The Just Cause franchise has delivered in terms of scale, destruction, explosions, and creative tools in the past. It's been one of our favourite guilty pleasures, creating chaos and liberating sections of the map in each game, one after another. With each entry in the series something new has been introduced, tweaking the sandbox and offering the international man of mystery, Rico Rodriguez, one or two new tools to bring his special brand of destruction (aka freedom) to one particular island or group of islands. This time Rico goes to Solis, a fictional South American nation, similar to his early adventures.
There is one major reason to be excited for Just Cause 4 and it's the new Apex engine that Avalanche Studios is using for all its games currently in development (this, Rage 2, and Generation Zero), and to put it bluntly, it knocks it out the park. Not only does it step-up the visual fidelity and scale we've grown used to in Avalanche titles, but perhaps more importantly, it allows for a more dynamic and physics-driven sandbox. That translates to an incredible amount of objects, tethers, and explosions, and in the hands of an expert (such as the developer driving the E3 demo) it offers up a ballet of creative destruction the scale of which is unrivalled in the world of video games.
The physics-driven weather model in Just Cause 4 not only looks amazing but will present the player with danger and opportunity. There's wind to take advantage of - wingsuit style - the rivers will actually be governed by physics, and extreme weather such as tornados and thunderstorms will spawn dynamically. Given the diverse biomes that include snowy mountains and deserts, we can expect things like blizzards and sandstorms too. These extreme conditions will both be dangerous (even if Rico won't be outright killed by the weather), but also offer an opportunity for Rico to cause chaos and send enemies flying through the air. The one mission we saw at E3 involved "guiding" a tornado into an airbase by taking out "air cannons" to allow the tornado to tear through the base and the rip it apart.
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While Rico Rodriguez is easy enough to like, the narratives have revolved around taking out clichéd dictators, but it's all been rather tongue-in-cheek. It's been said before, but this time Avalanche is stepping away from the tried and tested sort of villain, for more of a personal adventure as Rico goes after The Black Hand, the world's most powerful private army, and its leader Gabriella.
If the Black Hand is your enemy, then Rico's (red) right hand is your best friend. More specifically we're talking about the massively updated grappling hook that's strapped to his wrist. You're now able to use more tethers to link objects together, and boosters, and the new airlifts (balloons that will let you create some rather neat do-it-yourself airships). You'll also be able to upgrade, customise these to your heart's content, and you'll be able to switch between three pre-sets on the fly allowing for some rather amazing and creative combinations.
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As was the case in Just Cause 3 you don't want to stay on the ground for too long, but instead, you'll need to keep moving and preferably rain down destruction while airborne one way or another. That said, what little we got to see from the more traditional boots-on-the-ground combat looked much improved and perhaps the work that's gone into making the engine work well with a shooter like Rage 2 has benefitted Just Cause 4 as well.
Another area that has been changed up is how you go about liberating the island. Chaos is at the core, but the system has changed a lot and now as you fill your chaos meter you're able to call in squads, locals who'll help you wage war on The Black Hand. Instead of liberating sections of the map and changing its colour there's now an actual frontline where two sides are engaging each other that's moving across Solis as Rico does his thing.
It's almost a bit strange, but Just Cause 4 comes across as something you'd expect to see from a franchise that has been given a bit of a rest for a number of years and that's returning on a new generation of hardware with a bunch of fresh ideas. That seems to be the sort of leap in terms of gameplay that we can expect, at least if the 20-minute demo behind closed doors at E3 is anything to go by. We're still doubtful that the story will hold our interest, but the frontlines, the grappling hook, and the extreme weather has us terribly excited.