Last month I visited Stockholm to spend some time with Just Cause 3, the next game in Avalanche’s chaotic open-world series. After half an hour of grappling, parachuting, wingsuiting, and exploding my way around Medici, the new Mediterranean-flavoured setting, I was impressed. It’s not a huge leap from Just Cause 2, but it’s more fun, more polished, and more over-the-top in almost every respect.
A crucial part of the Just Cause formula is an exotic setting, and the new game continues that trend with the sun-soaked Mediterranean archipelago of Medici. It’s a vast, beautiful landscape, with a lot more terrain variety than Panau. Along the coast I see natural arches jutting out of the rocks and a town perched on the edge of a cliff. There are fields of dazzling, colourful flowers and in the distance I spot a colossal snow-capped mountain. There aren’t any snowy mountains in the Mediterranean, of course, but Avalanche tell me they decided to take some artistic licence in the interest of fun.
The ‘Fire Leech’
The combat feels similar to the last game, but a little more chunky and satisfying. I tested a few weapons out—a pretty standard selection of machine-guns, shotguns, and so on—but the best was easily the Fire Leech, an absurd missile launcher that can fire eight rockets at a time. Hold the fire button and it locks on to any nearby destructible objects or enemies, then you let go and watch the fireworks. Avalanche told me that this particular weapon was dreamed up by a programmer, who brought it to the producers and suggested it be included as part of Rico’s arsenal. How could they say no?
Along with the parachute and grapple, there’s a third way for Rico to get around Medici: the wingsuit. You can transition into it at any time, and its physics are so exaggerated and floaty that it’s basically like flying. Seamlessly transitioning from the grapple to the parachute to the wingsuit feels really intuitive. I found myself ignoring my objectives and just floating around, flying gracefully through underground caverns and emerging at the other side. If you lose momentum it’s just a case of grappling onto something and giving yourself a boost. People are going to pull off some amazing stunts with this thing.
Tethering things to other things was one of the best things about Just Cause 2, but it’s even more fun in the new game. You can now use multiple tethers at once (a maximum of three, but modders will deal with that), and adjust their tension at the touch of a button. So say an attack chopper is on your tail. You can tether it to the ground, then tighten the wires so that it pulls it down and smashes it into the ground. Or maybe you just want to tether a few enemies to your sports car and do doughnuts as they scream in terror. The potential for physics-based mischief and mayhem here is huge.
This sounds a bit like one of those annoying game developer buzzwords, like Battlefield’s ‘levolution’, but it really is the best way to describe how things explode in Just Cause 3. Destroying one thing almost always sets off a chain reaction, and the ensuing parade of fire, explosions, and crumbling physics objects is a sight to behold. I launched a volley of rockets from the Fire Leech into an enemy base and it seemed to explode forever. I played Just Cause 2 immediately after playing JC3, and the destruction felt so weedy in comparison. It’s not as insanely granular as Red Faction: Guerrilla, but it’s close.
Yes, it’s a very pretty game. Of course it is. I asked Avalanche if they were giving any extra love to the PC version, and they said the water is being co-developed with Nvidia, so expect some very fancy shimmering and undulating. The idea, they say, is to make the water vehicles more satisfying to use, with realistic wave physics to battle against. Again, going back to JC2 just after playing JC3 highlighted just what a graphical leap the sequel is. Everything feels /bigger/ too. One enemy base is like a giant multi-tiered oil rig plugged into the side of a cliff. Blowing that to pieces was pretty exhilarating.
In JC2 you could call in vehicles and weapons, but for a cost. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve spent a fortune on a plane, only to screw up the take-off and slam it into the ground. That won’t be a problem in JC3, though, because supply drops are free. You can call in tanks, choppers, guns, cars, and so on at any time, and there’s no cost. But to balance things out, enemy strength will dynamically increase as your own firepower does. Get into a tank and you’ll suddenly be facing soldiers with RPGs, for example. So while calling in drops will be more convenient, it won’t make the game too easy.
Rico is fighting to free Medici (actually the country where he was born) from an evil dictator. Toppling dictators is, after all, his thing. The country’s towns have been smothered by propaganda and armed guards, and citizens slump around looking depressed. But once you’ve charged in, killed everyone, and destroyed all the propaganda, everyone is suddenly really happy. Giving Rico a more personal stake in defeating this particular dictator should, hopefully, make the plot a bit more compelling. Story has always been the weakest part of the Just Cause games.
The good news is, they’ve gotten rid of that tedious hijacking QTE thing. But there’s still a risk element when it comes to stealing military hardware. A short animation plays in which Rico slaps a bit of C4 on whatever he’s trying to nick and blows the bloody doors off. This leaves you open to attack, so it’ll be a bit of a gamble if your health is low. This, and the dynamic difficulty I mentioned in the supply drops slide, shows that Avalanche know that something can’t just be fun; it has to offer a satisfying challenge too. Getting that balance just right will be one of their biggest challenges in developing JC3.
To help in the process of blowing absolutely everything up, Rico has infinite remote-detonated C4. You can only place five at a time (again, expect the modders to make short work of that), and thanks to that cascading destruction thing I talked about earlier, the results are devastating. I spent a large portion of my playtime strapping C4 to bits of enemy base, then wingsuiting a mile away, detonating, and watching it explode majestically. Then when you discover that you can attach C4 to things, then tether them to other things, your mind races with ideas for creative chaos.