Just Cause 3 review: Blow up the outside world

They made another sequel. Why? Just 'cause. Okay, I'm done.

Just Cause 3
At a Glance
  • Avalanche Studios Just Cause 3

    PCWorld Rating

    Just Cause 3 embraces the series' dumb thrills to create a ridiculous sandbox orgy of wingsuits, tethers, and explosions.

It’s a quiet day in the coastal town of Ponere. A boxy old car from the 1980s putters down the street. A man sits fishing in the harbor. And a fighter jet swoops out of the sky, firing two missiles into the side of a propaganda van before crashing into a statue of military dictator General Di Ravello. A man parachutes through the smoke and flames, cackling and shooting a machine gun into the air. Then he pulls down the flag of Di Ravello’s corrupt regime and raises the flag of the rebels in its stead.

“Rico! Rico!” the citizens cheer, fireworks bursting overhead. Rico Rodriguez, professional dictator-remover, pumps his fist a bit. Flashes a smile at the crowd. Everyone is so happy, they don’t even notice the billions of dollars of infrastructure damage or the hundreds of bodies lying in the street.

Vive Medici.

The rockets’ red glare

I adore Just Cause because it is unapologetic in its stupidity. In an industry beset by summer blockbusters, Just Cause 3 is the most summer blockbuster. It’s a rocket launcher that shoots eight projectiles simultaneously. It’s a man surfing on the back of a fighter jet. It’s an infinite supply of parachutes and an unabashed disregard for the laws of physics.

It’s a near-endless supply of jaw-dropping spectacle.

Just Cause 3

Once again you take on the role of Rico Rodriguez, now a veteran at dismantling corrupt dictatorships. Just Cause 3 brings us to Rico’s Mediterranean homeland, the island chain of Medici, suffering under the cruel regime of General Di Ravello. His power is concentrated in various outposts, towns, and military bases. Your job is to blow up anything that is red—antennas, radar dishes, fuel tanks, generators—with literally anything at your disposal. Destroy all the red things and the town/outpost/base goes over to the rebels.

It is a power fantasy without equal. There is no challenge to Just Cause 3, per se. Weapons are plentiful, given how easy it is to airdrop in new tanks or rocket launchers or helicopters. You have infinite amounts of C4. Your grappling hook can shoot up to six tethers, which attach an object to another object and then yank the two together with predictably destructive results. Bases don’t need to be taken out in one fell swoop—if you die, you respawn nearby without losing any progress. And honestly, you’re more in danger of blowing yourself up than you are dying at the hands of Medici’s dumbest military.

The rebels may be the “underdog” in this fight, but not Rico Rodriguez. Rico is a god—a fiery, wrathful god. He rides into town on a plane/boat/tank/helicopter/fighter jet/parachute/wingsuit/sports car and leaves Medici in ruins behind him. And the people cheer him for it.

Just Cause 3

It occurs to me that Just Cause 3 commits many of the same sins I detest in other third-person, open-world action games. The massive (and mostly-empty) map, littered with icons. Repetitive objectives. Empty side-missions. Inane collectibles.

But most open-world games try to half-heartedly shuffle you through everything because that’s the core of the game. Take away every icon in Assassin’s Creed, for instance, and you’re left with a big ol’ city and a generic hooded guy who’s good at climbing walls. Take away the icons in Just Cause 3, and you’re still left with a ridiculous destruction sandbox—one that encourages you to ask “What happens if I use my grappling hook to tether this jeep to this enemy helicopter and then drive the jeep off a cliff?”

And on the occasions when Just Cause 3 drags, its story actually picks up some of the slack this time around. Gone is the self-seriousness of Just Cause and Just Cause 2, replaced with a Saints Row-esque goofiness that better befits Rico’s chaotic methods and larger-than-life status.

It would be a shame to spoil some of the game’s biggest set-pieces, so instead I’ll highlight the fact that the game opens with Rico riding on the back of an airplane, an infinite supply of rockets at hand. There’s no futzing around, no “working your way up.” Just instant insanity.

Just Cause 3

See, even Mario knows it was insane.

Even the main menu is a clue to the game’s new tone—Rico, sitting on a beach, looks at an explosion in the distance and then raises his glass in a toast. It’s the silly fourth-wall winking that Saints Row long ago mastered. And while nothing in Just Cause 3 is quite as clever as Saints Row, it’s a massive step up from the “MY NAME IS BOLO SANTOSI” tedium of its predecessor.

