The Just Cause games are the best game adaptations of films that don’t exist. The effortless action, insane setpieces, and negligible story only need a Disney logo appearing in the opening - something director Brad Peyton has clearly noticed, judging by the upcoming film planned.
Just Cause 4 represents the next step up in the increasing escalation that is the game’s wild action gameplay, and it’s even more fun and captivating than previous Just Cause games. There are some weak points, in particular “everything that isn’t the gameplay”, but Just Cause 4 is an achievement and milestone in showing just how much gameplay represents the overall quality of a game.
In Just Cause 4, as in every other Just Cause game, you play pseudo-superhero Rico Rodriguez as he fights to liberate an exotic island from a tyrannical ruler. His journey is fraught with the usual cliches - a budding revolution lead by a woman without any characterisation (a sentence I wrote word-for-word in my last review, for Jagged Alliance: Rage! - can we find some more cliches please?), an army of faceless mercenaries with a generic name (The Black Hand, in this case), and tenuous ties between the main character and the villain. It follows on from the story of Just Cause 3, although it remains to be seen if anyone remembers that story. At least the villain’s plan is rather special - he’s pioneering weather technology as a crazy-supervillain-weapon, which leads to some pretty unique gameplay implications.
That phrase, “which leads to some pretty unique gameplay implications” could sum up every aspect of Just Cause 4 that isn’t the gameplay itself. The story is not the point of the game; nor is the beautifully designed world, the huge range of vehicles and tools available to the player, or the game’s high production quality. Everything leads back to the gameplay, a holy grail developers Avalanche Studios hold higher than anything else in all their games. However Just Cause 4 isn’t just as fun as you’d expect for a game by Avalanche, it’s undoubtedly their most enjoyable game yet (when judged exclusively by the gameplay).
Rico’s signature move is his slingshot which, when used in conjunction with his endless supply of parachutes and wing-suit, makes him endlessly mobile and fluid; as well as the range of guns you can acquire, including ones themed on the weather technology, you can use a roster of vehicles and explosives to cause chaos against enemies and buildings. Added to this game is the ability to attach balloons or rocket boosters to objects, which leads to Garry’s Mod-esque options in combat - you can stick loads of rocket boosters to a fuel tank in order to launch it into the air at a helicopter, or load up an enemy tank with balloons to cause it to float into the atmosphere. The game is never as hilarious or wild as it is when using these tools to creative ends.
Unfortunately there is a sad omittance in the game. Previous Just Cause games featured Chaos Points, which were points earned from destructing enemy infrastructure including gas tanks, satellite dishes, radar arrays, or propaganda trailers. Most of the body of the games was hunting down and destroying the copious amounts of destructibles - Just Cause 2, for example, had 369 different locations, totalling thousands of things to destroy - all of which contributed to a grinding completionist crawl to get 100% completion. While Just Cause 4 doesn’t remove Chaos Points the destructibles are no longer tracked, and so can respawn and have no indicated destruction value, and the points only contribute towards a weak liberation system. The map is segregated into zones, and with “squads” unlocked from Chaos Points you can conquer new zones - but the only real impact this has is unlocking story missions, and decreasing enemy spawn rate. As a result it feels like a lot of content has been lost - even if that content is just mindless travelling and blowing things up. That type of content made for great endgames!
In addition the game world feels a little more empty than previous games. While it’s roughly the same size, there’s clearly a small number of locations within it. In addition there are only three significant biomes, and there’s a glaring lack of the “unique” or distinct locations that made previous games so distinct, like functioning floating nightclubs or Lost islands. All in all, the actual world of Just Cause 4 feels like its major weak point.
That doesn’t mean the game’s setting is weak overall, and there are great reasons to explore. The main one of these is the fantastic level of detail the developers put into their Easter Eggs - they’re not just nods or references to other properties but fully-developed nuggets and unique secrets. When a full list of the Easter Eggs is compiled it’ll be impressive - there are enough to put a Bethesda game to shame.
Several players have complained about graphical problems and bugs while playing the game, however this reviewer had no such problems, and therefore can’t attest to their prevalence or problem.
Games are almost always enhanced or elevated by a political or social message; Just Cause 4 is the annoying exception to this rule. Its fierce apoliticality on all matters of worldbuilding and characterisation (what has the villain done that’s so tyrannical or bad? Is Rico a heroic operative trying to bring freedom and prosperity to an oppressed country, or an agent of chaos destabilising fair regimes?) resists any kind of wider reading or interpretation. However because of the minute-to-minute frenetic gameplay action, it’s a wild and enticing ride, enough to distract from the ambiguous and meaningless actions being taken. Just Cause 4 is one of the few games that doesn’t hinder itself by refusing to “say” anything - although its narrative would be a little less forgettable if it tried.
While Just Cause 4’s limited world sees it lose some of the endless destructive fun of previous games, the range of combat options and functions available (mostly thanks to the rocket booster and balloon - they provide endless reams of enjoyment) makes up for it. Like previous Just Cause games, Just Cause 4 is a playground for entertaining combat, crazy physics abuse, and a beautiful-looking world. It’s just a shame that the story and endgame content seem a little lacking in comparison.