Just Cause 3 Review (XONE)

Just Cause 3 screen
Just Cause 3 screen. Square Enix

Just Cause has always been a fun series because it gives you a huge open world with plenty of toys to play with, but also the freedom to improvise and make your own fun.  The newest title, Just Cause 3, is the best yet at putting you in its sandbox and then getting the heck out of your way as fast as possible so you can start goofing off.  As fun as blowing stuff up, wingsuiting around, and throwing things around can be, however, there are some notable flaws.

  The shooting and driving are both very poor.  The story, and associated missions, is bad.  And the framerate slows to a crawl at the slightest hint of action.  As fun and wonderful as Just Cause 3 can be at its best, it isn't at its best nearly as often as we'd like. 

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Square Enix
  • Developer:  Avalanche Studios
  • ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
  • Genre: Action
  • Pros:  Fantastic explosions; awesome locomotion; really fun improvisational gameplay
  • Cons:  Bad story missions; can get repetitive; gating content behind challenges; awful framerate; bad shooting; load times

Story and Setting

After toppling dictatorships around the world, Just Cause series hero Rico Rodriguez returns to his homeland - a fictional Mediterranean island chain called Medici - to free his countrymen from the iron rule of their own dictator, General Di Ravello.  They tell Rico "We'll rebuild whatever you destroy", which gives you the green light to blow up everything you see.

 

The story and main characters are pretty nonsensical and forgettable, but it all greatly conflicts with the seriousness of what is actually happening.  One moment people are joking about Rico's unlimited number of parachutes and other goofy stuff, the next moment a character is deeply troubled by the General's bombing of a civilian town in retaliation.

  Then Rico quips some bad one-liner and zips off for more hijinks.  The story missions themselves are heavy with desperation and the gravity of your actions, which clashes with the rest of the game where you spend most of your time goofing off and slingshotting cows. 

For other open world games on Xbox One, see our reviews of Grand Theft Auto V and Fallout 4.

Gameplay

Outside of the story missions Just Cause 3 really shines.  You are free to do whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want.  There are cars and helicopters and tanks and jets and all sorts of fun toys to play with.  Your goal is to free towns and military bases from government control, which you accomplish by blowing everything up similar to Far Cry 3 and FC4.  Water towers, radio transmitters, satellite dishes, generators, and anything else painted with a big red stripe are waiting to be destroyed, and when they're all gone, "poof", the rebels take control.  Each base and city is different and has its own set of challenges and requirements, so taking over the dozens (and dozens, this map is huge ...) of locations is always fairly fun.

Your arsenal includes some pretty innovative toys.  In addition to the guns and rocket launchers you'd expect, you also have an unlimited supply of C4 along with a handy tether system.

  Your wrist-mounted tether lets you instantly grapple up cliff sides, zip to the top of a vehicle (any vehicles, even planes and helicopters while they're flying), and more.  You can also tether objects together and reel them into each other, such as whipping an explosive barrel into a radio tower or connecting a helicopter to the ground and causing it to crash.  As you play you earn more tether points to hook more things together and stronger reels, which let you cause even more havoc.  Coming up with new and unique ways to use the tools at your disposal is one of the great joys of Just Cause 3.

Your tether also works into the locomotion system.  You can zip across the ground with your tether and then pop your parachute to fly into the air.  Then you just continually tether to points on the ground - while still having your parachute out - to pull yourself along to wherever you need to go, which is much faster than driving a vehicle (and the vehicle controls are awful anyway ...).  You also have a wingsuit that you can pop while you're freefalling to glide around and cover long distances stunningly quickly.  Using all of these things - tether, parachutes, wing suit - together is an incredibly fun way to get around.  You also unlock upgrades for each that let you fly further, zipline faster, and more.  Flinging Rico all over and flying around is a lot of fun and lets you tackle objectives from any angle you want.

