Just Cause 3 is one of the final titles to cap off a huge year in gaming. In 2015, we have seen everything from bats to snakes to remakes of Drake. The (undead) freaks came out at night while the King of Monsters showed us his best fights. During the first half of the year, there were a ton of great games that were released. Once the summer and fall crop of games hit, it felt like an entirely different year had started; there were just that many more good games coming out. Despite all of the double-dipping, nickel-and-diming and highway robbery that I have complained about, 2015 has been one of the biggest years in gaming with each title pushing the bar higher than the next. This holiday season will see many of these games flying off the shelves and one would wonder if any new games coming out in December even stand a chance. People are looking for bargains. Rico Rodriguez, hero of the Just Cause series, is used to living by the seat of his pants. However, with Just Cause 3 dropping at the end of the year, it is time to see if he can stand tall in a room of giants that have had the whole year to shine.
THIS LAND IS MY LAND Rico Rodriguez returns as the hero of the series and as cheesy as this is going to sound, “this time, it's personal.” Fortunately for me, cheesiness like that is part of the charm of this game. Rico returns to his homeland, the island of Medici, now that it has been taken over by an evil dictator named General Di Ravello. This guy puts statues of himself all over Medici and enforces his will with the Di Ravello Military. Yes, you heard me, you are going up against the D.R.M. and they seriously label their vehicles with that. I could stop right there because if you aren't face palming and laughing your ass off already, this game probably is not for you. Trust me though, there is more. If you are like me and are unfortunate enough to have this be your first foray into the world of Just Cause, let me introduce you to Rico Rodriguez. Take pretty much every 80s action hero ever, combine the over the top madness of your average Bollywood action hero and just to be really stereotypical, throw in some Alberto Del Rio for good measure. This guy sweats badass and he is determined to free his homeland from tyranny (and software restrictions). Rico has to be this tough because General DiRavello is essentially his antithesis. He will not hesitate to use his entire army to stop one man nor is he afraid to destroy land or life in the process. The best part about this dictatorship is that as you begin to free the land, Di Ravello has this terrified radio DJ spreading lies that no one will believe about what is going on. If you destroy a base, he tells the people that the Di Ravello “decided it was an eyesore.” If a base has a prison camp, the good general “out of the kindness of his heart decided to release all of the prisoners.” As serious as the situation of an oppressed people in a war-torn country is, this game simply refuses to take itself serious at all. Fortunately, this is what makes a B-movie plot for this game so fantastic. Hearing the propaganda of both the government and the rebels makes playing through the story worth it. No one is going to care that your plot is derivative and weak if it is genuinely hysterical. You will be in love with this game's silly story before you even take control of Rico for the first time.
RICO SUAVE To be blunt, Just Cause 3 is fun to play, but controlling Rico is not all fun and games. Avalanche Studios really tried to be true to their words when they said that Rico can do anything and that as the player, you will not be restricted by the control scheme. This is mostly true and if you are performing an action you usually can perform another without waiting for the first to finish. Rico is a force to be reckoned with on land, sea and in the air, even before he gets hold of the many toys strewn about Medici. Guns are everywhere; if you somehow run out of ammo, there is probably an armed corpse nearby that you can relieve of its weapon. Cars are everywhere, but who wants to bother with them with the fantastic combination of your grappling hook, parachute and wingsuit. A skilled player can stay in the air for a long period of time while only being a few feet off of the ground. If that is not fast enough for you, there are helicopters, planes and even fighter jets for you to choose from. I particularly enjoy the two-stick control scheme for the helicopter. Left analog controls forward and reverse movement as well as strafing. Right analog turns the copter. The two-button rudder scheme for planes and jets is not quite as enjoyable but it still works very well. Square and circle are respectively the left and right rudder. Turning with this method feels a lot more stiff than that for the helicopter. Boats and cars have controls similar to what you would find in most other games with vehicles. Vehicle control will not be an issue for anyone because there is plenty of room to practice without encountering enemy soldiers. The playable area of Just Cause 3 is over four hundred square miles. That is over ten times larger than Grand Theft Auto V‘s state of San Andreas. The only place where Rico loses some cool points is under the water. On the surface, Rico swims fine with just the left analog stick. If he is submerged however, the controls are so clunky that I felt like I was controlling Tanner on foot in Driver 2. I once managed to drown in about six feet of water because swimming underwater requires the use of both analog sticks and the X button. I am begging the people at Avalanche to patch this. The one other control issue is that Rico does not run. In the middle of a firefight, you do a gentle jog and the only fast escape is using your grappling hook and/or wingsuit. He also cannot take cover which just seems silly considering his mission. Then again, the soldiers' aim is just above Stormtrooper level, so it's not like you are likely to die unless you are totally surrounded. Fortunately, the controls are mostly good so if you just tell yourself that “Rico cannot swim” things work out pretty well (I still want it patched).
