As I wrote about last week, 2018 has been flooded with open-world games leading all the way up to Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar’s epic has been received well by critics but some players, including myself, have pushed back against its painfully methodical pace. Open-world games are usually pretty draining and Red Dead Redemption 2, at least for me, couldn’t have come at a worse time. Just Cause 4 could potentially suffer the same fate, given its looming release date and gigantic South American setting. But after playing the game for a few hours, I realized that Just Cause 4 might be just the open-world game I’ve wanted this whole year.
Just Cause 4 cuts out all the crap gets you straight into what you want: dumbass destruction and quick movement. Propane tanks and other conspicuously places explosives are littered everywhere and beg to be blown up in any way you see fit with any of the new and improved weapons. And while the game gives you back the wingsuit from Just Cause 3 and the classic grappling hook, it pushes the grappling hook into new directions that drastically change how you can play Just Cause 4.
Just Cause 4 Preview – Grappling With Stupidity
I say “can” because the amount of grappling hook options was initially pretty overwhelming. While they’ll be spread out within the final game, the 4 million (according to Avalanche) possible permutations is paralyzing. There’s the classic retractor, booster, and the new air lifter but each can be swapped to on the fly and customized to do different things.
For example, the balloons can float up or towards where you’re looking, the boosters can just boost or explode when they’re done, and the tether can give off an energy explosion once the two ends touch. There are many more and can be customized to make unique and just plain stupid creations. I was able to attach boosters and balloons to huge container and have it careen off the road and plow through the sky. Plain, yes, but it was utterly hilarious as it tumbled through traffic and sent me—and plenty of bystanders—flying.
My concoction was dumb and simple but Avalanche Studios Producer Bryan Rodriguez gave me an example of a dumb and complex one they first discovered during the previous press demo. Someone had taken an anti-aircraft gun, thrown balloons and boosters on it, and adjusted the boosters as such so they could fly the turret anywhere, kill the boosters to make it drop to shoot everyone in sight before reactivating the boosters and balloons to repeat the cycle. It was incredibly clever and something Avalanche had never even thought of, but it was a byproduct of the open tools that allow for this sort of out-of-the-box thinking. While everyone won’t be making death traps that elaborate, Lead Mechanics Designer Hamish Young thinks giving players a huge toolset makes the game better.
“We erred on the side of giving people the tools [to do what they want],” said Young. “We took a little bit of complexity to make that sure that players could have all sorts of different things. We don’t want to dumb the game down in that sense. We have very sophisticated players and we want to respect the fact that it’s much better to give them the tools [to do what they want].”
Young then went on to describe how this expanded grappling hook will be fodder for YouTube like Just Cause 3 was few years back. And now that the possibilities have been exponentially increased, it’s plausible that the number of ridiculous experiments will only increase.
Just Cause 4 Preview – A Solís Sandbox
My time with Just Cause 4 helped proved Young’s point as I was much more prone to think up some silly things to do during my demo than I did in the entirety of Just Cause 3. That’s not to say I didn’t try weird things in Just Cause 3—I did—but the deluge of tools makes it hard not to just want to throw boosters and balloons on everything and repeatedly rocket into the stratosphere on a pickup truck packed with balloons.
I had to force myself to stop messing around with the grappling hook gizmos and actually complete some missions, which were pretty standard for Just Cause, meaning that they were mostly fine if sometimes a bit too long. Gliding around and escorting vehicles is made more fun because of how mobile Rico still is. The physics-based wind system makes surfing the air a bit faster now and is further enhanced by the oft-discussed extreme weather system. The tornado I briefly encountered felt like yet another tool in the game’s extensive emergent gameplay belt. The way it tore apart buildings and crushed me a few times was hilarious and consistent with all the other random stuff that game seems to be full of.
Extreme weather even factors intimately with the main story, which the team is putting more effort into this time around. Just Cause 4‘s story may be more cinematic but Avalanche has taken steps so that it won’t get in the way of the show-stealing gameplay. Narrative Designer Benjamin Jaekle said that the studio wanted to “do story right” but in a way that acknowledged what Just Cause is.
“Something we focused on really hard with the story this time was making sure that it stayed out of the player’s way,” said Jaekle. “We didn’t want you to feel like you had to grind over here in order to do this thing over there. The whole world is open to you can go explore different story bits here and there and it’s all designed very nonlinearly.”
The story did stay out of my way during the few story missions I did but the cutscenes seemed to have better direction with fewer caricatures and an improved sense of overall direction. Deep narrative is not something I go to Just Cause for and won’t be totally surprised if the story ends up lagging, but it was better than I expected. But if it just turns into a way for me to justify putting boosters on everything, then that’ll probably be just fine too.
The bits I tried of Just Cause 4 showed that it was the ode to goofing off that this year’s open-world games, despite their quantity, haven’t provided as frequently as they should. The new grappling hook allowed for a healthy combination of player-driven engineering and random emergent gameplay that the game already seems to have plenty of. Just Cause 4 may not have shrinking animal testicles but I did attach a balloon to a goat and then proceeded to grapple to it, kicking the hell out of it in the process as it floated up into the sky. That’s a pretty brief yet accurate comparison of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Just Cause 4 and why I can’t wait for the latter and am currently ignoring the former.