During the presentation, before we sat down for an extended hands-on with Avalanche's second open-world adventure of 2015 (the first being Mad Max), one phrase is bandied about more than any other. "Because it's more fun." These four words are used to describe several of the gameplay changes that have been introduced in this, the third explosive sandbox adventure starring Rico Rodriguez. Why are there more tethers? Because it's more fun. Why is there unlimited explosives? Because it's more fun. Why did they... you get the picture, they want to make it more fun. The focus is on making sure JC3 outdoes its predecessor, and if they can achieve that goal, they'll no doubt be onto a winner.
So what's changed? Well, the world is the same size as it was in Just Cause 2, that's 400 square miles of sand, sea, mountains and towns, however, here we're promised more verticality to take advantage of the wingsuit and the parachute that we have access to on demand. The archipelago of Medici is all-new, at least to us, it's actually where our protagonist Rico grew up, and he was forced to flee many years previous after his family was killed. Needless to say he's still pissed.
We drop in on Rico's old stomping ground in a typically over-the-top manner, standing on the back of a plane while taking out gun batteries on the ground with a rocket launcher. As is the case with the opening credits (a guitar flavored reworking of Firestarter by Prodigy, just like the game itself, both familiar and new at the same time), it doesn't take long for Avalanche to nail their colours to the mast and tell us exactly what kind of game we're sitting down to play: loud, explosive, silly.
Rico still has contacts on the island, and we meet them early on in proceedings. Dimah and Mario are both on hand to aid us in our missions, as well as provide some comic relief. It's not subtle humour, but we did find ourselves chortling away at the script and its delivery. Of course, it needed to be batshit, because anything else just wouldn't sit right next to the ludicrousness that is the rest of the game.
So there's a story in there, with personal vengeance, interesting characters, a clearly defined villain. We'll not delve too deep here, but rest assured we're looking forward to seeing how it plays out. But let's not beat around the bush here, Just Cause 3 isn't a game driven by stories or nuanced character work, no no no, this is a game about big fuck off explosions and crazy physics, about grappling onto helicopters and tethering them to petrol stations. If Avalanche's aim was to make the most explosive sandbox ever, then they may well be set to achieve their goal.
The grapple hook allows you to easily traverse the towns and wider countryside. Now, if you grapple your way up to the top of the building, you can simply push forward on the analog stick and Rico will perform a superhero jump over the edge and onto the platform above. It's now much easier to make your way to advantageous positions on the map. Of course you can also use your grapple to tether various objects to each other. During the demonstration we were shown how Rico can skewer civilians to scenery and whatnot, but we preferred to apply our tethers to cars and towers. Simply press and hold LB/L1 and fire the grapple, then move the reticule to where you want that item tethered, and release. You can do that up to four times, and it's a feature that people will have plenty of fun experimenting with.
Using your grapple you can reach lofty perches. We climbed to the top of a statue of the local dictator, and then decorated him with C4, before swinging off and blowing his stone replica to smithereens. There's nothing approaching realism here, on the contrary, this is prime time blockbuster entertainment of the silliest order. Rico swans through encounters with his twin pistols and automatic rifles, scything down enemy henchmen as easily as a warm knife cuts through butter (although remember, we were playing this at a press event, and it has been known for devs to put their games on "easy" for the journos in attendance - thus, it might be not be so simple to wipe out the local militia when the game comes out and we're playing on normal or higher). To put it simply, this is Michael Bay does James Bond in paradise.
Getting round the island is straightforward. Either run and grapple, borrow a car, fly a plane or helicopter, swim or steal a speedboat, or you can use your grapple, parachute and wingsuit in unison to essentially fly across Medici. It takes some mastering, but once you've got the hang of it you can cover great distances using a mixture of parachuting, momentum gained by careful application of the grapple, and then switching to your wingsuit. Rico puts the "super" in super spy in every sense of the word, and his ability to traverse his sandbox world makes him an incredibly powerful character.
Similarly to JC2, Just Cause 3 is a handsome game. The towns are bustling with life, you can dive underneath the waves and admire the detail on the ocean floor, you can drive around the twisted roads that are cut into the mountainous landscape; wherever you venture it looks great. What looks best of all is the scale of the destruction, and of course you need to factor in the satisfaction that it brings. We took out a convoy by removing the bridge it was driving over, as well as used explosives and grenades to destroy countless gas canisters and red barrels. Eruptions of smoke and flame are a thing to behold, and explosive chain reactions and collateral damage are commonplace.
As we mentioned before, the island itself is huge, and it's unlocked from the start, the idea being you can go where you want, when you want. This doesn't seem completely true in practice, as we went into one base on the starting island, and were quickly sent packing with repeated airstrikes (we even tried venturing further into the base, but the airstrikes kept coming). Rico might need to level up before he goes exploring too far, although the option to roam freely is certainly welcomed. What we'll find as we venture further into the archipelago is anyone's guess, but there's plenty of regions to be liberated from tyranny, so we'll no doubt get to see a whole lot more as we work towards that overarching goal.
Just Cause, as a series, has managed to carve out its own corner in the open-world genre. This third game looks like it's going to build on the core pillars of the first two games, while giving you more tools to play with, and the potential for plenty of player-created systemically-driven destruction. Having spent a couple of hours enjoying the island of Medici, we're eager to get back there for another visit, because while it might be a bit over-the-top, the folks there sure know how to have a good time.