Just Cause 4 Hands-On Preview: An Attempt At The Definitive Sandbox Game

Avalanche Studios and Square Enix's Just Cause 4 takes the acclaimed open world video game franchise to new heights - quite literally in some cases - thanks to a new version of the Apex engine. While the developers have promised a lot with this new installment, it remains to be seen if Just Cause 4 can truly deliver on everything that fans want from the sequel. However, based on our recent hands-on preview, Just Cause 4 surely seems like it will be a crowd-pleaser, though only for its sandbox element.

Even though Just Cause 4 had gone gold by the time our preview event rolled around this week, we were, unfortunately, provided with an early version of the game that still had some questionable glitches and subpar animations for a title that's on the verge of hitting store shelves. We didn't experience any game-breaking glitches, but seemingly minor things like stealing a car or grappling onto parts of the environment took some trial-and-error. However, the overall build of the game was quite solid.

Related: Just Cause 4 Won’t Include Multiplayer - At Least Not Yet

We played Just Cause 4 in two different parts of the game: the first part was a little after the beginning, in which Rico is tasked with supplying his newfound rebellion with weapons and ammunition to fight back against the Black Hand. Then, the second part of our Just Cause 4 demo took place a bit later in the game, when the map had opened up and Rico had unlocked even more abilities for his grapple hook. From there, we were free to explore the open world and visit each and every biome, though it's not recommended entering areas that haven't been unlocked (or conquered from the Black Hand) since Rico will be significantly underpowered and can die. (There are four biomes in Just Cause 4, each with their own extreme weather: the grasslands have tornadoes, the rainforest has thunderstorms, the desert has sandstorms, and the alpine has blizzards.)

Our demo didn't dive into Rico's story too much, so it's unclear how narrative-driven Just Cause 4 is - which brings Rico to Solis, in South America, which has been described as the Black Hand's home turf - but it appears that the focus for this new installment is on the playground aspect, given the four biomes in the game. With the ability to physicalize anything in Just Cause 4, players can easily spend several hours just playing with the grapple hook and all of its abilities, in order to wreak as much havoc as possible on the open world, which happens to be the largest map Avalanche Studios has ever built (1,204 square kilometers).

And considering practically everything in the game is destructible, that will only heighten the fun factor. (Several people at the Just Cause 4 preview event spent a lot of time simply trying to launch themselves in the air using the wind cannon and flying a plane into one of the extreme weather storms.) It's all about doing whatever you want in the open world, which will undoubtedly be heavily influenced by the new extreme weather mechanic. It's worth noting that Just Cause 4's extreme weather isn't activated or triggered but rather something that is constantly a part of the world. That way, a tornado can drastically affect the outcome of one of Rico's missions. From that perspective, it seems that the next chapter in Rico's story is more of a byproduct of that element rather than a complementary factor.

That's not to say that the Just Cause 4 story isn't good or that it isn't prominent, because it certainly is, at least from what was shown to us. But given the spotlight on the grapple hook, the extreme weather, and the borderline wargame strategy aspect that players have to go through, it's clear that this single-player game isn't about the actual narrative. Just Cause 4's story may be great, and it may be a significant factor in having players progress through the game, but in reality, it's more of an impetus for the game's campaign rather than its heart. Once players get passed a certain point, and once they unlock more than the first few grapple hook abilities, then they may never feel the need to continue the story. In some ways, Just Cause 4 is more like a triple-A sandbox test arena for destructibility and honing in on game physics than anything else, really.

Bottom line: Just Cause 4 is fun. It's not groundbreaking and it may not satisfy everyone, especially fans who were perhaps irked by some of the decisions that went into developing Just Cause 3, but this sequel takes everything that makes the Just Cause franchise what it is and enhances the fun factor with the extreme weather system. It's, by and large, an attempt at making the definitive sandbox game. In that regard, Just Cause 4 is virtually limitless in potential, but that notion doesn't extend to other parts of the game, unfortunately.

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