Life as a special agent is never easy, especially when said agent finds himself inside of a B-movie, or a sandbox video game for that matter. This is the case with one Rico Rodriguez, whose interactive life has been full of bullets, stunts, explosions and one precarious situation after another. Calling him gaming’s equivalent of a B-movie action star seems pretty on point, because that’s truly what he is.
We were introduced to Rico, the smooth talking South American badass, more than twelve years ago when the original Just Cause game released on PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360 and Windows PC. I remember buying the — at that time — ‘next gen’ version the day it came out, and spent a good amount of time with it after doing so. That said, I didn’t finish it, until I went back and did so right before Just Cause 2 was released four years later.
Now, that was a good game. Whereas the original Just Cause was a mediocre, albeit still fun and very over-the-top game, its first sequel turned things up to eleven and ended up being one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever played. I liked it so much that I ended up buying two copies of it, and recommended it to any friend or family member that I could.
Although it didn’t have a great progression system, Just Cause 2 was insanely fun to play. You could do so many crazy things within its varied open world, including hijacking helicopters and jet planes by using Rico’s grappling hook to latch onto them and pull oneself up. Vehicles were available, but it was always more fun to just use that grappling hook and its complementary parachute to get around, and that never got old. The only real downside to that game was how long it took to unlock each of its limited story missions by way of causing ‘chaos’ through destroying explosive items throughout its world.
Unfortunately, the next game in the series failed to come anywhere close to its predecessor’s level of quality, and was a major disappointment as a result. I’ve heard rumours that it was originally planned as a free-to-play game, and also that it was originally intended to be an MMO; either way, Just Cause 3 was a mess. The gameplay was bland, the missions were boring, and repetition was front and centre. I just couldn’t bring myself to play it, and ended up deleting it after a while. I thought about returning once it’d been patched, but never did, and then Just Cause 4 was announced.
Just Cause 4 was, without a doubt, one of my more anticipated games of this year. Everything they released — be it screenshots or trailer footage — pointed towards it being a return to form, to what Just Cause 2 was eight years ago. This time around, though, there’d be severe weather to deal with in addition to an abundance of enemy soldiers, rocket firing helicopters and the series’ brand of colourful predicaments. It was supposed to be the game that I wanted the last one to be, and was poised to become one of my favourite titles.
Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case. Now that I’ve played fifteen or more hours of Just Cause 4, I can safely say that it’s not the game I had hoped for. Nor is it ever going to be one of my favourite games of all-time, let alone of this generation. Hell, not even of this fall. It’s somewhat fun, but is rather disappointing, feeling like few lessons were learned from the mess that was Just Cause 3, though it is certainly an improvement over that.
Just Cause 4 sends Rico to a fictional South American country called Solis, and a rather large one at that. There, he’s investigating a group called The Black Hand, who once employed his father in a scientific capacity. His job? To create machines that could alter and even harness extreme weather, be it lightning, tornadoes or the like. They called it Project Illapa.
At the beginning of the game, Rico ascends to the top of one of Illapa’s main towers with the help of a new, female ally. Then things go back in time, where players are shown what transpired beforehand. That is, Rico’s meeting and working with a group of rebels, who end up joining together to create an army that will do battle against The Black Hand. How? In Risk-like fashion. The idea here is to cause chaos, earn troops and then use them to expand the front line by taking over new regions. Before you can do that, though, you must complete a mission inside of said region, and those come in several different forms. Some involve freeing brainwashed prisoners and then escorting them out of danger, while others task you with infiltrating ports and hacking into their computers, stealing warships or destroying generators. These are the types of missions you’ll be completing most often, because once again, Just Cause 4 features a small amount of story missions, all of which must be unlocked by causing chaos and taking over new territory.
I believe there are 31 regions to take over.
The main story missions are presented as operations, and each one is tied to a different type of severe weather, like extreme wind (and tornadoes) or lightning storms. These operations are comprised of several different missions each, and culminate in one big final quest. Thus, you can expect to enter into a lot of enemy territory, steal vehicles, hack computers, shut down generators, and steal the enemy’s technology any way you can. At times, this may even involve stealing sensitive material involving drone construction or something to that extent. That said, there’s little to these missions that you won’t see in other games. The only thing that really feels different is Rico’s ability to get around, using his grappling hook and parachute, and his ability to hijack enemy boats and helicopters as they fire upon him. Well, outside of the extreme weather, which often just makes things more of a pain in the ass by limiting how high you can go without getting electrocuted, or dropping a tornado right on top of you and turning the game into a slideshow for a brief period.
Rico is supposed to be an absolute badass, and is presented as such, with tools that should allow him to be incredibly fun to control. The problem is that, despite everything he has up his proverbial sleeve, Rico’s a very cumbersome and clunky character. He doesn’t move well, and Just Cause 4 also doesn’t help itself by controlling worse than the second game did back in 2010. Yes, you read that right. Just Cause 4 is marred by controls that just don’t feel smooth, and they sometimes end up being the sole reason for frustration. Even the grappling hook, parachute and wingsuit fail to control incredibly smoothly, making them more cumbersome (and less fun) to use than they should be.
