Winds of Change?
It kind of feels like I’ve come full circle. One of the first reviews I did for NGB, way back in the halcyon days of December 2015, before all the the Trump and Brexit nonsense that defines our present, was for Just Cause 3. I gave the game a solid 7/10, praising the world, action and script but knocking off marks for some genuinely shocking performance issues. So, here we are, three years on and I’ve been playing that games follow up, the inventively titled Just Cause 4 – honestly, I can’t help but feel a case of deja-vu…
Once again we’re in the presence of lovable rogue, Rico Rodriguez, this time no longer affiliated with The Agency after their betrayal on Medici (oh no! Spoilers for a three year old game!). He’s traveled to the island of Solis to investigate the work his late father had been doing for private army and series main baddies, The Black Hand. Within minutes of stepping foot on Solis, Rico’s aiding an uprising and putting together an army to help take down the nefarious Gabriela Morales. As you do.
If the Just Cause series best analogue is 80s action movies, Just Cause 4 feels very much like in keeping with that trend. Think about the amount of series where, several sequels in, the story is thinned out because the viewers just want to get to the explosions quicker, the budget seems to be that little bit lower but, hey, we got Charles Bronson back so let’s just throw him in there and see what happens. That’s Just Cause 4. There’s a definite feeling of streamlinedness (not a word but, whatever) to the game. Rico’s main focus is the Illapa project, a weather manipulating station at the center of Solis which is creating freak storms on the island. To take this down he has to take control of three substations which control electric storms, sandstorms and tornado’s, respectively. Cue a series of missions which sees Rico advancing his troops across the island, doing various tasks and taking over the different regions of Solis to ultimately pull off daring, weather fueled heists.
I love this aspect of Just Cause 4 – in a year which has had quite a few high profile releases with open worlds of varying size, from the focussed interconnectedness (actually a word!) of God of War, to the “Oh my days, what do I do NOW?!” of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead 2, having a big playground with a very clearly laid out path is refreshing. Sure, you can do racing or time attack side quests, hunt down idols or work with a filmmaker to do stunts, but you always know the main route through the story. The key missions are Region Strikes which task you with invading bases, rescuing hostages or guarding convoys. Complete these and the region becomes vulnerable, allowing you to advance your troops into it. This both thins out the enemy presence and makes the bigger story focussed missions available. These are generally big set pieces which push Rico further towards his goal at Illapa, and come with the usual pithily scripted cutscenes bookending the derring do.
And what derring do it is! As with JC3, Rico gets his toys within the first hour, comprising of parachute, wingsuit and grapple. The parachute and wingsuit are as responsive as ever and anyone used to traversing the terrain using them will drop back into pace in no time. The grapple, however, has had a slight tweak this time round with the ability to add a series of mods to create custom loadouts. These allow you to toggle the strength of the cable retraction, add explosives which can be remotely detonated or, in a leaf from the Solid Snake playbook, deploy balloons on your targets.I kid you not – there is nothing more fun than tethering a group of enemies to a truck with balloons and watching them float off into the sunset. I’ve wasted countless hours in built up areas, just seeing what will float and playing with the different grapple loadouts. I don’t always find them 100% practical in combat situations but goodness me – they are fun! There’s a bunch of optional side missions that you can do to upgrade and enhance these grapple mods even further for maximum chaos!
The big weather driven set pieces are also incredibly fun. Unfortunately the draw of the game, the storms and tornadoes, don’t occur as randomly as initial trailers suggested but when they do happen they really ramp up the action considerably. Gliding around an enemy compound in a lightning storm is intense, especially when there’s the added danger of being struck by the zappy stuff, and the mission where Rico literally drops into the heart of a tornado? Hoo boy! The weather is fantastic and adds another layer of fun to the game.
Fun is pretty much what Just Cause does best – it doesn’t take itself too seriously and wants you to simply enjoy yourself and, for the most part, I have done. It’s a damn shame, then, that there are once again some aspects that take the sheen off the package. I’ve been playing Just Cause 4 on a standard PS4 and… well, it’s not a pretty experience. My biggest criticism of the last game was the massive load times and crippling frame drops in busy times. Well, developers Avalanche seem to have got around that by implementing a degree of visual scaling across the different systems, with the baseline PS4 and XBox One seeing the most severe visual throttling. Resolutions are drastically reduced, texture quality becomes muddy and anti-aliasing is pretty much non-existent. Sure, the game runs at a decent clip and load times are incredibly short, but the cost to visual fidelity ends up making it look like you’re playing a PS3 era game which… well, it can really suck the fun out of the experience some times. Add to that a lesser focus on chaos and destruction than the previous game, again likely designed to keep those frame rates manageable, and you get an experience that somehow feels slightly reduced.
Which is a real shame! Just Cause 4 wants to be a big dumb action movie and, for the most part it succeeds very well, but instead of being the big budget bold film, we get the somewhat reduced direct to video sequel. It’s fine – it’s still a lot of fun but it doesn’t quite feel up to the level of what’s come before, yet it’s not entirely disappointing for fans of the series. Perhaps it’s the need to support the lower end machines, but I wonder if we’ll next see Rico on the next gen systems with a blistering comeback.