Ever felt like you could just one day set fire to the world and and watch everything explode, obliterating everything and watching people run around in panic, sit idly by as everything erupts into chaos knowing that you lit the match that started it all? That’s the feeling I get when I boot up Just Cause 4. It’s the feeling most people get when jumping into the action movie-like sandbox game that it is. Around every corner is an opportunity to wreak havoc with your trusty grappling hook mechanism that can place rocket boosters on anything you can think of, pull large vehicle towards each other and watch them collide in a beautiful symphony of fire and destruction, witness bodies rag dolling through the air after you attached a balloon to them. Ah. Such mad bliss. So entertaining. So, so crazy. Rico Rodriguez knows how to have a good old chaotic time. Too bad that these are the only things that you’ll end up coming back for as the story doesn’t have enough substance or takes the series in a new and innovative direction, except for the dynamic weather effects, of course, but even that is a bit limited. Unique, but not enough to blow your hair back.
Does this thing go “boom”?
Just Cause 4 takes place in Solís after Rico’s escapades in Medici, and the new terrain proves to be quite larger and more diverse than the previous landscape. From cities with modern skyscrapers to a small town built on a bridge, the many places to explore are unique in their own little ways and offer many things that can be rigged for destruction. The urban areas may seem like they are missing a few things here and there, but let’s face it, you’re going to blow the living hell out of it all anyway. Just about anything coloured red is a “please, make me blow up” sign awaiting your attention. The highly destructive environments can leave you standing still and admire your handy work almost every time you decide to say, “f@ck it”, and just forego the objective you initially set out to complete. This becomes more of a reality every time you set out to do something, because it’s so distracting and you can easily veer off the path you set. And that’s fine because you’re still having fun. Although, the story is just that generic that you wish there was something more compelling other than mindlessly destroying everything.
The characters you engage with are somewhat forgettable, but the cut scenes are a nice segue into the next series of missions to complete. The unfortunate thing is that these missions don’t offer that much variety except for the grappling upgrades you receive and additional tools of destruction. The story carries on from Just Cause 3 and has no big twists or surprises as Rico already knows of his family’s involvement in the weather altering machines created by the Black Hand. His reputation has made an impact on the citizens of Solís, which he uses to form an Army of Chaos. Each mission is just another step closer to the end and recruiting more soldiers to the cause. The upside is that you’ll be doing so while exploring this vast landscape with many distinct locations in-between mountainous regions, beaches, lush forest areas, icy peaks, and all of them can go up in flames if you so please. And you will be pleased.
There are a plethora of vehicles to commandeer and unleash your inner Michael Bay with, but quite frankly, it’s not as much fun as parachuting and gliding with your wing suit. This is where I feel the mechanic has made traveling by any other means less interesting. Don’t get me wrong, flying a jet plane and taking out enemy vehicles is fun. Driving a tank and decimating all with it is great, but being able to launch yourself at an attack helicopter with your grapple and hijacking it mid-air, just to see how it handles, and then ejecting from it and gliding away like the bad ass you are is so much more satisfying. The vehicles only become “necessary” when you’re in a place with no tall buildings, but somehow that won’t even stop you from being able to launch yourself into the sky using the tools at hand. The game encourages this as you achieve certain milestones for gliding, grappling or parachuting for long distances. However, if you feel like just taking a break from all the mayhem, you can just hop into a muscle car and listen to the radio playing some authentic Latin American tunes spanning the full spectrum of genres on a leisurely coastal drive if you like. I found myself doing this quite a few times, trying out every vehicle I could find. Most of these vehicles also have challenges spread across the map.