Just Cause 3 uses an interesting unlock system to give you access to all of your toys.  You get your parachute and tether system and are unleashed on the world right away, so you can start goofing off and having fun immediately.  You earn new weapons and vehicles by liberating settlements and bases, and major new abilities like fast travel or getting weapons / vehicles delivered to you by finishing story missions.  Upgrades for all of your items and abilities are accessed by completing challenge missions that open up when you liberate an area. 

These challenges are things like races, precision wingsuit courses, or simply blowing up as much stuff within a time limit.  Each challenge is directly related to whatever you're upgrading - so a grenade challenge unlocks more grenades, a racing challenge unlocks nitrous, tether challenge gives you more tether points, etc. - so you only really have to do the challenges for stuff you want to upgrade while ignoring the rest.  While it is a clever system, most of the challenges aren't actually all that fun and the load times that accompany them (especially when you want to retry them) are frustratingly long.  The benefits of doing them are tangible, but they aren't terribly enjoyable. 

There are some other hiccups as well.  Driving gameplay is awful, but you probably won't be in ground vehicles for long.  Planes and helicopters handle pretty well, though.  The shooting is also particularly awful.  It is very arcadey and auto-aim heavy, so you just point in a general direction and hope Rico hits what you want him to.  As I mentioned above, load times when you first start the game or do missions or challenges are surprisingly long.  Not the ridiculous "15 minutes" claim that certain other sites are spouting, but 2-3 minutes is still a long, long time to wait around.  The performance is also remarkably terrible with the framerate taking huge hits at the first sign of any action.  Taking over cities and military bases might as well be in slow motion with how lethargically the game moves around you.  It doesn't ever make the game unplayable - heck, it probably makes it easier for things to move so slowly, actually - but it is hard not to be disappointed with how poorly it runs. 

The game is also, inexplicably since there isn't any multiplayer besides leaderboards, always online.  You can play in an offline mode, but as soon as you try to enter the menu the game goes back online anyway.  And if there are server issues, as there were the weekend prior to release, the game goes into an unplayable loop of trying to connect to server, going into offline mode, then trying to connect to the server again as soon as you try to do anything.  This review is several days later than I had planned simply because I couldn't actually play the game for a few days.  It is worth noting that the online servers have worked fine since the official release date, but it is something to consider.

The end result is a game that has a lot of very, very fun crazy moments, but also a lot of annoyances.  While there is quite a bit of variety in how you accomplish things, the vast majority of the game boils down to "Go here, blow stuff up", which does get repetitive after a while.  I wish the shooting was better.  I wish the driving was at least serviceable.  And most of all I wish the game ran better.  The slideshow the game becomes during combat is really disappointing.

Graphics & Sound

Visually, Just Cause 3 does look pretty good.  It is sort of deceptive, though.  It doesn't have super detailed textures and the environments don't look fantastic, but it has awesome lighting and surprisingly lush foliage, which makes things look much better.  It has a sort of Farming Simulator-esque effect where all of the flowers and grass pop into existence in a circle around you, but it looks nice.  You can also see for literal miles and miles at all of the islands and bases and cities around you, which is impressive.  And you can't ignore how great the explosions and particle effects and smoke looks.  The best explosions in the business are right here.

Aside from the iffy voice acting, the sound is also fantastic.  There are great sound effects for explosions and gunfire and structures crumbling all around you and a very good and surprisingly diverse ambient soundtrack. 

Bottom Line

Ultimately, Just Cause 3 is a very uneven experience.  As fun as the locomotion is, how great blowing stuff up truly is, and as much as I love the amount of freedom the game offers you almost immediately, it is impossible to ignore how poor certain core aspects of the gameplay are (shooting and driving) and how bad the framerate is.  Or how awkward the story is related to your actions.  Or how repetitive it all gets.  Just Cause 2 (which is also playable on Xbox One now) did most of this better.  Just Cause 3 isn't bad, just disappointing and Avalanche Studios' other 2015 release, Mad Max, is much more worthy of your time.  Just Cause 3 will make for a fun rental and be pretty appealing after a price drop.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.