Just Cause 3

EDGE - - PLAY - Avalanche Stu­dios Square Enix PC (tested), PS4, Xbox One Out now

You don’t hear the phrase ‘killer app’ so much th­ese days. Two years af­ter PS4 and Xbox One hit shelves, how­ever, Just Cause 3 is pre­cisely that; not for the sys­tems as a whole, but one par­tic­u­lar fea­ture. This is the game that the mod­ern con­soles’ screen­shot, shar­ing and stream­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties were made for. Ev­ery frame is a work of art, ev­ery GIF a set­piece. Ten ran­dom min­utes of video cap­ture will have enough bom­bast and bomb-blast to fill a boxset of block­buster ac­tion flicks.

Just Cause 3, you see, is daft. Won­der­fully so. It is a game in which you tie two chas­ing he­li­copters to­gether, swing the cam­era round and det­o­nate the C4 you’ve planted on fuel tanks and radar tow­ers, nudg­ing the screen­shot but­ton as the en­tire screen fills with fire. As­sum­ing you’re clear of the blast, you’ll make your es­cape by grap­ple hook, wing­suit and parachute. If you’re not, and the burst of or­ange-and-white flame sends you cartwheel­ing into the sky, you can keep your­self in rag­doll mode with a but­ton press. It’s a case study in player em­pow­er­ment, giv­ing you all the de­struc­tive tools you could ever need, the means of get­ting into and out of trou­ble with speed and style, and a vast, blue-skied play­ground in which to do it.

The fic­tional Mediter­ranean archipelago of Medici is tai­lor-made for Rico Ro­driguez. In other games, moun­tains block the way, forc­ing a long trip around. Here you just use grap­ple hook and parachute to speed to the sum­mit, be­fore wing­suit­ing down the other side. Some kind-hearted plan­ning of­fi­cer, as if an­tic­i­pat­ing the coup that would leave Medici in the iron grip of Gen­eral Di Ravello and the revo­lu­tion that would fol­low, has coloured ev­ery ex­plod­able ob­ject sil­ver and red. You’ll be high in the sky and spot an enemy out­post half a mile be­low and fire your RPG, safe in the knowl­edge that even if the de­li­ciously over-gen­er­ous air­borne aim as­sist doesn’t find its in­tended tar­get, some­thing else will be close by. You have the means to go any­where, do what­ever you like once you get there, and look, and feel, in­cred­i­bly good while do­ing it. At its best, Just Cause 3 is the purest sort of sand­box.

It takes some get­ting used to, how­ever. At first it feels like a relic from an­other era, with no sprint or ADS. The lat­ter can be ad­dressed with an up­grade that zooms in your aim, but run­ning? Rico’s above it. Why bother wear­ing out shoe leather when you can grap­ple to where you’re headed in a couple of sec­onds? Or release your parachute at the last mo­ment and sling­shot up into the air, im­me­di­ately scan­ning for the next nearby ob­ject to grap­ple to, and parachute from, then the next, and the next? Once you’ve learned how best to use the world around you to power Ro­driguez’s unique ap­proach to lo­co­mo­tion, tra­di­tional modes of trans­port feel like a waste. Per­haps, if we’re be­ing kind, that’s why ve­hi­cle han­dling is so heavy and un­re­spon­sive. Maybe Avalanche is telling you to park up, get up in the sky and have some fun. Once you understand the stu­dio’s line of think­ing, you will be only too happy to oblige.

You need to think dif­fer­ently, too, about the gun in your hand. While you will spend a good amount of time with your fin­ger on the trig­ger, it’s not al­ways the most ef­fi­cient course of ac­tion. Fire your grap­ple hook but hold the but­ton down and you can line up a sec­ond tar­get, teth­er­ing the two to­gether. Squeeze a trig­ger and you’ll shorten the rope, pulling ob­jects of sim­i­lar mass to­gether, or the lighter ones to­wards the heav­ier.

At first, you’ll be able to tether twice; through up­grades you’ll get ac­cess to four, then six. Why shoot that chap when you can cat­a­pult him into a pile of ex­plo­sive bar­rels? Why waste RPG rounds on a clus­ter of fuel tanks when you can col­lapse them into each other? And why bother counter-snip­ing that fel­low up high when you can top­ple his tower and let grav­ity take care of the rest? Just as hop­ping into a sedan seems like a waste when you have a magic parachute strapped to your back, so does sim­ply shoot­ing at some­thing when you have so many other, more cre­ative op­tions at your dis­posal. When it all comes to­gether, there is noth­ing quite like it. You’ll wing­suit to­wards an out­post, fir­ing off teth­ers, rock­ets, grenades and what­ever else comes to hand, leav­ing half the place on fire be­fore you’ve even set foot in it. Your ev­ery ac­tion is tracked in an Au­tolog-style feed that mea­sures your de­struc­tive and lo­co­mo­tive feats against other play­ers, but it’s not really needed. The sense of power, and the spec­ta­cle you pro­duce, are their own re­ward.

Avalanche may have the fun­da­men­tals of the sand­box licked, then, but a play­ground is not enough. It’s not just about what you can do, and where you can do it, but what pre­cisely you can do it all – and it’s here the game suf­fers most. In a romp that af­fords such flex­i­bil­ity, any sense of rep­e­ti­tion is ar­guably the player’s fault, not the cre­ator’s. If you feel like you’re do­ing the same thing over and over then, well, just do it dif­fer­ently. Avalanche takes that con­cept and stretches it to its ab­so­lute limit, then keeps on go­ing.

Medici is bro­ken up into three ar­eas, each split into a num­ber of prov­inces, in turn com­pris­ing a num­ber of set­tle­ments. Towns and vil­lages must be re­claimed from Di Ravello by dis­man­tling his pro­pa­ganda ma­chine – bill­boards, PA and mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems to pull down or blow up – and erad­i­cat­ing the mil­i­tary pres­ence, tak­ing over po­lice sta­tions and de­stroy­ing power and fuel sup­plies. Enemy out­posts must be wiped off the map. And large mil­i­tary bases must be taken for the re­bel­lion. Th­ese bril­liantly com­plex, sprawl­ing, multi-lay­ered spa­ces play out like puzzles as you hunt down the next item on your to-do list, paus­ing oc­ca­sion­ally to fling a

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