Developer: Avalanche Studios
Platforms: PC (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Just Cause 3 is (obviously) the sequel to the critically-acclaimed Just Cause 2. A series about guns, cars, explosions, and everything in-between. That’s the goal: cause as much chaos as you can by blowing up as much stuff as you can.
Pretty simple premise, and given the right toys in the sandbox, endlessly entertaining.
Well, at least Just Cause 2 was.
I’m sure you’ve all heard news of the new game’s… uneven performance. This is yet another one of those titles where I just don’t see it. The framerate is mostly smooth on all but the highest settings. I had to turn down the anti-aliasing and shadows, but other than that, it’s nice and smooth. That said, all is not well in PC Master Race land. Even with the most recent “Game Ready” driver from Nvidia, there is still a huge amount of shadow flickering. Other than that, graphically, it’s impressive. Up close at least. The Level of Detail, even at the maximum quality setting, only radiates a very small distance from the character. When using the parachute, it becomes increasingly obvious when plantlife is a model directly under you, but looking any further away from you shows it rendered as a flat texture. This is more easily shown than told. See the below screenshot:
You’ll notice that objects closer to the camera are rendered in much better detail the closer they are. My problem is that past about 3 paces, the quality falls off a cliff, and it looks like a PlayStation 3 launch title. Then there’s numerous other bugs that I’d expect from a Bethesda game, like quests not triggering when you approach the quest-giver, or people cleaning their car doors while floating above the roof:
I’ve also had the button prompts switch to keyboard/mouse prompts and back to controller prompts when the controller goes idle for even the smallest lengths of time. This is over the course of no longer than 5 seconds.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the sandbox itself. It’s huge. I don’t even have words to describe the size of this game. If I zoom all the way out, I can’t even see every landmass.
See that part marked Scirocco Nord? I took a boat from there to the white dot on the island to the far left. It took me 30 minutes. It was so long that I had a few Cast Away moments. I named the damn life preservers on the boat, for god’s sake. We had conversations about politics. And then I accidentally grounded the boat. The island was empty. Nothing there. Just some unused roads and empty buildings. Disappointed, I fast-traveled to the nearest place I remembered a helicopter being at, and rode it all the way to the top of the skybox. Consider me impressed:
I don’t know exactly how high that is, but it took a while for me to get close enough to the ground that I panicked and hit the chute. While the dimensions of this sandbox are, for lack of a better word, dizzying, there’s… not much here to speak of. It reeks of the clone brush. While Just Cause 2 had the enormous mountain range in the middle to gaze at with wonder, and the Mile High Club just to the north-east to wonder exactly what the fuck that was until you could crash a plane into it to find out, Just Cause 3 has nothing like that. It feels kinda lifeless. The populations of the towns you’ll run into numbers roughly in the 20s at best. Hell, even the authorities are low in number even at the highest heat levels. You’ll get maybe two jeeps with 4 soldiers each, a helicopter, and if you’re lucky, a tank.
The exception to this is military bases, where you will get swarmed with unmanageable amounts of troops. Which is where the problems begin. You’ll die trying to take some of these bases. Often. But it doesn’t matter, because you’ll respawn at the door with heat at 0, everything that you destroyed as it was when you died, any SAM batteries hacked are still hacked to shoot at their helicopters, and a full compliment of ammo. Die enough times, and the base will eventually be yours. The criteria for taking a base or city is to destroy all of the red “Chaos Objects” and then raise the flag. As soon as you do this, all heat disappears, all enemy soldiers disappear, and it’s smooth sailing onto your next stop… provided you can find all of these damn things. All you get is a little icon on the top-left of the screen to tell you what objects are in the area for you to destroy, with a progress bar that leaves numbers a little vague. These are not terribly helpful. I ran around the map wondering what the hell the last icon was… turns out it’s a billboard. Take a look at these icons, tell me if you can figure ’em out.
The HUD is full of these puzzling design choices. The health meter from the last game is gone, so now you have no idea of how close to death you really are until you actually do buy the farm, and even when you do, you’ll have no idea until the loading screen comes up. What I’m trying to say is that the HUD is useless. No mini-map, no health bar, no compass, nothing. But hey! It tells you the name of the sub-region you’re in! Granted it’s in tiny print at the upper-left, but it tells you something, at least! It’s just… not all that useful.
