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Review: Just Cause 4 — Lots of Explosions, Little Impact

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Developer Avalanche has made a name for themselves with the Just Cause series. Since 2006, Rico Rodriguez has been explosively liberating small countries that have been oppressed by dictators, sowing chaos wherever he can. Once more grounded, with a similar Grand Theft Auto feel, Just Cause has eventually evolved into a massive sandbox of destruction, with Rico Rodriguez as your larger than life, nearly indestructible superman avatar.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Explosions and chaos are staples of Just Cause, with each installment seemingly upping the ante in terms of just how much destruction you can sow—and the ways you can do it. Just Cause 2 introduced Rico’s grapple hook, and things haven’t been the same. The wingsuit introduced in Just Cause 3, as well as the changes made to the way the grapple works, really made the Just Cause series an open world playground where you could play the story, or run around and sow chaos as you see fit.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Just Cause 4 is an explosion sandbox. There is just so much you can see or do in its HUGE open world map. Jump into every vehicle you see, including armed military vehicles like tanks, helicopters and fighter jets. Shoot a multitude of weapons, from the mundane to the extraordinary. Use your wingsuit to fly through valleys, or glide up the side of mountains with your deployed parachute and grapple hook.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Just Cause 4 is also a narratively driven game. While the Just Cause series hasn’t always been known for its great storytelling, Just Cause 3’s story was actually a vast improvement for the series, and what I thought was a turning point.  Unfortunately, Just Cause 4 doesn’t succeed where Just Cause 3 did. Just Cause 3 managed to not only be an interesting story, but also a personal one since it involved the liberation of Rico’s home country. Just Cause 4 makes attempts at making the story personal, but the island of Solis feels like yet another island that Rico has to liberate. And that’s fine with me.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Unfortunately, along the way, some of the style that made Just Cause 3 so interesting has been lost. Storywise, and even with the things they have you do to progress the story, the series has taken steps backwards. Just Cause 3 felt like it had so much style, and the characters were memorable. Just Cause 4 lacks this. Still, they did manage to make some improvements over Just Cause 3, most notably in the variety of environments you see throughout the island of Solis. Unlike Just Cause 3’s tropics, Just Cause 4’s gigantic war playground has snow, desert, jungle and more, making it much more interesting to explore.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Another major change is how Rico’s grapple hook works. There are A LOT more options in how to deploy his grapple, and what kind of tricks it can do once it’s deployed. The grapple can now deploy balloons to raise things into the air, or it can be used to attach thrusters to objects to push them along. While this is great fun for the sandbox aspect, it adds little actual useful function when you’re fighting through Just Cause 4’s narrative. Still, the ability to add loadouts to quick switch between various grapple combos is interesting. Helping certain characters allows you to unlock upgrades for these abilities, but again, this is something that can be completely ignored and still complete the game with no trouble.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

While it’s fun to jump into a bomber and wreak havoc on an enemy compound, or just wingsuit through valleys, the missions you have to complete to advance the story are very same-y and often tedious. Much of these missions consist of the same few tasks—go to a terminal, hack it, wait until a bar fills up, etc. There are a lot of escort quests, as well—but luckily, the NPCs you have to escort around are usually as beefy as Rico himself, just not nearly as useful. The side missions are lot of the same, too–lots of console hacking and waiting, or pressing buttons before a timer runs out. The weather effects add some neat moments, with my favorite being where you are chasing down a tornado—but that is one short segment among many. The evil dictator on the island of Solis has impressive weather altering technology, and while it does make some areas impassable (or hard to exist in) they don’t do much else besides obscure the screen or push Rico around. The tornado seemed like it would be the most fun, but it wasn’t even that great looking–just a sort of grey funnel that idles around. There were a few “stormchaser” moments that were amusing, but only just. The weather changing technology can be used outside of the story as well. But again, it just feels like another toy to play with in the giant, explosive sandbox. These weather effects add an interesting touch, but surprisingly, it’s nothing game-changing.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Despite how tedious things can be while completing the missions, there still manages to be lots to do in Just Cause 4. You can explore the giant island and pilot a number of different vehicles—including cars, boats, and planes of all sorts and sizes. If it looks like it can be driven, Rico can probably get into the driver’s seat—and then do a crazy stunt. While the insane stunt feats are some of what makes the Just Cause series what it is, the physics that make such gameplay possible makes everything feel like it’s loose and floaty.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Rico is physics defying. He just is. He can jump a few feet into the air, deploy his wingsuit, and grapple to speed from a standstill to as fast as many vehicles. He can hit the ground after a freefall, and get up with barely a scratch. He can take bullets, explosions, and merrily dish it back while spouting one-liners. But it’s the physics defying floatiness that takes most of the impact away from the action. There is little danger to wingsuiting through a hail of gunfire, removing the daredevil feeling and just leaving you with the spectacle. But oh boy, what a spectacle there can be.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

When objects explode, they literally shower you with paneling and other components of the exploded object. But, despite the spectacle, even the gunplay and explosions suffer from that physics-defying, loose feeling. Enemies are too easily defeated. Helicopters are trivial when you can grapple to them with ease, and yank out their pilots. Same can be done with tanks. In fact, Rico is just too powerful, even at harder difficulties.

Screenshot: Just Cause 4

Just Cause 4 is solidly okay. Where each Just Cause title seemed to make significant changes, Just Cause 4 feels like a sidegrade from Just Cause 3—just treading water, until the next installment comes out. That isn’t to say Just Cause 4 is bad, but if you’ve played the previous game it won’t feel too significantly different. Still, if you need to wreak havoc, there is no better game franchise, and Just Cause 4 is the best way to do it.

Just Cause 4 is available now on Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

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