Not unlike the similarly vast open-world game Grand Theft Auto V, it took five years for Just Cause 3 to release after its predecessor with developer Avalanche Studios and publisher Square Enix back at the helm. Where GTA V offered a more dynamic story and a massive multiplayer suite however, Just Cause 3 unfortunately does neither and suffers for it.
Just Cause 2 saw a second wind of success and buzz post-release, its life extended from a dedicated community of fans who modded in multiplayer support for the game. This multiplayer mod was later endorsed by Avalanche and saw an official release on PC. Inexplicably, the developers opted not to include multiplayer in Just Cause 3, leaving the game’s massive 400 square miles of digital environment to be explored all by yourself.
Single-player games, especially open-world ones, do not necessarily need cooperative or competitive play, opting for storytelling and unique personal experiences to keep players invested, or even an in-depth progression system that hooks players in by rewarding them along the way, but Just Cause 3 doesn’t quite deliver on these fronts. That doesn’t mean there’s not fun to be had in taking series protagonist Rico Rodriguez back to his homeland of Medici though.
This fictional Mediterranean island needs Rico to help rebels overthrow the land’s over-the-top evil dictator General Di Ravello who aims to exploit the country’s most valuable resource, the explosive yet energy-friendly Bavarium, for nefarious purposes which means suiting up once again with his signature grappling hook and parachute, and trying on a new wingsuit. The core traversal mechanics of Just Cause 2 involving Rico’s permanent equipment are improved for the three-quel, with the new wingsuit added to give the player immense speed and new options when traversing the lands or attacking from above. Most vehicles are entirely obsolete compared to Rico on his own, equipped with a few explosive weapons.
Rico Rodriguez’s abilities and tools make him a combination of Spider-Man and Superman, who’s not afraid to use the weapons of The Punisher. He’s a superhero and he’s going to save Medici… by nearly destroying it. That’s really where Just Cause 3 shines. Its massive world allows for wallpaper worthy sight lines across the landscapes when playing on PC with a powerful rig but the game has trouble delivering that with top performance on the consoles. When the frame rate is where it should be, Just Cause 3 is a gorgeous explosion of explosions all caused by you.
The best elements of the movement mechanics and combining death-defying stunts with vehicles, environment objects and weapon use of the last game come back in a big and better way in Just Cause 3 allowing creative players to execute some amazing feats while taking out enemy settlements. And that’s what you’ll be doing for most of the game.
Just Cause 3 is built around a similar geographic progression system found in most Ubisoft open-world games which forces exploration of the vast map. Most missions come with requirements that must be met before they become accessible, oftentimes asking the player to liberate a minimum amount of provinces within each of the game’s larger regions. To do so, players must locate and “liberate” (read: blow up) all of the enemy controlled settlements within a given province in order to make it blue instead of red on the game’s large map. These settlements are comprised of villages and towns, larger military bases, oil rigs, or small military outposts and some of them unlock vehicles that can be called in as a supply drop.
Players are free to attack these locations in any way they see fit, from any direction, and using anything the game has to offer, even turning enemy weapons against themselves by hijacking them on the fly. Mastering the controls and zipping around a base, grabbing vehicles mid-air or by landing on their roof and blowing stuff up along the way, is not only great fun, but it’s a very unique type of fun to this franchise. Rico’s improved grappling hook even allows players to connect other things, people and vehicles included, to one another by tethering them. See an armored solider while taking too much gunfire? Quickly attach him to another enemy and have them slam into another. Need to knock over a statute? Attached it to a building and pull it down, or better yet, pick up something even bigger and slam it into said statute.
There are no consequences to killing innocents and firing rockets at non-military buildings outside of losing explosive ammunition which Rico can annoyingly only carry a little of. These civilian structures are typically indestructible compared to military structures (marked in red) and smaller objects but the goal of Rico and his rebels is to create chaos. There’s even a Chaos Meter which tracks how devastating Rico is and a minimum amount of havoc must ensue before taking over the police station in each village.
While the broad strokes of gameplay can be immensely exciting, it gets old and the nitty gritty details and mechanics found in other third-person games are absent. There’s no way to sprint so you’re forced to grapple your way everywhere. There’s no cover system, no way to crouch or go prone, and aiming guns is not very smooth at times. Don’t even try driving a car unless you must for a mission.
In that respect, Just Cause 3 can be a chore to play, especially after a few hours. Players looking for simply more Just Cause 2 will get just that in spades, but the progression systems of Just Cause 3 – not just mission unlocks and liberation element – but the character progression as well are built around repetition. Instead of currencies or experience, players unlock new abilities for Rico and the vehicle types by completing challenges – the obligatory trope of most open-world games. These involving racing vehicles or blowing up stuff with time limits. There are a lot of these and they’ll take a few tries each to fully complete. That means the only way to “level up” the main character is to repeat the least fun elements of game. The system almost discourages players from seeing everything Rico can really do.
Most settlements are the same, the only thing differentiating them is the difficulty and weapons of the enemies as players get further into the game, so players are forced to take out the same sorts of structures in similar looking locations over and over again to get to the next mission. Some of the missions are repetitive as well, made worse by some corny writing and a goofy forgettable story. A lot of the game feels like filler to justify its massive size, even the interesting ruins scattered around the map are empty and pointless.
Just Cause 3 favors repetition over depth. There’s nothing really new or inspired in Just Cause 3 outside of its likable protagonist whose one-liners and charming bravado actually works and what players can do with him in any given sandbox. The game is at its best when players are equipped with destructive weapons and free to zoom across the landscape, using the wingsuit, parachute, and grappling hook to never touch the ground, while destroying anything colored red below. Unfortunately that gets old and the story may not be enough to draw players through repeatedly liberating territories to see it through to the end. But still, there’s value in the sheer size of the game and the appealing aspect of jumping into Medici every once in a while to blow stuff up. It gets that part right.
Just Cause 3 is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.