Just Cause 3
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