Just Cause 4, like it’s predecessor, is a funny kind of game. It is a game marred significantly by latency, bugs and control issues, one which lacks the polish of its triple-A contemporaries and one which sees the title once again slide fairly anonymously into the December release window. All of this aside, Just Cause 4 also has that rarest of qualities, it is brazenly and unabashedly fun to play.
If you’ve played any of the previous titles in Avalanche’s Just Cause series then you know what the score is here. You play as Rico Rodriguez, dictator disposal specialist, thrown into another enormous open-world sandbox with the loose aim of deposing the latest in a line of mustache-twirling despots.
The open-world, in this case, is the fictional South-American country of Solis whilst the new antagonists for the game are Oscar Espinosa and ruthless leader of the Black Hand mercenary force, Gabriela Morales. Recent iterations in the franchise have worked towards humanizing Rico’s struggle – seeing as you kill most of the maps inhabitants – and Just Cause 4 is no different. The latest yarn focuses on Rico’s quest to discover the fate of his murdered father and similar to other Just Cause games, the story here is pretty disposable stuff with the focus instead placed on Rico’s outlandish activities and toolset.
And what a toolset it is. Rico’s iconic parachute and wingsuit return once more allowing players to launch themselves skyward at a moments notice. However, the game also features a slew of interesting new features to keep the tried and tested formula interesting. Just Cause 3’s greatest selling point was its retractor grapple function which enabled players to launch two grapple points to most in-game objects and pull them towards one another with significant force. Just Cause 4 builds on this system with more options for the retractor function, as well as two significant additions in the form of boosters and balloons.
Both of these work as you might expect. Boosters speed things up (dramatically), whilst balloons elevate any object to stratospheric heights (dependent on your equipped mods). However, using all 3 grapple options at once create wild and varied new options for the player to use in their fight against The Black Hand. Do you want a flying rocket-powered battle tank? You can have it. A helicopter with a bus-shaped wrecking ball? It’s yours. One of Just Cause’s greatest strengths is that it isn’t afraid to give the player power, even overpower them, as it’s simply just fun. The grapple system falls into the bracket as it acknowledges the player’s agency, imagination and overall desire to just mess around, something which keeps the minute-to-minute gameplay varied, interesting and rewarding.
Speaking of varied, the sprawling paradise of Solis is perhaps the largest and most diverse map of the Just Cause series. Featuring four distinct biomes of Rainforests, Deserts, Grasslands, and Mountainous regions, consequently, Solis feels like a place which could theoretically exist. To add to this, each of the biomes also houses one of the games new dynamic & heavily publicized weather systems, the rainforest struggles with thunder & lightning, the desert with towering sandstorms, the grassland with tornadoes (the best) and the mountainous region with all three.
The inclement weather conditions are a natural fit for the series and it cannot be stressed how impressive it is to see fully rendered physics objects being slowly pulled into the eye of a tornado or to experience the startling blindness of entering a sandstorm in a plane. All of the weather systems are impressively realized and can be found at most times somewhere within their distinct biomes making them an ominous presence within the world.
Unfortunately, this is where Just Cause 4 begins to falter as it becomes immediately apparent, that in order to successfully render the minute-to-minute gameplay a number of graphical and programming concessions have been made.
Graphically, Avalanche’s latest is a tremendous mixed bag. When surveying the environment from the skies, for example, Solis is actually quite beautiful. However, as you get closer to sea level the game reveals its graphical shortcomings. Just Cause 4 arguably features some of the worst texture work in the current console generation and without being hyperbolic displays some of the worst looking water graphics that I’ve seen in recent memory. Cutscenes are even worse, with visually distracting graphical glitches which mar your immersion and overall interest in the plot.
On this subject, Just Cause 4 is also an incredibly glitchy game, I ran into more than a baker’s dozen of game breaking glitches and programming bugs during my playtime which did hurt the overall quality of the experience. Things like my grapple launcher refusing to fire which left me unable to escape and forego an unnecessary death, or two hard crashes – occurring bewilderingly during rare periods of calm – which forced me to restart the game.
The AI on show here is also mystifyingly poor. Whether it was the ‘trained’ militia I was trading blows with or the actions of my rebellious compatriots, I was often left stunned by the brainlessness taking place around me. I had to restart several missions after an NPC’s pathing broke and they would run blankly towards a tank bearing down on them, or when AI driver sent us hurtling over a cliff because it seemed like the fastest way to get to our destination. If you want to get an idea of what I’m talking about, head to the airport at the bottom right-hand side of the map, I won’t give away what happens there but its safe to say that most of the citizens of Solis never get to their holiday destinations.
It must also be said that the game can often get in the way of your fun, applying egregious timers to missions to keep you on the straight and narrow or having you complete relentlessly dull side-missions to activate grapple mods, most of which have you locked to the ground or in one of the games many oversensitive vehicles.
Additionally, Avalanche has created yet another map that whilst diverse, is just irritatingly large. Frustratingly, it isn’t uncommon for your next mission to take place tens of kilometers away, creating minutes of meaningless hassle as you slowly travel there. Maps this big are quite plainly impractical. Without any stand-out points of reference to attach to, the player is always lost, chasing that distant objective marker without taking anything in. Consequently, though Solis may be one of the most diverse maps of the series, it’s just as forgettable as any other. It doesn’t have the staying power of a Los Santos or a Liberty City.
Just Cause 4 is the kind of game which has been designed from the ground-up to appeal to streamers. It is feature heavy and (relatively) downtime light, something which trades in the world of likes, shares & subscriptions, but would I recommend it to anyone else for its £50 price tag? Whilst playing the latest Just Cause I realized that if someone had to choose between Just Cause 3 or 4 it would really come down to a simple choice between a beautiful game which can run slowly or an often unsightly, but an enjoyable one that does. Just Cause 4 is a gameplay rich experience which is let down by bugs, inconsistencies and an overall lack of polish, not unlike its predecessor.