In a year dominated by brilliant open-world games, Just Cause 3 still manages to make its mark in style. In a way, it’s the happy-go-lucky sibling of Metal Gear Solid 5, with both games following war-weary, bearded freedom fighters catching up with old friends, revisiting past glories and attempting to save the world just one last time.
There’s no stealth, of course – Rico Rodriguez only has one volume setting, which is LOUD – and Just Cause 3 has no pretensions to art or cultural significance. It just wants to p.a.r.t.y. and cause a few big bangs along the way.
This is GTA 5 without the clever script and social satire but with the destruction dial turned up to max. It’s the game Saints Row wishes it could be. It’s also the game that has more fun with physics than any game since Portal 2, and quite possibly the silliest, most overblown, most downright entertaining game of late 2015. It’s the Just Cause that you knew a Just Cause could one day be.
The setup is as predictable as the setup of a Bond film in the pre-Craig era. Ace agent, Rico Rodriguez, is back doing what he does best – deposing a brutal dictatorship in the noisiest way imaginable. This time, he’s doing it on his fictional Mediterranean island homeland, Medici, battling the vicious General di Ravello and his army of uniformed goons.
Before long, he’s working with a childhood friend-turned revolutionary, a nutty scientist and his old handler, Tom Sheldon, causing chaos around the islands, taking over bases and wrecking installations. If you played the first two games, you know the drill.
But then Just Cause has never been about the story or even the structure. Nope, Avalanche Studio’s series is all about the carnage, the traversal and the toys. Rico’s trademark wrist-grapple returns, of course, along with the physics-defying parachute that deploys instantly to help him glide smoothly in and out of action.
To this basic combo, Just Cause 3 adds tweaks, including a cool grapple and glide move that makes it easier to cover distances and an even better tether move, where you can attach one hook to one object, another to another, then squeeze the L2 trigger to pull the two together.
That havoc is the game’s raison d’être, and it focuses on it to the exclusion of almost everything else. There isn’t much to do in Just Cause 3 besides blow stuff up, so it’s a good thing the blowing stuff up never gets old. Progressing the threadbare plot requires Rico to liberate provinces by invading their military outposts and occupied towns, then demolishing everything he doesn’t like the look of.
There isn’t a lot of variety to be had—shooting an RPG at a fuel tank isn’t meaningfully different from shooting an RPG at a propaganda billboard—but it makes up for its lack of variety with dizzying increases in scale. The earliest military bases task you with eliminating satellite dishes no bigger than bathtubs, but after a dozen hours, you’ll find yourself destroying antennae the size of apartment buildings.
Verdict: Just Cause 3 starts as it means to go on: with its hero standing on the wing of a plane in mid-flight, tasking players with single-handedly destroying surface-to-air missile launchers without even telling them what the “fire” button is. It’s a sink-or-swim learning opportunity that forces you to press every button and see what happens, a disorienting and chaotic moment in a game that thrives on chaos.
From there, not much more guidance is offered, but no more should be needed—it never gets much more complicated than “destroy the things that are trying to destroy you.” The only thing you should have left to learn is that your life depends on always taking the craziest option available—that you should never bring a knife or even a gun to the game’s gunfights, but should instead bring a fighter jet. Fortunately, Rico Rodriguez is a fast learner.