Explosions in the sky

As far as the game itself, it feels pretty much like Just Cause 2. I think console players will be more bowled over by Just Cause 3’s changes—Multiple tethers! A wingsuit!—because to be honest, most of the tentpole features here were lifted straight from the Just Cause 2 modding community.

That’s not a bad thing. Avalanche has taken some of the best community hacks, polished them up a bit, and rolled them into the core game—and those features are still great. It does mean, however, that how “fresh” Just Cause 3 feels is entirely reliant on how deep you got into Just Cause 2 modding.

Just Cause 3

Tethers turn this...

Just Cause 3

...into this.

The bigger changes are under-the-hood tweaks you’re unlikely to notice, like the prevalence of physics objects. Rarely is your best strategy “shoot a thing until it explodes” anymore. Car chasing you? Shoot out the tires and it’ll flip over. Water tower soaking up bullets? Take out a few of the support struts and it’ll come crashing down. Helicopter gunning for your head? Attach a tether from the rear rotor to one of Di Ravello’s statues and solve two problems at once.

The map also gets a basically unnoticeable overhaul, adding quite a bit more layering—tunnels, caves, subterranean military bases, ravines, quarries, et cetera—to an expanse that’s otherwise about the same size as Just Cause 2. It’s not as immediately awe-inspiring as its predecessor was at the time, but it’s a bit more satisfying to explore.

My main issue is with the pacing. Just Cause 3 is split into three main island regions, and while you’re able to go anywhere you want from the outset, the game has a clear idea of where it wants you to be at any given moment.

Just Cause 3

But the third region is larger than both the first and second combined, so you end up feeling like you’ve played an overlong tutorial in the first two zones. It took approximately fifteen hours for me to reach the third area—which I’d say is where the game really lives up to its full potential, with massive mountain ranges and mining settlements and cities. I found myself wishing for Just Cause 2’s mission structure, which was a bit better about shoving you between the islands.

I also found myself (predictably) missing Just Cause 2’s hacked-in multiplayer. Just Cause 3 is a game tailor-made for crazy moments, but those moments are better when shared with friends/strangers. I’m hoping we’ll see a similar multiplayer “mod” from Avalanche down the line.

A note on performance

Heed Avalanche’s minimum and recommended specs, lest it be your doom. Just Cause 3 is a fairly intensive game, with hundreds of explosions and physics interactions taking a toll on both your graphics card and your CPU. With a Core i5-3570K and a GeForce GTX 980 Ti it’s been common to see the game drop from 130+ frames per second while roaming around to 45 frames per second during particularly chaotic moments—and I’m only running on Very High settings, one step down from the top. It’s still playable, if we take 30 frames per second as the baseline, but a drop of 90 frames per second is pretty damn steep.

Just Cause 3

I’ve also noticed occasional stuttering, where the game says it’s still registering 100+ frames per second but the action on-screen starts to slow down or jump. Typically this happens when driving or expanding my parachute at high speeds.

We’ll undoubtedly see some optimization over the next few months—in fact, Avalanche pushed out two builds this past week that drastically increased performance—but be warned that Just Cause 3 is a punishing game.

But hey, at least you’re running it on PC. I can’t imagine what the console versions are like.

Bottom line

Just Cause 3 is a monument to excess. It’s Hot Shots. It’s Charlie Chaplin in The Dictator, if Charlie Chaplin had rocket-powered C4 in his boots. It’s that scene in Dr. Strangelove where Slim Pickens rides the nuke into Russia, except...well, no, it’s pretty much exactly that scene on repeat for 25-30 hours.

It’s chaos, borne out of that perennial buzzword “emergent gameplay.” And sometimes it’s boredom. But then you get the glimmer of an idea—“What if I attached this jeep to the back of a tank and used it like a wrecking ball?”—and you’re back. Who cares about the collateral damage?

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Just Cause 3 embraces the series' dumb thrills to create a ridiculous sandbox orgy of wingsuits, tethers, and explosions.

    Pros

    • Explosions as an artform
    • Massive open world and plenty of time to experiment
    • Story more tonally consistent

    Cons

    • Conquering settlements still gets repetitive, eventually
    • Performance issues
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