Just Cause is one of the few series I’ve been with since the beginning. All the way back to Caribbean San Esperito in 2006, when Rico Rodriguez took on Salvador Mendoza and the grapple hook was an equippable weapon. In the 12 years since, we’ve followed Rico to the Asian nation of Panau, his Mediterranean homeland, Medici, and now to the South American country of Solís. It has been quite the journey, with each game bringing in new challenges for Rico to face.
This time around, those challenges come in the form of extreme weather and the machines causing it. Now working alone, Rico must destroy Project Illapa, a weather controlling station developed by his father. This is controlled by Oscar Espinosa, who is naturally also the overbearing dictator. Adding in to the new cast of characters is rebel leader Mira, who recruits Rico to lead the revolutionary army and take down Espinosa.
Extreme weather effects are full on natural disasters, with snowstorms, hurricanes, sandstorms, and lightning storms causing real issues for Rico and the inhabitants of Solís. The biggest obstacle that most of these effects present is their high winds, making flying with the wingsuit and parachute much harder. The snowstorm and sandstorm also make visibility low, which turns Just Cause 4 into a stealth game for a brief period!
Rico starts with most of the upgrades he gained over the course of Just Cause 3: the wingsuit, grapple and vehicle boost upgrades all stick around for Just Cause 4. This is great because I got very used to the flexibility that the movement upgrades give, and there are plenty of new things for Rico to unlock. These are in three categories pertaining to the grapple hook, which I honestly think is a little bloated.
The three schools of upgrade for the grapple are Retractor, Air Lifter, and Booster. Retractor is an extension of the normal function of the grapple from previous games, where you can connect two objects and pull them together. The upgrades let you customise this, from speed to what happens when the grapple line is at the shortest length. Air Lifter attaches balloons to objects and, with different upgrades, will shoot them up into the air. Booster attaches small rockets, which make a return in a different form from Just Cause 3.
The issue with this system is something that comes up a lot in Just Cause 4: in attempts to simplify the interface, they’ve made it obstructively hard to use. The air balloon and the booster attach to whatever the second hit of the grapple attaches to, and I can’t think of any reason to attach two things together when doing this so you end up just grappling the same thing. These two upgrades would have been better as a separate throwable, keeping the grapple system simplified and consistent.
This issue is also very visible in the menus. The menu that holds the map is clearly designed for a controller, and this is really obvious when you try to select one of the side mission lines as the mouse stops working completely. You have to switch menu, which is achieved through the num keys, and then back to the map. Also, in those other menus, while they are accessible through the mouse none of the functions work with mouse buttons, and you have to move your mouse hand to the keyboard to change the upgrade settings, or call in a drop.
Speaking of, the drop system is significantly changed from previous games. Firstly, the cargo containers are precisely aimable, and you can choose the direction it will face. The issue with this is you can only call in one object at a time, and the drop pilots go on a five minute cooldown, so you can no longer resupply entirely as you could do in the previous game. On the plus side, you can drop a giant ferry onto basically everything and that’s really what this game is about.
The vehicles in general are an improvement over previous installments - the Just Cause series has never been lauded for it’s driving. If you’re looking for a realistic driving game, this is not it, but I don’t hate the forced driving missions. The flying vehicles are a little awkward, and for the first time in the series I actively prefer helicopters to jets, but for the most part you don’t need to spend any time in vehicles unless you’re doing a mission - flying around in the wingsuit is all I need.
As with the previous game, Just Cause 4 is best when you’re just flying around in the wingsuit and observing the world. As a tourism game, the world of Solís is spectacular and breathtaking - from afar. Get up close to anything, and Just Cause 4 is one of the ugliest games of the generation. The worst offenders are the cutscenes, where the character models are unavoidable. The facial hair on almost every male character is seemingly individually drawn, and it looks terrible. It’s made worse in scenes with dynamic lights, as Rico’s brown locks can appear ginger or even bright blond in certain lights. It looks terrible, and it’s a real shame because from afar the game is beautiful.
Solís’ world is the most diverse of the locations in the series, with four distinct biomes to play in. The game starts you in normal Just Cause territory, a forest/jungle area with plenty of hills and mountainous areas to jump off of. From there, to the south is an area with fewer trees, and flatter ground with the largest city in the map. To the northwest of the map is a desert, which has lots of valleys and cliffs, and is where the train lines are. In the centre of the map, a range of mountains reaches up to the highest point which is covered in snow.
Developers Avalanche Studios made some big promises to the tune of improved AI, to give players a more tactical opponent, and this hasn’t really come across. The Black Hand, Espinosa’s military force, are well equipped but not tactically minded and you can often see them running in one at a time, taking cover in places where there is no cover, or otherwise just standing around while their friends are murdered. The enemy AI is also extremely persistent, and they will keep sending wave after wave of soldiers at you until you get bored and decide to leave - at which point the Black Hand will chase you for awhile until you go completely out of eyeline or destroy the helicopters or jets chasing you.
The ordinary citizens of Solís are not much better, and driving around without crashing is practically impossible. They try to get out of the way, but usually they just swerve into you. The same citizens are also part of a major mechanic, and an improvement to the open world genre as a whole. To unlock regions, you have to move the front line of the war forwards. To do this, you need to have enough squads. Squads are gained in two ways: by completing missions that unlock regions, or by causing chaos - destroying anything that’s silver/white and red basically. I don’t think that this has been implemented in the best way, as most of the regions give squads in payment for completing repetitive missions.
The missions are all rather repetitive, even in themselves. My least favourite requires you to drive certain vehicles found on bases to sensor doors while being shot at. The only fun one of those was the tank one, the other ones were tedious after the first vehicle. There is also a lot of escort missions, both inside vehicles and around enemy bases, and the AI doesn’t really know what to do between attacking the target you’re protecting and you.
But to me, none of that really matters. From an objective, technical perspective, Just Cause 4 is a mess of good ideas executed poorly. Just Cause has never been about impressive technical gameplay, it has always been about being a cheesy 80s action movie where reality comes second to big explosions. Just Cause 4 has big explosions, bonkers weapons and light sci-fi elements that have no explanation but really don’t need it because they explode nicely. In a time where deep, character driven RPGs are the norm for open world sandboxes, Just Cause 4 takes us back to a simpler time where your only concern was how much ammo your lightning cannon has.
So, Just Cause 4 is a frustrating game to review. I love it, in spite of its obvious flaws, and even though in writing this I’ve had to relive the parts of the game I’ve not enjoyed, I still want to go back to play in that sandbox. There’s still a lot for me to discover in Solís, and I really enjoy the moment to moment gameplay. Now that I’m free of the story and the island is mostly free of Black Hand troops, I can take a holiday and explore.
Just Cause 4 (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
An 80s action movie in videogame form, some poor design choices don’t stop this being a great sandbox to play in.