Rico Rodriguez has geared up for another institutional takedown.
Rico Rodriguez is a busy man; after all he's been taking down dictators ever since the first Just Cause in 2006. Now he's back with the fourth iteration of the explosive series from Avalanche Studios, one that we've been told in the past is "four times the scope" of its predecessors. We wingsuited up with high hopes then, to see if the series really does crescendo with this latest entry, and prepared for even more carnage.
This game takes place in the fictional country of Solis, which is in a spot of turmoil. An organisation called The Black Hand, masterminded by Oscar Espinosa, is subjugating the people of the land, but worse still is that they are developing weather control technology which has some link to Rodriguez's father. As you might have guessed, it isn't until our bearded hero's arrival that the people fight back, forming the appropriately titled Order of Chaos to push back against The Black Hand's authority (which is done by the Frontline mechanic - earning chaos points, assembling squads, and then deploying them to claim areas of the map).
In a refreshing turn of events the game actually opens with Rodriguez insisting he can take on Espinosa's heavily-defended tower base on his own, defying his ally Mira's advice and actually getting battered, proving his knuckle-headed masculinity wrong. That kind of character depth doesn't last for long though, as we're back to single-handedly taking down the regime within half an hour, as every man and their dog asks for our assistance in exploding anything with red paint on.
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But hey, who plays Just Cause games for the story? A lot of the fans are here for one thing and one thing only - chaos. Avalanche Studios has always prided itself on providing bombastic action in these titles, and here it's no different, as there is the same mix of environmental hazards to destroy, from the littlest of gas tanks to gigantic satellite dishes, all of which rain debris on you and your foes.
The physics system overall is entertaining to play around with, especially when these bits of wreckage litter the area or fall onto your enemies. There's always a lot going on as you'd expect, but occasionally you get the dodgy moment, like a teammate walking into your plane gently and moving it around or a helicopter bouncing around the ground for no discernible reason.
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Another important toy that we've seen in the series is the grapple gun. Not only can you grapple from place to place and attach things to other things (cows to missiles, perhaps?) but now you also deploy balloons and boosters on objects. The former pretty much does what it says on the tin, lifting things up and hanging them mid-air, and with enough of them, you can even send tanks floating off into the horizon. The boosters are also very self-explanatory, pushing things in a certain direction as if they were thrusters.
All of these can be customised with grapple loadouts via the menu, which you can then switch between on the fly using the d-pad (using a DualShock 4), making for quick and easy access. You can also change whether you need to tap L1 or whether it deploys it automatically, as well as the ferocity with which your balloons or boosters deploy.
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Perhaps the most-publicised innovation with Just Cause 4 is the various weather systems at play though. With the technology they have, The Black Hand has learned how to control the elements, one of which is lightning, and it's used to protect certain areas with permanent storms. You might think this sounds like a fresh and exciting new gameplay opportunity, but for the most part, all this does is give an ever-present threat of lightning strikes in certain areas, indicated by a spark on your head. From a mechanical perspective it doesn't do a lot, but from a visual perspective, the lightning can produce spectacular moments. There's even a big twister tearing up the land as well, which you can use for plenty of airborne stunts.
Aside from the new weather elements and the big story notes, the mission structure overall is pretty repetitive and uninspired. 90% of the time you'll be either escorting people from one place to another, defending an object from enemies, or activating various terminals within a time limit. We didn't mind these the first time, but the fourth and fifth times got a little dry, and we welcomed the few missions that changed things up with underground prisons or stunt jumps. There was even a particularly annoying mission where all we did was wait in a helicopter while other people fired weapons and had fun, which was a low point for sure.
There are also side missions as well, some of which need you to take down X amount of satellite dishes, but there are also more unique ones like those requiring you to undertake tasks for a certain eccentric filmmaker who is intent on riling up The Black Hand to get her shots. Again, these provided welcome changes of pace, and a few more chaos points to send out squads with.
What's more annoying than undertaking these missions is having to travel to them again and replay bits when the game crashed, which it did a lot. We primarily played on PC for the purposes of this review and we had crashes on average every half an hour, meaning a lot of wasted time travelling back to where we needed to be, and the only saving grace here is that the game only makes you redo the latest objective, so you can pick up where you left off rather than redoing the whole mission.
Even when in-game there were bugs too. Rico would occasionally teleport through the floor to the other side when grappling underneath a walkway, for example, not to mention the fact that the parachute would pop-in, the controls would suddenly turn unresponsive and floaty, and the physics would go a bit wild as we've previously pointed out. These issues didn't pose a huge problem but they were still more speed bumps on the already bumpy road.
Visually the game had its issues too. Character animations often raised a few eyebrows, like hackers doing a silly run to your car for example, but then overall there were other issues. On PC the performance that greeted us had us puzzled, so much so that we felt the need to check several times if we were missing some texture packs. After confirming that was not the case and testing the game on several systems that span the performance range our conclusion is this: the game is poorly optimised, far beyond the "Known bugs" list provided with our review copy. Draw distance issues, texture pop-in, low res textures, aliasing and animation glitches (beyond the standard Just Cause chaotic fare) - pretty much every cardinal sin of performance issues reared its ugly head, with the exception of framerate issues.
The vast green foliage glistens sporadically, pops in, and disappears alternately, even at shorter distances, with fire and explosions also looking tessellated and blurry at longer distances. On top of that water has no texture to it, and boats and other items don't seem to physically interact with it at all. Even the tornado in the map looks pretty ugly at a distance.
These issues persisted at varying levels and all the systems we tried the game on, ranging from GTX908, GTX1080ti, all the way up to RTX2080, however, we did not have a chance to test the game out on an AMD system. In our review notes we where warned of the game still being a work in progress and that day one drivers are coming from both Nvidia and AMD, but as it stands these issues heavily affect immersion and are at it's worst where Just Cause is at it's best: parachuting or wingsuiting at high altitudes over vast distances and raining death upon the Black Hand, flying through one of the game's extreme weather systems or filling the screen with explosions.
Later on in the process, we dipped into the PS4 version to test that out too, and while it ran a little better in the few hours we played (it didn't crash, which was a start) there were still noticeable bugs, like birds remaining stationary in the air rather than flying free. It was the most stable version we tested though, and the controller worked much better, so we had a far easier time of things.
All in all, we went into Just Cause 4 expecting things to change, and we hoped the increased ambition would mean that it didn't just feel like a series of explosions pulled together by a loose thread of a story and samey missions. Ultimately though, that's what we got, and the game itself isn't interesting enough to justify pushing through the wobbles. Perhaps hardcore Just Cause fans will like the new elements like the grappling features, weather, and Frontlines, but we saw a lot of these as gimmicky and without consequence. Either way, everyone should probably wait until a few updates have been released first before diving in.
5 / 10
Explosions bigger and better, New grapple elements.
Consistent crashes on PC, Buggy in places, Dull and repetitive missions, Weak story.