I played a lot of Just Cause 3. Evolution studios created a huge, fun open-world environment that was just so rewarding to travel around and to create massive explosions in. Not to mention the fun to be had attaching boosters to cars (or cows) to just see the resulting mayhem. I also remembered the famous video where Rico just stood still and watched the AI madness kick-off around him without his participation. But Just Cause 3 didn’t keep me entertained enough to keep me playing through to story completion. Will Just Cause 4 have the same impact?
It does feel as if developers are somewhat scared of criticism about a lack of content in their games. The result are games that should be 30-40 hours long actually being 100+ due to all the extra challenges and collectables. For a completionist like me this does become prohibitive to my enjoyment, as I feel overwhelmed by the task ahead and never feel like I am progressing fast enough. Just Cause 3 was a good example of too much content, and most of this was necessary to push the story along, with the player having to liberate all settlements before a region would unlock. Just Cause 4 does improve on it’s predecessor by adding a two-fold approach to region unlocking. The first is a main story mission in each region that needs to be completed and then secondly a chaos meter that needs to be filled to unlock squads. The squads are essentially local resistance fighters who want to join Rico’s army after being inspired by the destruction he causes. So, more explosions equal more squads! This approach works much better so immediately makes this sequel a huge improvement, as you can choose to either push the story along or to mess around with the myriad of challenges. The main missions are reasonable varied, from taking over a drone factory to disposing of car bombs by driving them into the sea, but of course you’ll end up stealing a helicopter or a tank in the process and laying waste to the enemy base whilst creating those incredible massive explosions.
The story does feel very similar to previous Just Cause games. There’s an evil dictator who has created a way to use extreme weather as a weapon, and Rico’s dad has played some part in this creation. Although there is a personal element to this story it didn’t really resonate with me, and the weather effects are only used in the odd story mission, so did feel underused. Even if you ignored all the side missions and challenges there’s still probably 20+ hours of entertainment here, and as I mentioned before, if you want to complete everything on offer you’ll be 100+.
There no real change to the way that Rico traverses the world. His trusty grappling hook, parachute and wingsuit are back and fully equipped right from the start, meaning that experienced Just Cause players will be good to go. Just Cause 4 adds some extra gadgets to Rico’s arsenal, with the addition of Metal Gear-esque fulton balloons, thrusters alongside the returning retractor. I found the latter to be absolutely crucial during combat as it allows you to do such wonderful things as attaching a car to a set of oil drums, which in turn creates an explosion so big that it takes out half of your enemies before you even fire a gun. Enemies can also be attached to each other, or to helicopters. The potential here is incredible. The Fulton balloons and the thrusters are a bit more hit and miss, and I only really used these when in “messing around” mode, just to see what I could do. All of these are upgradable and customisable, meaning you can set power levels or make the balloons explode on destruction. It was fun to go mad and “Fulton” all the enemies during a gunfight!
Graphically, Just Cause 4 is both very impressive and slightly disappointing in certain ways. The island of Solis is beautiful, especially when viewed from the air immediately after you air-drop (fast travel) into a location. The lush tropical jungles, skyscraper filled cities and white sandy beaches all look fantastic, although there is some pop-in of trees and buildings when travelling at high speed. Head into a candlelit dark cave, on some of the side missions and you’ll find a pixelated, horrible mess that you’ll just want to get away from. There’s also some weird graphical effects in the cut scenes that makes peoples faces, especially the eyes, look really awful. Just Cause 4 is running on a new version of the Apex engine, and whilst its mostly fine, there are signs that it’s not quite coping with the games demands. This can be witnessed when comparing the graphical performance on both the Xbox One X and S consoles. It looks very nice on the X, but the S appears more grainy and definitely not as polished. However, the world that Avalanche has created is very impressive, with military bases and tourist locations mixing together in the hills and valleys on the island. Flying around in a helicopter really demonstrates the care and attention to detail that has gone into the map design, with motorways and dirt tracks linking every rural and city area.
As I previously mentioned there are lots of side quests in Just Cause 4. The main two are wingsuit stunts and speed challenges, but there are also NPCs that charge you with completing stunts for a new action movie, and sending you after hidden temples. All of these are pretty fun, and the wingsuit stunts are a real challenge. Of course there are rewards for these, which come in the form of vehicle or weapon unlocks that you can access via supply drops, and upgrades for your grapple skills. Supply drops are a great help in the midst of battle, especially when you can just call in a tank to drop from the sky, or call a helicopter to get you to your next mission. Some challenges require the use of a specific vehicle, but these can often be found parked up close by.
However, there are some niggles. The physics engine can sometimes glitch out, giving some unexpected results. Most of the enemies can be killed fairly easily, but get into a situation where you are in an area with a couple of snipers and a railgun turret and you will die a lot. These turrets can be frustrating as they require you to remove a front and back panel with your retractor before you are able to destroy it. Sounds ok, but one shot from it can kill you, and it tracks your every movement, meaning a deadly game of hide and seek is the best way to tackle it. The snipers are also far too deadly, I had to seek them out to kill them before even attempting the mission objective. These two enemies are rage quit inducing! I also found the map markers to be too small, especially when you’re trying to find them in the heat of battle. The story also introduces some characters right at the start that you then don’t see for tens of hours!
Just Cause 4 does improve on its predecessor, but only just. There is an amazing amount of content on offer, with an OK story, but the Just Cause series of games has become a creative sandbox world to create mass destruction whilst flying through the air, hijacking helicopters, driving motorcycles off of cliffs, shooting people with wind guns and attaching rocket boosters to petrol tankers and watching them career into buildings before exploding. And it does all of these (and more) really, fantastically well. It’s still the best game to play for the sheer number of “highlights reel” moments that you’ll witness. My “Xbox Record That” has never been used as much as it did here! Its not intelligent or original but it is a big heap of fun, and sometimes that’s good enough.