The original Just Cause (2006) was something of a surprise hit in the gaming world. To say it was incredibly ambitious for a company such as Avalanche Entertainment (who hadn’t made anything at all at that point) to create such a game would be an understatement in the same league as describing the ocean as wet.
With its huge, open world gameplay, detailed graphics and physics engine designed by Roger Rabbit, it made Grand Theft Auto – which up until that point had been the leading title in such games – seem almost tame by comparison. And while Rockstar would eventually release Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008, the original Just Cause still managed to hold its own, in part due to its less than serious storyline which was a welcome breath of fresh air in comparison to Rockstar’s rougher and grittier take on the GTA universe, and in part due to the fact that Just Cause took place in a multi-environment open world while Grand Theft Auto pushed itself into a metropolitan corner.
Just Cause 2 (2010) would improve upon Just Cause’s experience in every way. Not only was it bigger, but it was more epic: the physics engine was made even more whacky, the enemies were made even more over the top, and the movie references were taken to 11, tied to a missile, and shot into space whilst Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride played triumphantly through speakers like the one out of the first Back to the Future film – you know, the one that blows Marty McFly across the room. That was the charm of the Just Cause title, you see.
Like Grand Theft Auto before it, Just Cause started as a homage to action films and popular culture, and it was never afraid to run with that homage. It was never serious, even when it looked like it was serious. There’s no commentary, no message; even the story is, when you get down to it, perfunctory. If you ever ask yourself why you are playing this game, the answer will always quite literally be in front of you: just ‘cause.
Just Cause 2 (2010) was a massive success, and even with Grand Theft Auto V’s (2013) release and dominance of the genre, it still has its fans five years after release. In fact, Just Cause 2 was so popular that people have actually invented mods to play the game online – a feature that the game wasn’t designed for. Necessity to cause chaos with friends is the mother of invention, I suppose.
And so with that story, a small studio with nothing to its name being able to create something that can go twelve rounds with Rockstar’s heavy-weight champion of the world and then return to do it all over again in the sequel, you’d think that Avalanche would be able to pull it off a third time. You’d be wrong. It may be a controversial opinion, but for my money, I’m going to say that Just Cause 3 is just alright.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Avalanche has given us a glass jaw: Just Cause 3 is an exceedingly fun Open World Action Adventure game in the same way that the previous entries in the series were. But it hasn’t gone anywhere. Gameplay is roughly the same as it was in Just Cause 2, with the added wingsuit feature and a little more variety in grappling hook attacks; and storyline, still perfunctory, still not really important, is just sort of there.
There’s not really very much to say about anything else in Just Cause 3 so I’ll concentrate on those two.
Gameplay in Just Cause has always been based around the idea of causing chaos, destabilizing your enemy in order to unlock the next story mission. It was a system that catered to the players who – well, let’s just be honest, wanted to cause chaos: the type of people who like to go on five-star rampages in Grand Theft Auto. And, let’s not kid ourselves, it’s a system that ensures that players have a lot of fun. This system was brought forward in Just Cause 2 and improved upon – you could destroy more buildings, had more bad guys to assassinate, many more types of enemy base to destroy – but in Just Cause 3 it just feels, smaller.
The problem is that the game just hasn’t gone anywhere gameplay wise. Sure, once again, you can destroy even more buildings, have even more bad guys to assassinate, and there are many, many more types of enemy base to destroy, but even then, for five years of development, Just Cause 3 just feels underwhelming.
Credit where credit is due, though. For all my complaining, I do have to point out that I quickly became enamored with the wingsuit as a mode of transportation. It’s far, far quicker than driving, and even though there’s not a good way of landing that doesn’t involve just falling on the floor or using the parachute, if you want to get from point A to point B in style (and don’t want to borrow a car or get on a helicopter) then the wingsuit is the way to do it. There’s a steep learning curve to it, sure, but once you get a hang of the system there is no better way to experience Medici – even without upgrading it.
As for the aforementioned variety in grappling hook attacks, well, let’s just say that it’s very nice way of causing chaos. And that’s pretty much all you can say about it.
Now for the story. As mentioned before, the story in any Just Cause game is pretty much perfunctory, just something there in order to take the player from one mission to the next. Between Just Cause and Just Cause 2, we saw a slight development in the Rico Rodriguez (not to be mistaken for Rico Rodriguez the actor) characterization: he took a gruffer, more Jason Bourne-like appearance and became, overall, rougher. It was a nice change of pace from the playboy Rico Rodriguez from the first game; and, as strange as it sounds for a game like Just Cause, it showed some honest character development.
You’d expect further character development in Just Cause 3. Maybe, with Rico getting older, he’d start to think about settling down, starting a family, or at least showing that the world is changing. You know, the most basic form of realism. But no, Rico Rodriguez is still the same as he was in the last game: badass, hardnosed, ambivalent.
And that’s frustrating because it feels like everything is set up for Just Cause 3 to have a more personal story – a return to Rico’s homeland, friction between Rico and The Agency, a personal enemy in Di Ravello – but it just never goes anywhere.
I said that the storyline in Just Cause games is perfunctory at best and that’s true. But still, I would have lied to see something more from the third outing, some sort of sign that this series is going somewhere. Anywhere!
Another complaint I have about Just Cause 3 is its loading times. I’m playing on the Xbox One, and the loading times in Just Cause 3 are utterly horrible. I haven’t been waiting this long since the Playstation 2 era. This problem is only exacerbated when the game insists that you have to play the game while logged into servers that have a habit of failing every time somebody sneezes. You can play offline, of course, but you have to wait until the server fails to choose to do that. Then, once the servers come back online, you are logged on again, meaning that you will have the same problem again. It breaks the in-game immersion and is frustrating.
And it’s not like the online gaming is particularly interesting either; when you get down to it, Just Cause 3’s online mode is a leader board. Boring. With all due respect to Avalanche, but it must be embarrassing when a team of amateurs creates a better online environment than a veteran team of programmers and creators who have been working together for almost a decade.
But where I can’t fault Just Cause is in its graphics. To put it simply, Medici is gorgeous. It’s not as exciting or exotic as Just Cause 2’s Panau, or as detailed as Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos, but as an open world sandpit, it does its job admirably. And speaking as someone who has spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean, I am going to go out on a limb and say that they have managed to replicate the feeling that you get in Italy and Spain very well. I miss the variety of last game’s Panau, but from a purely narrative point of view, it makes sense that Medici’s environment is a little more singular than Panau’s hodgepodge of various climates into one setting.
There’s a lot to complain about when it comes to Just Cause 3, and while I wouldn’t discourage anyone from stating their opinion, I think it’s important to end this review by pointing out that, while not much has changed between Just Cause 2 and Just Cause 3, Just Cause 2 was still an amazing game. Even though Just Cause 3 is a small, incremental increase on its predecessor, perhaps that’s all it needed. Because, for all my complaints, Just Cause 3 is still a very fun game – one that you should invest your time in. After all, how many other games let you attack a modern tank and a sports car to a fifth generation attack fighter and then use it to throw them at an enemy?
Not many. And if nothing else, that alone is just cause to play this game.
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