In a day and age where it feels like single-player games need to push grand new ideas and have revolutionary storytelling in order to be successful, sometimes it's nice to see titles that just focus on being plain fun. I've always appreciated Just Cause, Avalanche Studios' satirical open-world action series, for exactly this reason.
Blowing things up and abusing a silly physics engine in creative ways has an undeniable charm to it, but the last game in the series, Just Cause 3, suffered from feeling a little too repetitive since everything about the open world of Medici felt too structured and cookie cutter.
Thankfully, Just Cause 4's setting, Solìs, is much more diverse and dynamic than its predecessor. This, combined with a brand new engine and all of the new weapons, vehicles, gadgets, and gameplay systems you can interact with, has lead to what is undoubtedly the best Just Cause game yet.
About this review
This review was conducted on a Windows 10 PC equipped with an Intel i5-8400 processor, an NVIDIA GeForce 1050Ti graphics card, and 16GB of RAM, using a review copy of the game provided to Windows Central.
Story and writing
Just Cause 4 is set in the South American country of Solìs, and the franchise's protagonist Rico Rodriguez is tasked with freeing its people from a vicious dictator. By causing mayhem and destroying government military assets, Rico inspires the citizens of Solìs to join his Army of Chaos and fight back against the oppressors. This is the typical narrative that Just Cause is known for — and it's exactly as cheesy as it sounds — but that's a good thing. Good satire is rare these days, and a video game that humorously captures what we hate to love and love to hate about corny Hollywood action movies will always get a grin out of me.
Just Cause 4's story is just an excuse to blow things up — which is exactly what it should be.
Of course, a Just Cause story needs good comedy too, and Just Cause 4 has it in large quantities. Rico is full of sarcastic wisecracks and funny comments (such as "It's time to blow some shit up!") that never failed to get me to crack a smile, and a ton of the dialogue between Rico and other people in Solìs, such as fellow members of the Army of Chaos, is lighthearted and enjoyable.
The world of Just Cause 4 is expansive, diverse, and deep. One of the biggest disappointments about Just Cause 3 was that there was only one type of environment: grass plains. On top of this, each area that you had to clear was filled with the same exact objectives, which lead to a feeling of staleness and repetitiveness as you liberated Medici. Fortunately, Avalanche Studios took a page out of Just Cause 2's book for Just Cause 4 and reintroduced biomes to the franchise, including rainforest, desert, alpine, and snow, as well as the return of grassy plains. Additionally, military bases and towns are more unique as well, with each one featuring different types of objectives to complete in order to allow your army to move in and take control.
Speaking of the Army of Chaos, one of my favorite additions in Just Cause 4 is the front line mechanic. Like in previous games, you and your army take over the map by capturing specific regions. Unlike other Just Cause titles, however, this time you can see and participate in battles that take place on region borders. Fighting in them doesn't serve a purpose since you need to destroy military bases to actually break enemy lines, but that doesn't mean they're not an absolute blast to experience. Both the government and the Army of Chaos leverage heavy weapons, vehicles, and ordnance against each other on the front, and due to this, these areas are giant warzones that you can fight alongside your comrades in for hours against waves of foes.
Another system in the world worth noting is the brand new weather system, which causes tornadoes, blizzards, sandstorms, and more to spawn throughout Solìs depending on which biome you're currently in. If you choose to investigate and experiment with them, you'll be rewarded. For example, objects brought near tornadoes will get caught up by the wind and flung about, while throwing an enemy up into the air in a thunderstorm can cause them to get struck by lightning. I've never seen anything quite like these weather events in a game before, and I'm thoroughly impressed.
In terms of the gameplay experience, Just Cause 4 is the most dynamic game in the series by far. Rico's famous grappling hook can now have up to 10 tethers, which is double the maximum from Just Cause 3, and as you'd expect, this opens up a huge array of possibilities for messing around with Just Cause's trademark goofy physics. In addition to the standard ability to pull things together with tethers, both the boosters from the previous game as well as balloons have been made available as grapple tether mods with their own upgrade trees, and you can mix and match all of these in three different grapple presets to maximize your creative destruction.
Nothing, not even the sky, is the limit when it comes to Just Cause 4's gameplay depth.
Of course, Rico's grappling hook is also used for traversing the open world, alongside his parachute and wingsuit. These three tools work together beautifully in a trifecta of mobility, and a huge part of the reason why I have a hard time putting Just Cause 4 down is because of how much fun it is to combo all of them together to make my way from place to place in Solìs. The game does have a fast travel system, but I've never felt a desire to use it one time after over 20 hours of play because of how enjoyable the movement mechanics are.
When it comes to weapons and vehicles, Just Cause 4 has a massive arsenal of them that can be found throughout Solìs. Assault rifles, SMGs, RPGs, tanks, helicopters, motorcycles — Just Cause 4 has it all and then some, including a brand new secondary functionality for handheld weapons like rifle-mounted grenade launchers or concussive missiles. As you progress through the story and world, these will also become available at any time you please in the form of supply drops. This means that your favorite tools of destruction are only a few key presses away from being at your fingertips.
Presentation and performance
Just Cause 4 is built on a brand new engine, dubbed Apex by Avalanche Studios. After the catastrophic launch Just Cause 3 had, I was worried that Just Cause 4 would also be glitched and bugged to hell. Thankfully, though, the new Apex engine is incredibly powerful, and despite my graphics card being a bit below the recommended spec, I can run Just Cause 4 on the highest settings with relative ease. There are admittedly some moments where the draw distance feels poor, or the framerate dips a little bit, but by and large, the game runs excellently. I'm very impressed with how much Avalanche has improved in this regard, at least on PC where we've tested the game.
The fact the game runs superbly allows its incredible graphics to shine, as well. Just Cause 4's diverse world is truly a sight to behold, and each biome is gorgeous in its own special way. Visual effects for things like smoke, bullets, and explosions are also stunning and really help to sell the gratuitous violence on screen. Something I was completely surprised by, though, was the quality of the sound design. Everything from the sound of the gun you're firing to the chirps and whistles of the wildlife in the forest feel genuine, and that really helps create a feeling of immersion. When you graze the needles of a pine tree branch while flying with the wingsuit and actually hear Rico's body rustling through them, it makes the world seem real. It's the little details like this that take game design to the next level.
Should you buy Just Cause 4?
After the struggles of Just Cause 3, I was expecting Avalanche Studios to come out swinging with Just Cause 4. Even so, I'm still absolutely amazed at how incredible of an experience they've been able to craft.
- Comedic, satirical story.
- Stunning open world.
- Dynamic, engaging gameplay.
- Incredible new engine.
- Some minor performance hiccups.
Everything is absolutely fantastic, and while in-game performance isn't perfect, it's hardly enough of a downside to affect my view of the game overall. Avalanche has truly brought the thunder.
Just Cause 4 comes out on December 4, for $60 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
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