There’s been a lot of excitement around the impending release of Just Cause 3, a series which has traditionally focused entirely on absurd amounts of explosions, destruction and vehicular mayhem. Compared with more serious fare like Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry, and the endless line of other open world games, Just Cause’s focus on insane grindhouse-style action is a breath of much-needed fresh air. These aren’t games that take themselves seriously and, as it turns out, that’s a good thing.
The entire series revolves around the super secret agent Rico Rodriguez. He’s a man who specializes in overthrowing dictators on small tropical island nations. In this case, that island is the Republic of Medici—Rico’s homeland, which is under the iron thumb of the evil military tyrant, General DiRavello. So, Rico—with the help of a few plucky and surprisingly diverse friends—is hell bent on taking back the island and ending the rule of the vile generalissimo.
There’s a far bit of exposition in the first couple hours that slogs the pace for those just wanting to jump in, but once past that, Medici is completely up for grabs. Around 400 square miles worth of it, to be more exact. Rolling hills, beautiful beaches, pristine seas, gorgeous small towns and cities, and more await as Rico explores, destroys and inflicts his own special brand of freedom on everything in his path.
Just Cause 3 takes the same general template of the past games and other open world games like Far Cry: you explore, kill bad guys and take over enemy-occupied territory to reduce the General’s influence and power. Just as in Far Cry 3 and 4, the great joy of the action is creatively taking down enemy posts. While Far Cry offered various ways to do that—stealthy and otherwise—Rico isn’t into stealth. Or subtlety. Really, Rico just likes to blow shit up.
The game is remarkably generous in how it lets you blow up the world around you, especially when it comes to Rico’s trademark grappling hook. Aside from letting Rico scale heights and zip around the world quickly, the grapple is great for hooking two objects together and then smashing them into each other.All those exploding barrels the General’s army conveniently leaves around are the perfect tools for destroying fuel tanks, vehicles, flimsy buildings, humans… whatever. They all blow up real nice.
Rico’s wingsuit helps him glide around and his ever-useful parachute prevents deathly spills, but most of his time is likely to be spent GTA-style. Rico can jack any vehicle he finds and wreck havoc. See a hot sports car you like? Just throw out the driver and take off. The same goes for boats, helicopters, bikes, tanks, jets, whatever. There are a ton of vehicles to steal in Just Cause 3 and learning to control them is part of the fun.
Helicopters, for instance, can be surprisingly tricky to master, while fishing trawlers are painfully slow, but a good launching off point to steal faster boats in the water. Any vehicle you steal can be added to your permanent collection if you can get it to one of the many special rebel garages around the island. The same goes for guns and supplies. The game lets you call in a “rebel drop” to instantly get a vehicle and/or supplies delivered to your location.
If all of this sounds stupidly fun, that’s because it is. Just Cause 3 is a gleefully idiotic, mindlessly violent good time. Taken as a playground for destruction and vehicular larceny, the game is perfectly worth any action lover’s time. There are various “events” spread around the world strictly for earning points (and gears to upgrade abilities), like wing suit flights, races, and timed bouts of wanton destruction. These side events are fun, but there still feels like something’s missing in the overall structure of the game.
With such a vast and beautiful world to explore, Just Cause 3 needs to give players a reason to explore every inch of Medici. Yet, there’s not. There are no hidden treasures or pointless shiny baubles to collect to motivate players to search every nook and cranny. There’s almost nothing in the way of secret locations full of treasure or reasons to explore the sea surrounding the island. So, using the grapple to get to the highest peaks is just a thing to do if you’re bored and want to jump off.
The game keeps track of all the crazy stunts players perform and ranks them, so you’re constantly informed when SomeRandomFool356 just outdid your power slide record or glided a greater distance without touching the ground. It’s a nice touch to make the game social without impeding its single-player nature.
Another problem is Rico’s mobility. Take the grapple away and Rico is almost useless at traversing the landscape. He can’t climb at all past jumping on things, so the player is entirely reliant on the grapple hook to reach vertical positions. It’s a frequently clumsy manner of exploration, fun though it might be. To make matters worse, the gun crosshair and the grapple reticule are frequently at odds with each other, which can be murder during a heated firefight.
Some option for stealth would have been a nice change of pace. Rico can basically only shoot people—with bullets, rockets, grenades, grappling hooks, etc.—and some variety in the combat styles available would have been welcome. Finally (on consoles at least), the load times are absurdly lengthy. Whether restarting after dying or just loading up one of the many side missions/events, it takes far longer than it should to get back into the action again.
As long as you don’t think too hard when playing Just Cause 3, there’s still plenty to like. After three iterations, however, it’s really time for the series to grow up a bit more and expand the nature of the world and its leading man. Just Cause 3 can be a ton of fun, but the lack of just a little more depth causes its appeal to burn out far quicker than it should.
Just Cause 3 was developed by Avalanche Studios and published by Square Enix. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It’s also available for Xbox One and PC.
Jason D’Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.