Just Cause 3 introduces its protagonist Rico Rodriguez as a “dictator removal specialist” who then punches the flying missile he’s standing on.
The series has always been gargantuan, explosive and delightfully daft, but from its opening sequence this sequel ups the ante.
This time round, Rico returns home to liberate Medici, 400 square miles of Mediterranean splendour oppressed by cartoon despot Di Ravello who thinks nothing of torching his own people in a quest for world domination. Don’t expect any kind of political subtext though: the plot is forgettable and any moral message is clouded by the indifference shown towards Rico’s endless collateral damage. Medici is a place where you casually board a civilian’s boat miles from land and throw them overboard while quipping: “It’s a good day for a swim”. The game is knowingly ridiculous and more fun for it, its mantra amounting to Homer on a prison trolley yelling: “Must kill Di Ravello, wee!”.
You get to the general by completing story missions and liberating towns, turning the map from red to blue by spilling a lot of red and spreading chaos. Explosions are Just Cause 3’s speciality. Not everything is destructible, but the game boasts the finest demolition jobs since Red Faction: Guerrilla. By deploying the upgraded grappling hook, allowing up to six separate tethers at once, you can effortlessly propel large and sometimes flammable structures into one another, concocting colossal fireballs.
The finest new addition is the wingsuit, which allows Rico to fly vast distances and offers a bird’s-eye view of merry destruction. I climbed the highest peak in the game and jumped off in the direction of the brightest lights below. After swooping majestically for several minutes I deployed the parachute and dropped smack in the middle of a military base. Two laser sights were immediately trained on me and a moment later RPGs fired, but I zipped upwards to a crane with the grapple, leaving a gap that saw one rocket whack into a jeep and the other into the second shooter.
I tethered the remaining grunt to an ignited gas canister and it promptly shot into the air with him flailing behind; a makeshift Fulton extraction. A pop-up appeared informing me I had set a personal best for the resulting distance he flew.
Reinforcements arrived and I mowed them down with machinegun fire – the weapons never feel great but the AI is dumb and inaccurate enough to make this problem less than terminal. Finally, I tethered a row of storage cylinders together and they fell like dominos in the distance as I nonchalantly strolled out the front gate. Rico’s too cool to look at explosions.
The game works best whenever it supplies these superhero fantasies. Sadly, I found it literally didn’t work far too often. Imagine the hi-jinks above related in stuttering fashion, with frequent outright pauses to think really hard about the explosions. The frame rate seemingly gets worse the longer your session – suggesting a memory leak issue – and should you die because it drops to the point where you can no longer adequately defend yourself, expect infuriatingly long load times to return to the fray. Oh, and the developer might think the regime’s DRM initials are amusing but the joke is on us when the game boots you if your internet connection fails. Most bizarrely, whenever I liberated a town by raising the revolutionary flag, the camera would become fixed on it while the game continued. I love flags as much as the next guy, but it’s hard to free a country playing as one.
It’s testament to Just Cause that I had no hesitation pushing through its annoyances; the surroundings are so exquisite that sometimes it’s worth enduring the slideshow for the canapes and champagne. This is a sumptuous world teeming with stuff to do. The scripted campaign isn’t perfect but there are entertaining set pieces and I recommend doing at least the first few to gain essentials like supply drops and fast travel. It’s also worth taking on challenges like car races and wingsuit courses to obtain upgrades; you can compete against ghosts of your friends as an added incentive.
Beyond these, feel free to liberate towns by blowing up statues and loudspeakers, assault military bases by exploding everything inside, or just goof around by making your chosen thing go boom. The developer has improved how escalation works in these scenarios, no longer lurching from single policeman to tanks the moment you’re spotted. For the first time, hiding is a viable tactic to lose heat, and a pleasant innovation allows you to spot somebody calling for backup and take them out accordingly. If things get too hairy you can even find sanctuary with a priest to reset the wanted counter to zero. Just don’t tell Richard Dawkins.
Just Cause is a beautiful playground that allows you to star in your own totally ridiculous action film. It may lack depth but it’s hard to care when you’re grappling out of a crashing helicopter into the cockpit of a Formula One car. However, you definitely will care if your driving style is more Pastor Maldonado than Lewis Hamilton because the frame rate has slowed to a crawl. It should be noted that I was using a PC but problems appear just as bad on consoles. Hopefully patches will smooth everything out, but until then a potentially great game comes recommended with reservation.
Square Enix; PC (versions tested)/PS4/Xbox One; £50; Pegi rating: 18+
This article was written by Ian Ford, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th December 2015 09.22 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010