This time around, players have a few different loadouts to take advantage of, and these are based around the grappling hook. You see, given that this series has always been about blowing shit up and being creative in the way that one does so, Avalanche Studios have given the grappling hook different abilities. The boosters from Just Cause 3 return, and they’re joined by little balloons that can send vehicles, enemies or something of that ilk flying into the air. In addition to those, Rico can also hold the left bumper and fire the grappling hook at two different spots, to pull switches upwards or rip doors off of generators.
Sadly, Just Cause 4‘s creative chaos isn’t as cohesive, easy to pull off or enjoyable as that of the second game. The controls have something to do with this, but so too does the bland mission design, not to mention how far one must travel to find things to blow up. Whereas it was incredibly easy to understand the map in Just Cause 2, with all of its settlements and bases and their collective fuel tanks, explosive barrels and other destructibles, Just Cause 4‘s map has lots of open space and also features quite a few settlements that offer nothing to blow up. Civilian settlements, that is. That’d be fine and dandy if progression wasn’t tied to blowing things up to fill a meter, and if the map wasn’t an ugly and uninformative mess.
Seriously, this game has one of the ugliest set of menus and heads-up displays going.
Rico can also only carry two weapons at once, and his ammunition runs out pretty quickly. It’s advisable to carry an assault rifle of some sort, as well as a rocket or grenade launcher, but you don’t have to. There’s at least one shotgun, an electricity shooting lightning gun, a rifle that shoots single fire and a sniper rifle. You’ll often pick these things up off of downed enemies while in search of ammo, especially if you run out mid-mission which is easily done, but the developers have also scattered weapon boxes throughout the world. On top of this, if you have some time, you can call in a quick drop of a chosen weapon (or even a vehicle, like a helicopter).
There are lots of vehicles (cars, tanks, armored cars, helicopters, planes, jets and boats) to fool around with, hijack, crash or jump off of, but it’s just not as fun as it once was. Things aren’t as organic as they were before, nor are the side missions as fun. Most of the time, you’ll be driving people or vehicles from one place to another, picking up allies of the Black Hand and then crashing the vehicles in a way that looks like an accident, or providing sniper rifle cover for soldiers from your own side. There are also lots of stunts to do, but they often require an exact vehicle, not to mention missions that relate to a guerilla film director and the movie she’s trying to make without government approval. That means more stunts, which take into account Rico’s abilities, his grappling hook boosters and the rest of his arsenal. Those can be fun sometimes, but the unfortunate truth is that a lot of Just Cause 4 is simply tedious. It should be an absolute blast given Rico and what he has going for him, but the developers haven’t created a game that is as exciting to play as it is on paper.
This thing isn’t helped at all, though, by its technical limitations. To put it simply, Just Cause 4 should’ve been kept in the proverbial oven for at least another several months. It feels rushed, has occasional frame rate issues and also has a bug that causes it to crash. The worst part of all of this, though, happens to be the cutscenes. They almost all just show Rico and other allies walking around and talking (or sharing a beer) before their next mission, but even then they run the gamut between looking bad and looking downright horrible. A lot of the cutscenes actually feel unfinished, and seem to render at a resolution that is less than HD. Textures flicker, characters’ faces aren’t well defined, things look out of place and it all ends up being really muddy. It’s not an impressive sight, especially on the Xbox One X. Then again, it’s not like the rest of the game is a looker either. Just Cause 4 looks, plays and performs like a dated experience, and it’s too bad. Sure, it looks decent at times, when you’re soaring above land or when there’s tons of colour and lots of sunlight, but then the pop-in and dated textures come into view.
The sound fares better, but it’s unable to save the game in any way, not that it’d be expected to. The characters sound alright, have okay writing behind their lines and are likeable enough. Well, the good guys are. The bad guys, who happen to be an evil female general and her evil male boss, are unlikeable and mean. That’s to be expected, though, much like the game’s South American music and soundtrack. There are radio stations to listen to while flying, boating or driving, but they’re all Latin, which didn’t interest me at all.
It’s too bad, but Just Cause 4 isn’t the game we were hoping it would be. There’s some fun to be had, once you get used to how the game works, plays and struggles, but not enough to warrant a purchase at anywhere close to full price. Somehow, this sequel is harder to control, less fun and worse overall than a predecessor that came out eight years ago and ran on a previous generation of consoles. I’m quite disappointed about this, and personally at that, because this was once one of my all-time favourite series.
**This review is based on the Xbox One X version of the game, which we were provided with.**
- Large map with varied geometry
- Lots of vehicles to drive, stunts to pull off
- You can use Rico's wingsuit, grappling hook and parachute to pull off some cool stunts
- Looks and plays like a dated experience, and doesn't feel modern
- Unfinished cutscenes and technical issues
- Lots of repetition