Just Cause 4

Just Cause 4 has enough new hooks and tethers to keep up the adren­a­line… just.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - Just Cause By Robert Zak

The se­ries has a knack for hold­ing your at­ten­tion in short bursts. It can cause you to grit your teeth as you wing­suit so close to moun­tains that you can taste the snow spray, and grap­ple-hook up to he­li­copters to es­cape the mush­room­ing flames of ex­plod­ing bases. It also gives you the free­dom to tether a goat to a bal­loon, hook your­self onto it and float off into the strato­sphere.

And yet, thanks to some spar­ing im­prove­ments – mostly in the way of chaos-caus­ing giz­mos – Just Cause 4 is still ca­pa­ble of charm­ing me. For all its an­noy­ances, it still says to me, with a mis­chievous twin­kle in its eye, ‘Yeah, but do other games let you do this high cal­i­bre of silly shit?’ Which of course they don’t, un­less you count pre­vi­ous games in the se­ries.

Right as rain

The premise is fa­mil­iar.

You are Rico Ro­driguez, a free­lance su­per-agent, and one-man flash­point for rev­o­lu­tions on seem­ingly ev­ery dic­ta­tor-run trop­i­cal is­land he drops into. This time, Rico’s help­ing lib­er­ate the South Amer­i­can is­land of So­lis, a vast par­adise of sev­eral beau­ti­ful biomes whose peo­ple are op­pressed by dic­ta­tor Os­car Espinosa and his Black Hand army. It ties into the plots of the pre­vi­ous games (for any­one who ac­tu­ally cares), and has a dash of light in­trigue, too, thanks to a con­nec­tion to Rico’s fa­ther, who in­ad­ver­tently helped the dic­ta­tor har­ness the el­e­ments and weaponise

the weather. It’s light­weight, but good hu­moured and well writ­ten enough to tick along with.

It’s on you to wrest back con­trol of the is­land. Where in pre­vi­ous games you did this sim­ply by caus­ing enough de­struc­tion in a given re­gion, this time Avalanche has at­tempted to in­ject a bit more depth into the process. Each re­gion has a spe­cific mis­sion you must com­plete, and once you’ve done that you can call in squads of rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies – un­locked by de­stroy­ing en­emy in­fra­struc­ture and cap­tur­ing cer­tain re­gions – to take con­trol of it. The whole map is open for you to ex­plore from the start, but you can only move these squads into re­gions neigh­bour­ing those un­der your con­trol, mak­ing that map-paint­ing process a lit­tle more fo­cused than be­fore.

This macro-scale layer gives an ap­pear­ance of strat­egy, with the num­bers of squads in re­gions and front­line mark­ers teas­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of a kind of Risk-like ter­ri­tory game, but it never fol­lows through. Head over to the front­lines and you’ll see skir­mishes be­tween your squads and the en­emy, but it’s all for show, as the en­emy can’t ac­tu­ally re­take ter­ri­tory from you, and your side’s progress is dic­tated solely by Rico’s rene­gade ac­tiv­i­ties.

It is, of course, these ac­tiv­i­ties, not the pseudo-strat­egy twad­dle, that are the real rea­son peo­ple play Just Cause. The se­ries knows now that it’s de­pen­dant on the kind of all-ac­tion spec­ta­cle that makes Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble look like the most stolid of John le Carré nov­els.

So it’s ex­panded the player’s arse­nal with every­thing from drone-fir­ing rail­guns to weath­er­har­ness­ing su­per­weapons, which in­clude a wind can­non that lets you in­vis­i­bly blow away whole squads of en­e­mies and struc­tures, and the light­ning gun, which not only zaps en­e­mies but can cre­ate a mini light­ning storm that fries every­thing in its perime­ter. You can also now call in sev­eral planes si­mul­ta­ne­ously to drop a vast ar­ray of weapons and heavy ar­tillery, giv­ing you the free­dom to turn Just Cause 4 into a vi­brant war­zone of rag­dolls and ex­plo­sions when­ever you like.

Hook up

Progress is dic­tated solely by Rico’s rene­gade ac­tiv­i­ties

Then there’s the all-im­por­tant tether: the tool that sin­gle-clawedly set the se­ries on its path of physics-based ex­cess. This lets you at­tach ob­jects and peo­ple to each other – cre­at­ing a show­case of physics silli­ness – and it’s re­ceived a wel­come up­grade. There’s still the re­trac­tor which lets you, say, string two or more he­li­copters to­gether and send them twirling into each other. Join­ing it now is the ‘Air Lifter’ bal­loon tether, which en­ables you to at­tach sev­eral bal­loons to ob­jects and send them off to or­bit, as well as ‘booster’ tethers that send their hap­less tar­gets fizzing around un­con­trol­lably like cheap fire­works from your lo­cal con­ve­nience store.

The old up­grade sys­tem has been largely re­placed, with many once-

un­lock­able abil­i­ties now avail­able from the off, and a new mix-and­match tether load­out sys­tem. Here you can have three dif­fer­ent tether load­outs, with each one con­tain­ing what­ever mix of bal­loon, rocket and re­tract­ing tethers you like.

It’s a good call, go­ing all-in on the sand­boxy spirit of the se­ries, even though none of this stuff is nec­es­sar­ily prac­ti­cal in a com­bat sense. You can un­lock fine-tune fea­tures like mak­ing your tether bal­loons ex­plode on a trig­ger, or add a ‘Power Yank’ to your re­trac­tor, which makes even heavy ve­hi­cles col­lide like toys in the hands of a su­gar-crazed child. It of­fers new lev­els of play­ful pos­si­bil­ity that I’m sure peo­ple far more pa­tient and creative than my­self will ex­ploit to make for some in­cred­i­ble YouTube high­light reels. Just Cause 4 is de­signed around these pos­si­bil­i­ties, though that comes at the ex­pense of a well-paced wider game.

