As a fan of ’80s action flicks who saw actually some of them in theaters, I’ve always appreciated what Avalanche Studios have tried to do in their over-the-top, action-packed Just Cause games, even when I haven’t liked them. But while it has some new wrinkles and some old problems, Just Cause 3 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) still manages to be as much fun as a flick from when Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, and Bruce Willis weren’t too old for this shit.
Set years after Just Cause 2, Just Cause 3 has our hero Rico Rodriguez returning to his homeland of Medici, a group of Mediterranean islands that have been taken over by a dictator named General Di Ravello. So, of course, Rico joins the local rebels in an attempt to stop Di Ravello from ruining this once great nation.
In many ways, Just Cause 3 replicates the third-person, open world action of its predecessors, just with a new coat of paint and a whole new set of missions. You’re still running around an open world, running errands for your friends, while undermining the local authorities. Most of which involves shooting members of the Di Ravello’s militia and destroying such tools of his government as billboards and speaker systems that broadcast the dictator’s speeches.
While this makes Just Cause 3 sound like a cross between Grand Theft Auto V, Saints Row IV, and Far Cry 4, this series distinguishes itself by giving Rico a grappling hook. Not only does this helps him get around like the Dark Knight in Batman: Arkham Knight, but he can also use in some physics-ly interesting ways. For instance, he can attach one end to a building, the other to a red barrel of gasoline, and with a press of the button, send the gas can flying into the building. Though it helps that there are a lot of explosives lying around, as well as buildings that aren’t up to code.
Rico can also use his grappling hook to pull himself towards an enemy, fist-first, or to fling himself towards a car or helicopter, which he can then jack for his own use. He can even, if he times it right, use it in conjunction with his fast-deploying parachute or his new wingsuit, the latter of which basically turns him into a flying squirrel. Though when all else fails, you can also use the new Rebel Drop system, which lets you ask for care packages full of guns, cars, even helicopters. This is especially handy when you have to get to the other side of the country and there’s no vehicles around for you to steal.
While you have a lot of options when it comes to getting around, it’s what you do when you arrive that makes Just Cause 3 so engaging. Especially when you have to liberate a town or other installation, which you do by taking out the local militia, destroying statues of Di Ravello and other signs of his regime, and ultimately raising the flag of rebellion. Though it does help that while structures in Just Cause 3 are easily destroyed, Rico is rather bullet-proof. And explosion proof. And drop proof. In fact, you might say he’s Hard To Kill…if that movie hadn’t came out in 1990.
Helping you cause all this mayhem are Just Cause 3‘s mostly spot-on controls. When driving, this feels like a great arcade racer; when flying, you feel a little clumsy, but it still works like you’d expect; and when runnin’ and gunnin’, well, okay this is where the trouble starts.
For the most part, the shooting controls in Just Cause 3 are what you’d expect if you’ve played a lot of third-person shooters. Except that it doesn’t let you pull the left trigger to use iron sights. Instead, you have to hold down the right thumbstick, and even then only after you unlock this ability. Which is kind of dumb because the left trigger is instead used to retract your grapple line, which would’ve been as easily mapped to the right thumbstick.
Not having intuitive iron sights is especially problematic in Just Cause 3 because the red target reticule that identifies your enemies is really thin and thus hard to distinguish from a distance. Sure, the game’s slight aim-assist does compensate a little, except that it’s turned off if you use the iron sights ability. As a result, it’s sometimes hard to figure out who’s on your side and who isn’t, especially from a distance, unless they’re marked as targets by your mission objective.
This is not the only problem with the controls in Just Cause 3. As I said, you pull the right trigger to shoot when you’re on the ground. When in a helicopter, though, you pull the right trigger to go up, the left to go down, and use the bumper buttons to shoot the helicopter’s guns. Which, again, is an odd choice when you consider that it would be just as easy to use the right bumper to go up, the left bumper to go down, and the right trigger to shoot. And yes, it is one of those things you’ll get used to after a bit. But it’s also one of those things you should’ve have to get used to.
Just Cause 3 seems to have a bunch of these inexplicable failings. For instance, if you fail a mission, and try again, it won’t restart things as they were before. Case in point: As revenge for my misdeeds, General Di Ravello orders three tanks to destroy a village. So I flew an attack helicopter to the town, landed to begin the mission, got back in it after it started, but was shot down after destroying only one of the tanks. But when the game reloaded from the last checkpoint, and I was back standing on top of a nearby mountain where the mission begins, I found that the attack helicopter I’d flown to the mission area and had parked nearby was gone, even though all three tanks were intact.
It also doesn’t help that the load times in Just Cause 3 are really, really, really long. Or that the icon that indicates there’s a gun or some ammo are on the ground for you to pick up is shaped like a grenade, which will make most shooter fans avoid the area for fearing of being blown up by a grenade. And someone might want to explain to Rico that it’s actually counterproductive for him to destroy Medici’s infrastructure; though he’ll probably figure that out for himself after he tries to drive across a bridge he blew up in the previous mission.
Just Case 3 also has a system not unlike the Autolog of Need For Speed that connects you to other players and lets you know when they’ve done better than you at specific missions or skills. What’s annoying is that you can’t turn these messages off. If I wanted a constant reminder how much I suck at something, I’d live with my mother. And ask her to be a jerk.
The thing is, while Just Cause 3 is deeply flawed — and, in most cases, stupidly so — it still manages to be a lot of fun. Sure, it’s not as deep as a Grand Theft Auto, nor as funny as a latter Saints Row game, and it isn’t even as fun as Far Cry 3 or 4. But when you get into a fire fight, or are running amok in some town, the game achieves a level of fun but frantic mayhem that’s just delightful…even if you’re not a fan of over-the-top ’80s action flicks.