Rico Rodriguez is all action. If you want your heroes firing rockets while hanging from the underside of a helicopter while tanks and soldiers wage war beneath, he's absolutely your man. His return to action, Just Cause 3, is about as silly as third-person action games get; this is Michael Bay does sun-drenched James Bond in video game form.
It's fun through and through, and perhaps the biggest criticism you could level at the game is that it's not very subtle. But then again, when a game gives you the option to tether multiple objects together and bring them crashing down, where you can call in air drops that include tanks and armed helicopters, and where there's huge explosions at every turn, perhaps it'd be fair to surmise that its creators weren't aiming for "subtle".
Just Cause 3 is loud, certainly, but is it fun? The answer to this question is a definite "yes." Avalanche has crafted an open-world adventure that's overflowing with action, and they've underpinned it with a playful sense of humour that had us chuckling away throughout its 20-odd hour campaign.
The story itself is plenty entertaining, and not as throwaway as we thought it might be. It exists in the same place as games like Far Cry 4, but where Ubisoft's franchise is first-person and slightly more grounded in something approaching reality, Avalanche turns the action up to eleven and adds in an explosion or two at every available opportunity. This is a story of revolution and rebellion, and Rico and his allies are fighting to liberate the archipelago of Medici from a tyrannical dictatorship.
The narrative is delivered in cutscenes that sit between over twenty campaign missions, and for the most part they're personable and humorous. There's an engaging cast of characters, and Rico is an enigmatic leading man, who says just enough to entertain, but little enough that we can ignore the fact that he's a coldblooded mass murderer of colour-coded henchmen.
The archipelago is made up islands of varying sizes, each of them full of towns and military bases that need to be "liberated", some via explosive dismantling, others by completing objectives. Liberating towns, bases and then regions unlocks additional challenges that are dotted around the environment. It's these activities that provide JC3 with longevity. In fact, counter to what you might expect from a genre where these activities are often added as filler, here they're almost on equal footing to the campaign. The whole thing, from the story to the side-missions, is built around one simple idea: having a laugh.
The fun is facilitated via the tools that Rico is equipped with from the very beginning. His grapple hook lets him traverse the world at ease, and once you've got the knack it's easy to speed around the islands by using the grapple to drag you through an area before whipping out your unlimited parachute to keep you airborne. Rinse and repeat and off you go.
Rico can also tether items together and pull them along, or bring objects crashing down to earth. Or he can plaster the world with his never-ending supply of explosives. He's also got a wingsuit that lets him cover great distances at speed, and that can be very effective when used in conjunction with the grapple and parachute. You can unlock a series of "gear mods" to improve your equipment over time, and the system seems really deep - and this even though you're entirely capable from the very start. There's also the "rebel drop" feature where you can call in ammo, weapons, and vehicles to assist you anywhere in the world, something that can come in handy especially when tackling some of the larger enemy encampments.
In terms of simply messing about and having fun with the game's systems, we're struggling to think of a title that gives you more to work with (Saints Row IV maybe?). Just Cause 3 is a veritable toy box; there's tons to do, lots of stuff to destroy, and plenty of things to amuse yourself with in-between creating all the chaos. Even once the campaign is done and when you've had your fill of the challenges (and their fairly chunky loading times), there's opportunity to simply play about and enjoy yourself. If you've sampled the now officially endorsed multiplayer mod for Just Cause 2, you'll join us in hoping that something similar will come for this sequel.
In terms of activities there's a decent selection. Many of them are vehicle based and thus have you driving through paradise at breakneck speeds, sometimes reaching objectives, other times staying above a certain speed otherwise your ride explodes. Others involve tank combat, flying through hoops in your wingsuit, or simple target practice. These missions unlock once an area is liberated, providing a second round of content in a provence once it has been freed from tyranny (via blowing stuff up and killing people - the irony). There's even online leaderboards for competitive souls to amuse themselves with.
Speaking of online leaderboards, perhaps our most significant gripe with the game, and likely something that'll be sorted pretty sharpish, was the connection to Square Enix's online servers. Regularly when jumping from the open-world to the menus we'd be treated with a frustrating loading screen while the game tried to reconnect to the servers. It got to the point where we switched the wireless off so we didn't have to endure this every time we wanted to check out our progress or call in a rebel drop. Perhaps this was merely a pre-release issue to be endured by reviewers, but it was frustrating enough that we thought we'd at least flag it here.
We played Just Cause 3 on a capable gaming laptop, and as such the frame-rate rarely dropped beneath thirty, and even during the more chaotic moments it was still playable. That said, we've heard of people on console where the frame-rates struggled in the teens at times. We'll have to wait and see once the inevitable patches have dropped how this improves. One universal complaint seems to be the loading times; it takes a while to get started, and then restarting a failed or unsatisfactory challenge takes much longer than it should.
Other than that there can be few complaints. A couple of minor annoyances when completing objectives, niggling glitches that are easily forgivable, and the odd moment when the audio and the visuals were out of sync, but all in all we were privy to solid build. It helps that it looks and sounds great, with lush, vibrant visuals and islands teeming with life. The explosions are satisfyingly huge at times, some of the chain reactions are a sight to behold. Playing along in the background there's a heroic soundtrack to heighten the action, and the voice work is really good, with memorable performances that make the most of a tongue-in-cheek script.
From a mechanical point of view this is a solid game. The third-person camera is decent, and player movement robust (it needs to be given the amount of time you spend slinging your grapple into the objects - stationary and moving - found in the world around you). The gunplay is decent, even if this is a game that leans more on over-the-top action as opposed to realism and in-depth bullet physics. The explosions are grand and numerous, and there's not many games that make dismantling the world around you as enjoyable as it is here. There's a wealth of systems, but they interlock well and everything feels intuitive.
We spent a lot of time deliberating over the final score. Having played and reviewed Mad Max earlier this year, it seems like the obvious game to compare this to. Considering it on those terms, Just Cause 3 is the better game, and ultimately that's what pushed us into giving it the grade you see below. Rico's return is a successful one, and his quest to free Medici is enjoyable and spectacularly destructive. It may heave under its own weight from time to time, and it could do with multiplayer somewhere down the line, but we had a lot of fun blowing up red barrels in this beautiful Mediterranean paradise.