(EDIT – 12/12/2015) For swimming, you do not need the X button but you do need both analogs. The swimming works much better than I originally thought, but it is still a goofy way to control it.
WHAT IS THAT, VELVET? It is an understatement to say that this game is absolutely beautiful. Medici is an archipelago, so you know that Avalanche had to put in work on my favorite graphical subject, water. The water in this game not only has incredible animation, it looks like the kind of water you would see in the Caribbean or Mediterranean. The combat effects in the game are incredible as well. You can see pretty much every bullet coming at you whether it be a revolver round or shell from the Corvette (a boat you will love). Weather effects are also top notch as the experience of rain, snow or even just wind and clouds can sometimes make you forget that you are supposed to be liberating a nation. Once again, we do run into some issues but I would really like to talk with the developers at Avalanche about them. You can see from the screenshots how realistic this game looks but the physics are like something out of Bizarro World. When you drive, fly and swim, things look normal, but when you get into fights, the game develops a mind of its own. Explosions are very standard fare but the objects around them, including Rico, behave strangely. I can die from a long fall, but I can survive being literally blown out of a vehicle and sometimes, the accompanying fall. Vehicles and people sometimes behave in ways you wouldn't expect when explosives detonate. None of these “glitches” hurt the gameplay, so I just look at them as additional comedy. The only true complaint I have in this area would be that of load times. The initial load when you first start the game is always several minutes, and that is fine, but there are always additional loads of a minute or more each when you start a main or side mission. I feel that this should have been addressed when making the game so that pre-loading is done in the background when you approach a mission marker. Trophy hunters will especially have headaches when they have to repeat a challenge because there is a load screen for each and every time you have to restart. The worst part of that is that a lot of the challenges are actually fun and trophy hunters like myself just want to get all the gears in the game. Having to wait for a load screen can be really aggravating when a challenge is on the tough side. Even with these complaints, if you want to know why I am not terribly bothered by the game's drawbacks, just watch this video. Everything you see here is gameplay.
I love games that give you freedom, so sandboxes are always something I look for. Just Cuase 3 is not a sandbox; it is a beach. One of the largest game worlds I have ever seen and there are no borders. The entire world is open from the start of the game. Building interiors are the only places you cannot go to and no one cares because we are only going to blow it all up anyway. If you want to play the main game, there are plenty of missions. If you want to discover all of Medici's secrets, there are hours worth of searching before you that will mix with combat now and again. The same goes if you want to complete the challenges. If I had to guess, I would say that Just Cause 3 has well over thirty hours of gameplay to reach 100% completion. There is some weirdness in there but oddly enough it all seems to fit in with what this game is trying to accomplish; sheer and utter madness. I have heard reports of excessively long load times and game breaking glitches, but I have not run into any. As I said before, the longest load is when I start the game and that is maybe two minutes or so. I would have to guess that the day one patch fixed many of the issues. If you enjoyed GTA V then you simply must own this game. It is fun, the characters are funny and I even find it therapeutic after a long day. Do like the start screen suggests: sit back, relax. . . and blow some sh!t up!
Edited, 03 September 2016
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Avalanche Studios announced that there would be DLC for Just Cause 3 from before the game first launched. The Air Land & Sea Expansion Pass promised to bring even more bang for your buck to Just Cause 3. The first of a trio of DLC packs debuted in March.
