Square Enix’s Just Cause series has always come across as a bit of an odd duck to me. When the series initially started back in 2006 it wasn’t particularly ground-breaking but it did offer a new spin on the open world sandbox.
Whilst GTA had you driving around doing fairly mundane (at times) missions in cityscape #36-B, Just Cause instead gave you complete carte blanche over a massive landscape with a rainbow of weaponry, vehicles and locales that you could blow up, drive off or generally mess about in. For the time it was a breath of fresh air for the sandbox genre and released only a month after the first Saints Row game it helped strengthen the idea that open world exploration could be silly as well as serious.
Fast Forward to 2018 and the fourth instalment of the Just Cause series seems to be forgetting its roots a tad.
For the record, I loved Just Cause 2 and there was some enjoyment to it’s sequel as they leaned more into the weirder side of things, but with JC4 it feels like a bit of a step back from its predecessors. Gone are the party airships, the bombastic explosions and colourful set pieces as we’re forced into a long series of either fetch quests, guarding areas whilst they’re being ‘hacked’ or pushing a button and fending off waves of bad guys.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, what is Just Cause 4?
The fourth instalment in developer Avalanche Studios open world sandbox series, players take control of Rico ‘The Destabiliser’ Rodriguez in the fictional South American locale of Solis as they set about freeing the oppressed locales from another power hungry dictator. The game starts in medias res as you’re dumped outside of the mountain top hideaway of despot Oscar Espinosa. A man whose character was designed by a marketing exec that just finished marathoning a bunch of bog standard action movies.
Espinosa keeps control of his tin-pot dictatorship through the use of a series of weather controlling devices that Rico’s father helped create. Your goal is to destroy the weather devices, overthrow him and generally destabilise the area to the point where even a charity concert by Bono couldn’t help it.
This is managed by completing a series of missions set out to you by the supporting cast of characters that you’re introduced to with a handwave and forget just as quickly. Our main friend in need is a woman named Mira Morales, who brings Rico in after Just Cause 3, something new players will find slightly confusing as she’s introduced like someone you should already know.
From there you have to take part in a paint the map style approach of freeing areas from Espinosa’s private militias grasp by causing enough chaos that the locals join up on your crusade to violently bring democracy to this tropical locale. This manifests itself in a bar onscreen that you fill up by completing missions, events and generally blowing up everything insight.
Whilst on paper that sounds fun, in practice it equates to constantly grinding up enough experience to recruit enough local lads to free an area only to find that it’s permanently locked off from you until you complete additional side requirements. This could be freeing other specific additional areas of the map first or completing side-objectives hidden away in a particular area.
Where it starts to grind is the distance between distractions. Most of these missions are so mind numbingly far apart that you will spend most of your time just driving from one spot to another, constantly circling around trying to find something to do. Then when you do find a mission to sink some time into it’s as I previously described in the introduction. You’re either fending off waves of bad guys for a set amount of time whilst an offscreen support character ‘hacks the network’, pushing a series of buttons to power something up or preventing something from being destroyed for a set amount of time. In practice this is as boring and frustrating as it sounds.
The game makes things even more difficult in what I swear is spiteful delight as it spawns endless snipers, grenades and attack helicopters at times literally on top of you as you ragdoll around helplessly from the constant damage.
One instance when it became completely laughable was on a small isolated island completely cut-off from anyone and anything. Yet armoured APCs, tanks and dune buggies were somehow spawning en masse three feet behind me, piling on top of one another and then summarily exploding in a massive fireball. I would have enjoyed watching this insane spectacle if it weren’t for the attack helicopters and jets that were continually carpet-bombing poor Rico into oblivion just as fast as I could take them down.
The occasional escort quest is thrown in for good measure at times as well and often the pathing of the npc you’re supposed to be protecting will drive as if their car is the last shopping cart in the store and all the wheels are broken. Get used to wild veering whenever the roads get too packed with cars and start praying should they ever need to go across a bridge. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to defend an npc vehicle only for it to suddenly lurch off the road and explode in a ditch if another car so much as brushes against it.
It’s an exercise in frustration and bad pathing that can be maddeningly hysterical to watch as the AI struggles at even the most bare bones of times to navigate around anything in front of them.
The game also come into its own when it comes to how overly aggressive it is with its wanted system.
In order to stop you from going too nuts with the explosions and carnage there’s an implemented wanted system of sorts that, similar to GTA, increases in difficulty the longer you’re alive causing havoc. But, in Just Cause 4’s case you can trigger this, at times, without any explanation or reason as to why you’re now being viciously hunted. And there’s just the same amount of vagueness as how you lower it or how far you need to travel to stop being pursued.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I was minding my own business in a helicopter only for it to suddenly explode around me as several hostile fighter jets scream past, abruptly U-turn and then crash into the surrounding buildings or hillsides. Attack choppers will relentlessly hunt you down for so much as looking at them and APCs will ram you off the road without the slightest hesitation. It all amounts to constant noise and dogpiling at every turn that just disparages you from causing anarchy, the game’s main selling point. Even though the developers themselves have said the AI is a step-up from previous instalments, in normal gameplay that’s hard to see.
I will admit though that some of the scenery is nice, the mountains especially are detailed and there are some fun little paths to wander up and down at your own pace. Although there’s no reward for this other than admiring the work put into the game as fun things to do are often few and far between.
With a story pacing that’s often breakneck and prolific content gating until you slowly grind up enough lads to liberate an area providing the majority of the padding to this game, it seems the once vast, full and zany sandbox has been thinned out over the years in favour of much more toned down and mundane gameplay.
In closing, I wanted to like Just Cause 4 going in. I had fond memories of previous versions and a lot of time sunk into the unofficial multiplayer version of Just Cause 2, but this current instalment fails to live up to those expectations of an open world sandbox filled with toys for anarchy. I would not recommend this game and to quote a commonly asked Google question: “What is the point of Just Cause 4?”