These challenges offer you Chaos points. These points allow you to send soldiers to the front lines in order to capture a town or province. It’s very straight forward, and a little too straight forward. Each region you capture stays in your possession and the enemy never tries to take it back at any point. There’s virtually no resistance except for when you initiate an infiltration. Perhaps I’m expecting a bit more of a challenge which would make my experience just a tad more dynamic. Maybe it’s meant to be cut and dry to allow you to wander around doing what ever you feel. For me, I feel it could do with a bit more seeing as the story doesn’t get you all that much intrigued. The missions are also cut and paste of previous objectives and some timed missions that have you driving vehicles strapped with explosives into the ocean. It’s at this point that I realised what they were trying to achieve with these events. My first try I decided to simply make my way to each vehicle and careen them towards the nearest body of water. As I got into the last vehicle that was facing the ocean, the idea of simply strapping rocket boosters onto them and watching a swarm of vehicles into the sea would be way more entertaining. You’re supposed to write your own script in how things get done. It asks you to be creative. It can come across as a mechanism of laziness from the developer’s side, as they haven’t created many diverse exercises for you and that you have to tell your own story.
I have a bomb. I have a grapple. Uh! Grapple-bomb!
If you do like doing things your way though, the permutations are endless. Knock a target out by strapping one end of a grapple reel to them and the other to a cow, or simply attach them to passing traffic, or puncture a fuel tanker and let it set off into a crowd of enemies. The toys Rico has at his disposal can make for some very creative events. They took Just Cause 3 and refined the mechanics a bit to make the experience more fluid. With the introduction of alternate grapple modes which allow you to switch between a retractor, balloon and rocket boosters at a press of a button. Not a revolutionary concept, but makes choosing what to do next easier. You’ll find yourself using the retractor to solve puzzles all the time and very few opportunities for the other two. It’s fun using the latter on enemies and just about everything else in the world though.
These mechanics will probably see the internet flooded with hilarious videos and gifs of others trying their level best to come up with something creative. But there’s one thing I just can’t wrap my head around though: When slowly descending to the ground at around 30km/h with the wing suit, you go splat, but grappling at 100km/h towards the ground is no problem. I expected a tuck-and-roll animation when I first attempted to to cross a large area but was met with Rico smacking his face into the tarmac. Yes, this is a game that’s all bonkers and very little realism in its make-up, but something as trivial as being able to land from a slow glide should be logical. Other more glaring issues sit with the enemy AI who all follow the same path when they enter the chaos arena and the drivers of vehicles seem to not know the concept of brakes. They all meticulously line up close to explosive barrels and tankers for you to effortlessly dispose of them. Sure it’s fun to do, but becomes a bit samey later on. Luckily there’s variety in enemy AI since Just Cause 3, where you’ll be met with armored foes with shields that are grapple resistant and heavy suit enemies that feel like mini bosses. They require more creative ways to be defeated and adds something different to your fight.
Don’t expect your AI allies to be of much use during these fire fights as they’ll fire five rounds and reload for a full minute leaving you to do all the heavy lifting. And they become especially useless when you’re faced with dynamic weather. The weather system does feel somewhat underwhelming though as if it was created to be a visually impressive speed bump. The tornado takes quite some time to make an appearance and serves as a large swirling tube that Rico merely bounces off of, the lightning storms zap you when you get too high for too long, and the severe wind machines blow you away when facing them directly. These machines are too easy to overcome and will probably become challenging hurdles in the future, but I expected a bit more from it on its first outing. At least you get your own versions to play with later on though and turn them on the Black Hand.
Hold my cerveza, I’m gonna do something crazy, ese…
Just Cause 4 might have some new features and a couple of improvements across the board, with the open-world being the most impressive, but it doesn’t scratch that narrative itch and the dynamic weather system feels more like a spectacular breeze than a thunderous storm. The straight-forward progression gives you a chance to explore the landscape in its entirety and has many Easter Eggs scattered around the world ranging from a nod at a particular movie franchise involving prehistoric creatures, to a melee weapon that has become the icon of a certain battle royale game. There is so much to do and so much destruction that you can reign down on Solís in many creative ways, but you’ll have to write that script yourself as the main campaign doesn’t offer enough to satisfy, but it gets you some sweet upgrades, weapons, and vehicle unlocks on the way. Don’t expect an award winning story here as it serves as a mere generic rail you need to follow to get to the eventual end. And all of this set in a world that would be the setting for a glorious action movie any of today’s franchises would beg for.