic in every manner present. Avalanche Studios’ priorities are focused with their latest installment in the explosion-heavy series, allowing for Just Cause 3 to capitalize on the simplicities of creativity and chaos. It’s self-aware, uncompromising, and dedicated to deliver on a vision that forgoes realism to sanction the awe of a manic sandbox, and it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. At its best, Just Cause 3 feeds into the power fantasy of over-the-top destruction, offering a vast world full of structures and machinery to explode by the means of a world class arsenal. Yet, at its weakest, Just Cause 3 struggles to find the right balance with its desperate comedic script, alongside encompassing some of the more troubling technical caveats of this generation. Nonetheless, despite its somewhat invasive flaws, Just Cause 3 manages to deliver an explosively fueled romp that finds its strides in allowing freedom to steer the wheel. Experimentation pushed me to spend hours exploring the picturesque countryside of Medici, embracing the ridiculousness that ensued across the island nation’s expensive playground, constantly enticing me to return. Leading Just Cause 3 is Rico Rodriguez, your typical cliché action hero who’s shown up to save the day in the nick of time. Rodriguez is masterful in the art of combat and invaluable to the rebellion’s plans to overthrow the tyrannical reign of Sebastiano Di Ravello’s cruel dictatorship. It’s a homecoming for Rico, yet the scenic wonderment of Medici he was brought up in, has been stained from Di Ravello and his ruthless military. Much like its goals, Just Cause 3’s narrative is straightforward, focusing on the battle to liberate Medici from its villainess dictator. There’s not much to the cast of characters in terms of depth, and the frantic firefights are hardly elevated by story beats. But fortunately the storytelling typically avoids the briskly paced action. Stepping into the shoes of Rico Rodriguez is essentially equivalent to becoming a superhero, as his performance in battle is often godlike. Equipped with a versatile wingsuit, parachute, and grappling hook, traversing Medici is a breeze. The act of navigating the wide range of terrain from open farmland, to intimidating snowcapped mountains is an exhilarating experience, especially when testing the limits of Rico’s agility. A level of physical nuance is at play with Just Cause 3’s traversal system, for when everything comes together, all facets of gameplay complement each other nicely. Things can get hectic, and the learning curve is somewhat steep, yet with the right amount of practice, it wasn’t long before I was preforming death-defying stunts with precision.
Likewise, combat shares a similar learning curve, with equally rewarding results. It’s violent, yet leans heavily toward the realm of slapstick, as hostile encounters often end with creatively elaborate executions. Absurdity is at the forefront of Just Cause 3’s frantic battles, with plenty of room for hilarity to transpire thanks to the destruction-centric tools at Rico’s disposal. Whether on foot, in air, or speeding behind the wheel of a sports car, Rico’s equipped with the means to cause destruction at a moment’s notice. While the game can be played by simply blasting down enemy combatants with guns, the fun lies within the vast possibilities of experimentation. Just Cause 3’s most memorable moments are those of which stemmed from tinkering with the tethers and explosives in Rico’s personal armory. The “I can’t believe I just did that” factor is overflowing from the combat, keeping encounters exciting and varied, even when the motivation to continue begins to crumble around it. When looking at the big picture, the gameplay loop that keeps Just Cause 3 churning is somewhat wearisome. Capturing military bases and liberating oppressed towns for the umpteenth time grows dull and while gameplay remains solid, the inspiration to continue slowly, but surely, fades away.Scripted story missions competently move the plot forward, but the gameplay attached to many of them prove to be an issue. It’s here where Just Cause 3 diverges from its focus on open-world freedom, filling the gap with repetitive tasks ranging from tedious escort missions, to mundane investigative assignments. These sections bring the lively pace of Just Cause 3 to a halt, and their reoccurring nature is extremely frustrating. Perhaps, the most substantive annoyance is the game frequently gates your progression throughout the course of the campaign by locking away story missions until you’ve liberated a set amount of providences. The actual act of freeing towns and destroying heavily fortified bases is enjoyable, but when they’re dragged on longer than necessary, the routine loses its initial thrill. Glimpses of excellent mission design keep the campaign somewhat amusing, with a standout structure in particular, that sees both sides engaging in all out war during vital parts of the revolution. Here, freedom is at the forefront of the battle and Just Cause 3 provides plenty of recreational tools to toy around with.
In order to upgrade the capabilities and function of Rico’s personal ordnance depot, you’ll compete in various challenges that pop up once having liberated certain areas across the open-world. They’re broken up into separate categories which shelter what you would like to upgrade, so if looking to refine a vehicle, a myriad of races await. Shooting galleries, explosive-based objectives, and wingsuit dives are also available, each lending a unique spin to Rico’s effectiveness in the field. These challenges can be entertaining on their own, but they more importantly lead to the diverse upgrades that showcase a sense of flexible customization where the experience remains proficient throughout its duration.
Just Cause 3’s biggest hindrance is its technical shortcomings, ranging from distracting bugs, to incompetent AI, alongside disastrous frame rate drops and ridiculously long console load times. These rough edges aren’t pushed under the rug by the grand spectacle either, rather constantly manifest throughout the time spent within the sandbox. As the chaotic action chugs forward, inconveniences take their shot at derailing the experience. I came to expect civilians and cars to vanish on-screen, my parachute to close randomly, and unexplainably slamming into the ground while wingsuiting. These bugs aren’t substantial enough to get heated over on their own, but when combined with the choppy frame rate, prolonged loading times, and crashes, it’s troubling to say the least. Medici’s beauty and chaotic potential is undermined by the technical imperfection that fuels the adventure. Its affect on the actual enjoyment of the title became apparent when I found myself approaching situations with a level of caution that detracted from the spontaneous chaos Just Cause 3 excels at, in theory. Playing conservatively just isn’t the same as chaining together insane stunts and blowing up everything while still in the direct vicinity. After hours of submitting to the long load times and inconsistent frame rate, Just Cause 3 looses its charm of challenging death. Performance will certainly vary on a case-by-case basis, but for me, my journey was chalk full of disappointing disruptions. Conclusion: When everything is working in its favor, Just Cause 3 is an absolute blast. Unfortunately, such a consistent feat always seems ever so slightly out of reach. If it isn’t the severe technical issues acting up, its the repetitive nature of the tasks, or the distracting complexity of select story missions. Soaring over the pristine countryside of Medici is a joy, and the overall experience of Just Cause 3 is significantly better when the strings are left unattached. However, that’s not always the case, as much of the title’s best offerings lay locked behind challenges that quickly lose novelty and arbitrary tasks that gradually wear thin. These interruptions, inject turmoil into an experience that otherwise succeeds in fulfilling its goals. Its flaws due end up largely working against the final product, but when even making note of them, Just Cause 3’s confidence to expresses itself speaks louder than its faults. In the same breath, Avalanche Studios has created a game that is very similar to its competition, as well as one that’s fundamentally more self-assuring. There’s something of importance to be said for that, but despite its valiant efforts to convey such, Just Cause 3 isn’t quite the game to due so.
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