AIR This was the Sky Fortress DLC and it actually added a ton of value to Just Cause 3 by upgrading Rico's wingsuit. No longer did you need a high point to jump from or the momentum of the grapple, Rico could take off from anywhere, including the water. It also established the base of the expansion pass story. General Di Ravello made a lot of seedy deals while he was alive. One was with the eDEN Corporation. The highly advanced scientific research company needed bavarium to power their experiments and Di Ravello sold it to them. Fortunately, he did not live to see the error of his ways when an enormous flying fortress came to bear over Medici. It's plan was to take all of the bavarium, which would destroy the nation in the process.
A flying wingsuit with a bavarium-powered shoulder cannon and a rocket launcher? SIGN ME UP NOW! If you thought that liberating bases was tough in the main game (it was) prepare for serious action. you have to dodge missiles, evade and destroy flying drones and take on tank-sized spider mechs. This was easily my favorite chapter in the entire expansion pass storyline.
LAND The follow-up was the Mech Land Assault. Being able to stand on solid ground again was great after being airborne for so long. In this chapter of the eDEN saga, a criminal organization called The Black Hand was introduced. They were kidnapping people from Medici and forcing them to work on a nearby island. Rico infiltrated the labor camps and freed the prisoners only to discover a defunct eDEN installation where an army of highly mobile, highly destructive mechs were housed. The Black Hand were restoring them in order to have their own unstoppable army.
This DLC had so much potential, but there was really not much to do on the island. The bases were easily liberated and even the final battle was far from challenging. I barely even used the mechs, which admittedly are insanely cool.
SEA Last, but not least, came the Bavarium Sea Heist. Several decades ago, the eDEN Corporation had an research facility some miles off the southwestern coast of Medici. It conducted research on controlling the weather and had a focus on lightning. Something went terribly wrong and the ocean claimed the entire facility. The final DLC in the expansion pass explains both who and what Eden and eDEN were. If you bother to do some light digging you will uncover the truth of why Rico had to go through any of this to start with. I would recommend digging because the terrible dialogue and art of the main quest are embarrassing.
The Bavarium Sea Heist was fun. The main story made little sense, but the Loochador attack boat is ridiculously awesome. The same goes for the lightning gun. I cannot see anyone not enjoying raining lightning down on their enemies. The big downside is the glitch in enemy AI for the final mission. You would think things would be difficult, having to traverse tight corridors as elite soldiers try to perforate you. Instead, as you close in on them, they back into corners and just stare at you. They do not fire as if paralyzed with fear at the sight of Rico. I did not encounter that in either of the two DLC packs. Even though the same enemy model is used, this bug is thankfully contained to the final pack. The mission overall is otherwise enjoyable.
Let me be honest: not a single portion of the expansion pass is worth its individual price tag. What I mean is, by themselves, you will not feel like you got your money's worth. Thankfully, spending $25 on the pass (instead of $12 each) is worth it. The story is still weak if you get the whole thing, but it is coherent if you play from start to finish and find all the Eden tapes. The storytelling is abysmal because of the terrible cutscenes and poor acting. This is even more distressing because the cutscenes in the main game were fully animated, humorous and had better acting. Why Avalanche did not use the game engine for cutscenes in the DLC is beyond me. Regardless, the complete Just Cause 3 package is worth your time and your cash.
Finishing all of the DLC campaign gives you some serious “toys” to play with in the main game. You only have to play the introductory portion of the main game to start the DLC missions, but the DLC assumes you have played through the main game and the AI treats you as such. It would have been spectacular if a hard mode were added that lets you replay the fullgame with everything you'd acquired previously. You can start over wit hall your goodies, but it is the same game which will be way too easy at that point.
On the technical side of things, the DLC is just as beautiful as the main game and the music properly matches the action, especially in the Sea Heist. The glitches are not game breaking and are sometimes hysterical enough to enhance your experience. Just Cause 3 will make you happy that you got that bigger screen and that home theater system.
Currently, you can experience the entire adventure of Rico Rodriguez returning to his home island of Medici for $65 or less. That is $40 for the game and $25 for the expansion pass. That is just barely more than the game retailed originally for. if you have not yet used a tether to slingshot a soldier into space, it is time to pick this game up.