As a professional video game critic, I enter Square Enix's London office fully expecting to blow the lid off Just Cause 3. Readers, I imagine, will nod appreciatively at the comprehensive account I give of my three hours of planned play time. 'Definitive,' they'll think.
I write down "4,000 animations" in my notebook when, during the pre-hands on presentation, I'm told that Rico can now perform 4,000 different animations. That, I think, will be a nice titbit to drop casually into my preview – a tasty morsel of fact on a plate of personal impressions. I draw a little arrow below and wrote, "smooths out the experience."
Then I'm shown a 'mod' for Rico's C4 that turns each charge into a booster engine before detonation. My eyes widen at the possibilities. It all goes a bit wrong after that.
Mods are unlocked by spending the 'gears' earned by completing challenges. They're not permanent upgrades – each can be toggled on and off – which means they can offer situational side-benefits to be activated and disabled as needed. Rocket-powered C4 is one of these, although I'd argue it's not situational so much as fundamental to everything that Just Cause 3 is. It's a physics tool in a playground built to make physics hilarious.
In Just Cause 3, C4 is infinite. You can only place two charges at once – more after you've unlocked the relevant mods – but, once detonated, they'll recharge. Also, you can attach rocket C4 to people. I do. Repeatedly. They spin uncontrollably before exploding. It's great.
As in Just Cause 2, you can call down supply drops containing any of the weapons or vehicles you've collected. You can enable mods for these, too. For instance, adding nitrous to any vehicle you request. Earlier, I'd noticed a tractor. Can I airdrop one in, and, if so, would it too have nitrous? As it turns out, yes. But even a nitrous enabled tractor is a slow, unwieldy thing. I soup it up with four rocket C4s. You can't detonate them while driving, but you can use nitrous to reach top speed, jump out onto the tractor's hood, activate the boosters, and then parachute away seconds before detonation in a glorious moment of explosive agricultural perfection.
Next, I call in a bus. This is even slower. I decide to transform it into a rolling battering ram by tethering cars to each side. In Just Cause 3, you can tether multiple objects simultaneously—initially two, but more can be unlocked. I attach four cars to Rico's new party bus. A bemused PR points out that the game has sports cars, helicopters and military fighter jets, and I was pissing about with a bus. After a few minutes of bashing against each other, the cars and the bus all explode.
Okay, yes: planes and helicopters. My original plan for the day was to journey to the remotest island on the map. I wanted to discover a secret akin to the Just Cause 2 'Lost' island that instantly downed aircraft. I call in a jet, and it spawns in an awkward position. In Just Cause 2, this would have been an insurmountable problem. In Just Cause 3, you can retract your tethers. It's possible to tether the jet to a point on the ground and pull it into place. Unfortunately, I detach the tethers while it was still moving. The momentum carries it over a cliff.
The next plane is destroyed because I accidentally press the eject button instead of the one that makes Rico jump out onto its wings. The one after that is destroyed because I try to tether it to a tractor. My helicopters meet with similar ends—rewarding my curiosity with fatal explosions. Unlike in Just Cause 2, supply drops don't cost money. Each vehicle does, however, have a cooldown timer before it can be called in again. This is becoming a problem. I quickly exhaust my available supply of airborne transport options, and am forced to wait—up to half an hour for the most powerful vehicles—before I can spawn in more.
And so I'm again left to my own devices. At one point, I spawn in next to an abandoned flatbed trailer. I decide to see if I can use it as a makeshift vehicle by standing on it, tethering it to the road, then retracting the tethers to drag it along. Unfortunately, the game isn't expecting the flatbed to be used in this way. Rico stands motionless, while the trailer slides out from underneath him. I have some success running across it as it moves. I do this for about five minutes. Eventually, inevitably, I plant rocket C4s to the back, and fire it out from under Rico into explosive oblivion.
Soon after, I find another trailer near a busy highway. This one curves upwards to create a roadside jump. Using tethers, I'm able to pull it over and fix it onto the road. AI cars don't register this as an obstacle, and drive straight on up and over. This is pretty funny. The next logical step is to attach rocket C4s to the underside, in the hope of giving one lucky driver some serious air. I mistime the detonation—destroying my makeshift stunt rig with no satisfying payoff. Sacrilegious though it may be, I really want a C4 variant that doesn't explode. Sometimes, rocket-powered physics fun is its own reward.
At this point it's almost five o'clock. My session is nearly over, and I realise that I haven't really done anything. I quickly call in a jet, and set a beacon for that remote, isolated island. I reach it, and nothing happens. My plane explodes, but only because I crash it into a cliff. There are ruins, and what looks like a dirt-track circuit, but no challenges or missions that I can see. I leave London, not quite sure how I'm going to turn any of what happened into a Just Cause 3 preview.