Weapon zoom is now gone for all non-sniper weapons, which gives all gunplay a feeling of vagueness. Since zoom is gone, you have to pray the auto-aim works for you. Luckily, this works to the Steam Controller’s advantage (Yes, I tried it) since precision is impossible anyway. Speaking of impossible precision, the vehicles are also more difficult to handle in comparison to their Just Cause 2 counterparts. The handbrake, especially. It’s weird. It’s almost like an automatic drift button instead of a proper handbrake. The difficulty to control is magnified with the boats because the waves, while pretty, will toss you around and make staying on course a tedious affair on par with the settlement liberations. From the amount of time I’ve spent in the game, I have to conclude that most vehicles in Just Cause 3 were made using paper mache and my shattered dreams. They smoke and explode at the slightest provocation, no matter who is in the driver’s seat. Sprint is also conspicuously absent, requiring greater reliance on other modes of travel like the parachute, grapple hook, and the new wingsuit.
Yes, liberating settlements is tedious. It gets very old very fast. After I had done it for 10 hours, I had a really hard time picking the game back up. It felt like busywork. The fact that missions are locked behind “Liberate X number of settlements” requirements does not help matters.
I’d clear 3 or 4 missions, get a good pace going… and then it’d wall off the rest of the missions until I had gone and liberated the entire province. You’ve seen how huge those maps are. Liberating a province takes forever. There’s usually somewhere between 4-6 towns and a couple of military bases in one province. Depending on how easily sidetracked you are by collectibles and sidequests, this can take hours. See the screenshot below for an idea of how big provinces can be.
Challenges have returned, and remind me a lot of Superman 64. Yep, rings. Everywhere. Drive through them, fly through them, whatever it may be. There’s also “rampage” challenges, which ask you to destroy X number of points worth of items within a set time limit. These can be done on foot, in a helicopter, etc. Problem is, the area they put you in is always empty. There’s just enough objects to get the score they’re looking for and no more. No enemy soldiers or any kind of resistance. Just blow this stuff up in the time limit. It gets boring quickly.
What’s new with the game, you ask? Very little. A global-ish leaderboard system has been added, a feature that requires an always-on connection. A wingsuit is given to you in the first hour or so, and you can pull things together by attaching a tether. How many of these things are useful or nice-to-have? None. The leaderboard bombards you with notifications that someone beat your score in something you didn’t even know you had a score in every time you boot up the game, with no way to turn this behavior off.
While I’m on the subject of things that happen every time I boot the game… I’m forced to watch the same video of Rico sitting on a beach chair watching some nondescript object burn in the distance. This is not skippable in any way, I assume to hide a loading screen, which I’d rather see. At least they change. Each time I resume my save, I’m forced to listen to the last radio communication I had in its entirety, something that drives me crazy when I approach the game in short bursts without being able to advance the story due to the time-consuming requirements. The wingsuit is somehow worse than useless, and is only useful to get to the ground faster than free-fall. There is no way to safely land in the wingsuit, no matter how much you slow down. You will always take near-fatal damage and ragdoll when using it unless you pop the chute before hitting the ground, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a faster aerial travel method. The tether pulling feature adds nothing of value, as it takes longer to set up than explosives, which are infinite.
All in all, Just Cause 3 is a huge step backwards for the series, adding several pointless gimmicks while removing legitimately useful features. It expands the sandbox, but removes all life from it at the same time. Given how lifeless Just Cause 2 was, it feels lively in comparison to Just Cause 3. If you ever wanted to know how to make a game about guns, cars, and explosions boring, look no further. Avalanche Studios have managed to achieve something I once thought impossible: remove the joy from blowing shit up. They have somehow made wanton destruction feel routine, like my morning commute. Unless you need a game to last you several months or more, I cannot recommend Just Cause 3 over its predecessor. There’s a metric ton of stuff to do, but zero variety.
This game was run on the following machine:
RAM: 8GB DDR3
GPU: Geforce GTX 980
I used an Xbox 360 controller and Steam Controller to play as well.