Rico re­mains a weight­less spi­der­man, re­tain­ing that joy­ous, non­sen­si­cal means of get­ting around that re­lies on well-timed se­quences of grap­ple-hook­ing, parachut­ing and wing­suit­ing. It still feels breezy and lib­er­at­ing, though the nov­elty has faded for lack of any ma­jor im­prove­ments in this area.

But maybe all that stuff is es­sen­tially a glo­ri­fied Zim­mer frame, be­cause on the ground Rico seems stiff in the joints, with no abil­ity to sprint, dodge, or per­form melee at­tacks with any real men­ace. Guns lack weight and punchy sound ef­fects, en­e­mies are in­cor­po­real and floaty, as if half their in­sides have been re­placed with he­lium, and driv­ing re­mains awk­ward. Even the floppy rag­doll an­i­ma­tions look as janky and un­re­fined as they al­ways were, which is less palat­able in 2018 than the last game in 2015, or Just Cause 2 in 2010.

Cover the field

Pro­gres­sion is achieved mainly through ter­ri­tory-tak­ing mis­sions, which is un­for­tu­nately the weak­est and most pro­tracted part of the game. It’s a small carousel of ob­jec­tives that vary be­tween seek­ing out con­soles (so many con­soles), stand­offs against mind­less waves of en­e­mies while some­one ‘hacks a ter­mi­nal’, ‘over­loads a core’ or other cy­ber cliches, as well as hav­ing to search large sec­tions of base for barely dis­cernible struc­tures such as gen­er­a­tors and fuse boxes, which open up drab un­der­ground bunkers.

The idea, pre­sum­ably, is to give these mis­sions more of a ‘Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions’ feel than the sim­ple de­struc­tathon of be­fore, but they also mess up the pac­ing, es­pe­cially since Just

Cause 4’ s con­trols are un­wieldy for smaller spa­ces and fid­dly ac­tiv­i­ties. It cre­ates too many te­dious come­downs from the bursts of bril­liant ac­tion that the game thrives in.

The story mis­sions are more care­fully con­structed, though, with some ex­cel­lent set­pieces where you’re chas­ing tor­na­does, or dash­ing through deserts in the mid­dle of a sand­storm. But even then things can get the wrong kind of chaotic, such as dur­ing one chase se­quence where en­emy cars and chop­pers were spawn­ing and lit­er­ally pil­ing over each other to get to me so quickly that it took me about five min­utes to find an open­ing to get into a ve­hi­cle. It’s as if Avalanche some­times just cranks up the chaos slider – which I to­tally en­vi­sion as one of the stu­dio’s de­sign tools – with­out much de­sign or thought be­hind it.

The amount of de­struc­tible struc­tures – one of the very sell­ing points of the se­ries – seems to have been cut down from pre­vi­ous games. The generic bases that many mis­sions take place in are pop­u­lated mainly by con­crete build­ings, with fewer of those brit­tle metal frame­works that so splen­didly col­lapse like match­stick houses. This is ac­com­pa­nied by the other strange de­ci­sion to get rid of throw­able C4, re­plac­ing it with the rather rare mine launcher. Where be­fore con­trolled ex­plo­sions were al­ways an op­tion thanks to a healthy sup­ply of C4, here they’re more of a lux­ury, which seems like an un­nec­es­sary thing for Avalanche to reel in.

Not that Just Cause 4 is lack­ing in ex­plo­sive­ness, and when the fuel tankers ca­reen across the ground or ve­hi­cles ex­plode in seem­ingly end­less chains, it still stokes a fa­mil­iar feel­ing of awe. It’s pos­si­ble that the in­tro­duc­tion of new weather events like sand­storms, light­ning storms and tor­na­does was in­tended to shift the fo­cus away from just smash­ing stuff up (which did even­tu­ally get te­dious in pre­vi­ous out­ings). It’s a rea­son­able trade-off, even if the ex­treme weather is too in­fre­quent to shape the game as much as was vaunted.

Cheap thrills

Just Cause 4 ups the ex­cess just enough to get away with the fact that its groan­ing frame­work feels about one firm tether yank away from col­laps­ing. It still de­liv­ers the kinds of uniquely gamey thrills that seem to have been serendip­i­tously borne of grav­ity-de­fy­ing glitches, but when the smoke fi­nally clears and you re­gain your senses, the un­der­ly­ing shon­k­i­ness of the mis­sions and the ba­sic nuts-and-bolts are laid bare.

With so much ad­ven­ture-hol­i­day­with-guns fun to be had here, it’s frus­trat­ing that Avalanche is con­tent to just gloss over ex­ist­ing is­sues rather than fix them (couldn’t the stu­dio even have looked at its own Mad Max game for ways to im­prove the way ve­hi­cles han­dle or melee com­bat?). Just Cause 4 still taps into that streak of reck­less aban­don that re­sides in all gamers, but its im­pact is soft­en­ing. I have a good sev­eral hours of teth­er­ing tom­fool­ery left in me, but once I put it down, I can’t see my­self re­turn­ing to this se­ries un­til it gets the re­fur­bish­ment it de­serves.

Ve­hi­cles col­lide like toys in the hands of a su­gar-crazed child

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