The franchise behind some of gamings best explosions returns with even more capacity for destruction – but does that make it a good game?
Déjà vu is a very common problem in the video games industry, but the feeling of having been somewhere before has a unique twist when it comes to Just Cause 4. When Just Cause 3 came out in 2015, five years after Just Cause 2, there was considerable surprise given the franchise had never seemed that popular. It was particularly odd though because what little relevancy Just Cause 2 had was centred around a mod for the PC version that allowed thousands of players to play together on the same map.
But Just Cause 3 ignored all that and was single-player only. It seemed a serious misreading of the franchises appeal and when it failed to light up the charts everyone assumed that was finally the end of the series. And yet here we are with another one, that still doesnt have multiplayer and is still making all – or at least most – of the old mistakes.
If you ignore the question of multiplayer the big problem with Just Cause is that its essentially a tech demo that never fully transformed itself into an actual game; despite four attempts. It has some of the best physics and destruction effects in all gaming, enabling some of the most fantastic explosions you could ever imagine, but it also feels hollow and underdeveloped. And while this is probably the best one, the wasted potential remains obvious.
The first thing we would have done with a fourth Just Cause game is ditch Rico Rodriguez and the same old plot about fermenting revolution in a dictator-run country. This time its a mercenary army in South America and… we just dont care. We cant imagine anyone else caring either, especially given how poorly the dull cast of characters matches with the games outrageous action and loose grip on reality. The gameplay is Looney Tunes as directed by Michael Bay and yet the storytelling is more like a pedestrian, straight-to-video timewaster.
A lot of the plot revolves around the bad guys having sci-fi weapons that let them control the weather. These become the centrepieces for most of the major story missions, which is all fine and good but apart from some vaguely tongue in cheek dialogue the absurdity of it all is never reflected by the characters or the tone of the story.
Another problem is that although the Just Cause games have always featured some of the biggest open world areas in any game theyre not in themselves particularly interesting, and always feel very inert and characterless unless youre blowing something up. Controlling the vehicles isnt as much fun as youd hope either, but thankfully there are much more interesting ways to get around.
The franchises signature grappling hook still allows you to bounce around the game world like a Saturday morning cartoon character. The twin-pronged hook is able to attach to absolutely anything, allowing you to catapult yourself, or anybody else, through the air. Combined with the wingsuit and parachute from the previous games this essentially turns Rico into a superhero without any superpowers.
The grappling hook can be used for more than just transportation though, as it can also connect any other two objects together for whatever (usually explosive) purposes you can imagine. Almost everything in Just Cause 4 will explode at the merest contact and attaching gas canisters to jeeps or sticking two vehicles together is only the start.
There are now mods for the grappling hook that allow you to attach balloons or rocket boosters to objects or pull them together as violently as possible. All can be used together at once, as you slam two soldiers together and then attach a rocket pack to them, to fire them into the side of a mountain. Or you can fly a tank over a battlefield with a balloon and then drop it on peoples heads like a grand piano in a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
Most of these are refinements of abilities from the previous games but the whole extreme weather shtick is an excuse to introduce things like a wind cannon and lightning gun. Stationary weather machines are also the focus of many of the larger story set pieces, as you fight in the middle of a sandstorm or raging tornadoes – as the whole game world seems to come apart around you.
All of the messing about with rockets and grappling hooks is highly entertaining, and very impressive on a technical level, but the problem is that the game does so little to encourage any of it. This has been another long-term problem with the series, but the mission design is absolutely awful. Its just an endless stream of fetch quests and escort missions that show developer Avalanche hasnt listened to a word of criticism about any of the previous games.
Although maybe it doesnt matter because the new, irritatingly convoluted, way of unlocking new areas is if anything even worse. Encouraging you to fight larger scale battles in whatever ad hoc way you choose sounds like a good idea, but the enemy artificial intelligence is still laughably incompetent and quickly drains away both the need and enthusiasm for experimentation.
At times Just Cause 4 almost feels like an extra mode for its own game, as if this is just the sandbox that youve dipped into in as a respite from the more structured main campaign. But its not, this is all that Just Cause 4 is.
The infuriating thing is that even in its half-formed state the game can still be a lot of fun, and we did enjoy it more than the last one. The weather effects and grappling hook mods work very well, while this time the graphics wisely sacrifice resolution for performance. But everything still feels criminally underutilised and we really wish someone else would come along and use the same tools to make a proper game out of it all.
Just Cause 4
In Short: Its an improvement on the last game but as a franchise Just Cause is still squandering the majority of its potential with its banal mission design and dull storytelling.
Pros: One of the best physics engines in any video game, allowing almost total freedom with an array of tools that allow you to make a weapon out of anything. New weather effects are great.
Cons: The missions and storytelling are aggressively uninteresting. Terrible artificial intelligence undermines much of the action. Boring open world.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Release Date: 4th December 2018
Age Rating: 18
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