The third in the Just Cause series, following 2006’s Just Cause and its 2010 sequel, Just Cause 3 delivers a very predictable entry. It’s an intelligent and focused iteration of the series’ themes and mechanics, and a game completely confident in staying inside of itself and its comfortable course of blossoming pyrotechnics.
In Just Cause 3, the player is once more cast as Rico Rodriguez, a South American mercenary raised in the game’s setting of Medici, a series of pseudo-Grecian Mediterranean islands. After making a name for himself as a destabilizer of international dictatorships, Rico returns home to aid a rebellion against Medici’s fascist leader, General Di Ravello.
The Just Cause series has consistently revolved around the interplay between Rico’s grappling-hook and infinite parachutes, which, when combined, allow him to transcend conventions of gravity and locomotion. The games become a display of aerial ballet, as Rico grapples himself into enemies, stunt positions on occupied vehicles, and the air for traversal and vantage. Just Cause 3 has chosen to evolve these franchise trends by slowing Rico’s aerial cruising speed and adding a wingsuit to his arsenal. This shifts focus to the parachute as a transitive element of traversal (and a platform for firearm combat), and it finally rewards Just Cause players with the explicit ability to fly, via wingsuit. All this mobility couples with a progression through the game that should be familiar to most open-world connoisseurs.
Per the norm, story missions in Just Cause 3 are gated behind the liberation of settlements and the destruction of military assets, which in turn unlock challenge missions. The challenge missions reward with gears which are then used to unlock “MODs:” optional upgrades to improve or alter Rico’s skills and equipment. Where in previous games Rico could call in a helicopter to deliver vehicles and equipment in exchange for money, Just Cause 3 simplifies its “Rebel Drops” by providing the resources for free (outside of a refresh timer) and gating them behind a replenishable supply of beacons. Health regeneration has supplanted the health pickups which slowed the action of Just Cause 2, and the game finally addresses the potential for ammunition scarcity by allowing the grappling hook to tear down infrastructure and equipping Rico with an infinite supply of remote explosives.
From its opening montage of cutscene snippets introducing the cast (set to a downtempo, jazzy cover of The Prodigy’s “Firestarter”), followed quickly by an in media res intro where the title card is literally blown away by artillery fire, Just Cause 3 is a marked improvement for the series. Even its sense of humour acts with more heart and purpose than the often bracing surrealism of Just Cause 2. A recurring piece of stock dialogue when assaulting military fuel reserves is the dry remark, “Try storing your fuel now, you jerks,” complete with Rico’s gravelly drawl. Just Cause 3 is a game very comfortable with the fact that it has nothing to say, politically or artistically, and, in a way, I love it for it.
It should be clear that Just Cause 3 maintains the series’ hallmark, manic approach to rising-action narrative and its fetishistic relationship with explosions. There’s a loving touch to the rendering of rippling shockwaves and roiling fireballs that borders on the sensual; a careful bit of craft which provides impetus in chasing the game’s perennial goal of destruction purely for its kinetic delight. Just Cause 3 is very rarely unfun, and at its best it’s genuinely exciting.
Unfortunately, Just Cause 3 has been riddled with technical problems across all platforms. In my personal experience on PC, I’ve had some fairly consistent framerate issues, particularly when traversing at speeds that would ask the game to quickly render fresh regions of the open-world. There have also been issues with the game’s online functionality, which is tied into a largely inconsequential challenge system that can sometimes prevent the game from running at all. While there are workarounds, such as kneecapping the game’s texture and LOD settings and launching in Steam’s offline mode, they’re not ideal, and suggest a greater technical haphazardness in the game’s development. Just Cause 3 is an incredibly reliable experience in terms of gameplay, and that makes it all the more frustrating when the same can’t be said of the game’s technical performance.
So what can be said of Just Cause 3 The Product, when Just Cause 3 The Idea is so consistent with itself? In 2015, when consumers of games are frequently asked to purchase Big Releases for $60-80, Just Cause 3’s stubborn refusal to deviate from its decade old themes and structure, while delivering a sometimes-broken experience, is a difficult proposition of value. I would almost argue that Just Cause 3 The Product chafes with the weight of Just Cause 3 The Idea; you are asked to pay money for a thing that exists, in spirit, in other places, in a more manageable form, and has done so for some time.
The fact is that Just Cause 3’s creativity lies in its iteration of the groundwork Just Cause and Just Cause 2 set—ambitious products marred by significant weirdness. As a fan of the franchise, the minute but important changes to Rico’s controls and arsenal in Just Cause 3 are endearing, and the game is undeniably pretty, but it cannot escape its role as The Third Game. When the rush of excitement brought on by its sheer charisma passes, Just Cause 3 is what it is, and it’s a Just Cause-ass Just Cause.
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This game was reviewed on PC using the editor’s personal copy. Just Cause 3 is also available on PS4 and Xbox One.