Just Cause 4 is a Dumber, More Dynamic Sandbox [E3 2018 Preview]

The Just Cause franchise always embraced how purely video gamey they were. Rooted in the most extreme version of Hollywood realism, this series never cared about telling a deep tale; it just wanted to blow stuff up real good. And, to be fair, those games excelled in that category almost at the expense of everything else. Judging by the live, hands-off demo I saw at E3 2018, Just Cause 4 looks to be continuing to build on its goofy, explosive legacy by adding more creative tools to its sandbox.

Just Cause 4 Preview: Tools of the Trade

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Protagonist Rico Rodriguez had four main tools that progressively grew over time: his parachute, wingsuit, grappling hook, and booster bombs. Both the former two and the latter two have been expanded upon in different ways. The grappling hook and booster bombs have now been fused into one, as Rico can now lay boosters at a distance with his trusty grappling hook.

Being able to add boosters at a range changes how quickly you can set up destruction and keeps Rico moving forward. And the ability to have more boosters (10 was the limit) allowed for even wackier antics. The demo showed Rico sticking multiple boosters to a crane holding a large container, creating a wildly swinging, impromptu wrecking ball.

But the bomb tethers are customizable with a few different kinds of gadgets. Pulse tethers can pull two things together but violently explode outwards when the two items make contact. Objects can also be fitted with a balloon that lifts the thing in question in the sky and drops when the player gives the signal. In that same vein, there’s also a type of remote balloon grapple that signals the affected target to follow Rico in the air. This could be useful for vehicle transport, dropping huge explosives over enemies, or whatever other weird shit you can think up.

Thinking up of this weird shit is the heart of the game and is made easier through the loadouts. Multiple grapple profiles sit on the different buttons on the d-pad, allowing the player to quickly switch between propulsion bombs, balloon tethers, and any of the other upgrades they didn’t reveal.

Putting all the goofy tools at only a button press away cuts down on menu gazing and allows for a more instantaneous experimentation. It gave the demo an improvisational feel as the developer playing the game effortlessly switched between loadouts to create some incredible unscripted moments. Just Cause 4‘s sandbox has more variety because of these new tools, which was the point according to Art Director at Avalanche Studios Thomas Klingstrom.

“We listened to our fans,” he said. “We heard that they wanted more variety so we have taken that to its full extent implemented all these different biomes and that goes for the gameplay as well.”

Just Cause 4 Preview: Weather the Storm(s)

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Responding to complaints about the monotony of past games, Just Cause 4 appropriately has four different types of environments and with unique weather patterns. Unpredictable lightning, sandstorms, blizzards, and tornadoes rage through the fictional South American country of Solís and create unique weather patterns for the player to deal with.

Klingstrom did show off the tornado, which behaved as erratically and destructively as possible. The towering cyclone tore through structures and sucked up everything that wasn’t nailed down. Debris cluttered the air soon after the tornado appeared and showed off the game’s new simulated wind system.

Although it sounds like marketing jargon, the simulated wind system has actual gameplay ramifications. Not only does it carry items around in the wind as it blows and spins, but it also works in tandem with your parachute, wingsuit, and balloon grapples. Strong currents will propel you forward or fight against you depending on where it’s blowing.

Tornadoes become swirling hazards of death but are full of objects you can manipulate for more sandbox fun. It took on a life of its own as it tore through the battlefield. Fitting for the series, it felt like yet another huge, untamable presence that will undoubtedly create more hilarious stories. Our live gameplay demo showed this as a huge piece of airborne concrete clobbered Rico as he was gliding around. Klingstrom, who had probably seen the demo well over twenty times before that, stopped mid-sentence and chuckled.

Just Cause 4 Preview: Start Your Engines

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All of these impressive weather effects are possible because of the game’s new Apex Engine. Avalanche Studios created the engine to make Just Cause 4 but also made Just Cause 4 because of the engine’s strengths. One brought about the other, which Klingstrom explained.

“We looked at what kind of games we make we need to be able to make these vast, big open world games,” he said. “We needed to have extremely high fidelity destruction and physics and we need to be able to do extreme weather.”

Just Cause 4 had the courage to be a live demo as opposed to a canned video. A lot of private appointments understandably play a bunch of clips because it’s much safer and keeps the game from looking as unfinished as it is. But Just Cause 4 thrives on stupid, random fun that only a live demo could truly produce. The demo showed off how the customizable grappling hook and weather system add variety to the sandbox while also creating some hilarious, player-driven moments. Whether or not these tools will add enough variation to the gameplay is something we will have to wait until December 4th to find out.