Video games have almost always looked at Hollywood for inspiration. Gaming has been been fixated on emulating the silver screen’s cinematography and storytelling techniques as the medium strives to be taken more seriously. The Just Cause series, on the other hand, hasn’t studied narrative as hard but rather the explosive set pieces that make up most blockbusters. Avalanche Studios has been implementing more and more tools with each successive installment to make the moment-to-moment gameplay more evocative of an explosive action movie that you can play. JUST CAUSE 4 is the natural zenith of that mentality as its newly expanded toolset gives players the freedom to goof off in the huge sandbox in a way that few games can match.
The grappling hook is vital component of Just Cause 4’s huge push towards player choice. Instead of only tethering objects together, it can now attach balloons and rocket boosters to almost anything in the world. On the surface, it’s hilarious to toss seven balloons and three rockets on a car and watch it spin around at Mach 4 but it goes so much deeper.
Each of the three components has a dizzying array of options that allow for a nearly overwhelming amount of customization. Unlockable mods change how the three behave and can be activated instantly or through holding down or pressing a button. For example, you can set the balloons to follow your reticle, inflate on a button press, and to explode when destroyed while having the rocket boosters only fire upwards, thrust quickly at an extreme speed, and activate only when the button is held down.
Just Cause 4 Review – A True Sandbox
When combined in the right ways, this breathtaking number of options gives you a command over the environment in way that leads to constant discovery. When combined in the wrong ways, this incredible array of options is hilarious as your engineering failures—combined with the random parts of the open world—are always unscripted comedy gold. And almost everything can be manipulated, moved, or propelled into space at your whim and the tools give you that freedom to have better control over the mayhem inherent to the series, granted you can get over the learning curve. Something productive, clever, funny, or a combination of the three is almost always possible if you can just think of how to combine the tools in a way to make it a reality.
Objectives hardly force you to craft solutions but are often open enough to silently invite your creativity in different ways. Just Cause 4 is usually pretty unrestrictive so you can create a flying tank equipped with balloons and boosters or use nearby metal shipping containers to create impromptu protective barriers in almost any general activity.
But there are times where both story and side objectives will task you with moving an object or vehicle to a certain area, which is where the game pushes you to utilize its toolset in whatever way you see fit. Freeform objectives don’t grow stale because there’s always some new contraption to think up and different plan to execute. And that sense of newness snowballs as you spend more time with the tools and string together more elaborate methods of achieving the same goals.
Although some missions could better facilitate the game’s bombastic nature. Grappling around and using the wingsuit is still a joy because of how it makes normal traversal actively engaging as well as how it turns you into an agile Ethan Hunt version of Spider-Man. You feel like what every Mission Impossible movie looks like.
But not as many of the main missions push these mechanics to their limit in clever ways not possible in the open world. They end up being more of what you see in the other parts of the game: zipping around and blowing things up in clever ways. Thus, campaign missions thrive off the incredible strength of the core mechanics yet still could have been pushed just a bit further with more memorable specialized scenarios. Side missions use the sandbox well in the same ways but also drag on and rely too heavily on hacking and defending people or objects. Missions have a greater variety this time around and somehow still usually revolve around watching a meter slowly fill up.
Just Cause 4 Review – An Imperfect Storm
The extreme weather is similarly great yet underutilized. There’s either a sandstorm, a tornado, or thunderstorm that roams around one specific on the map. Each is another random variable in the game’s toolbag that can hinder or help you as you roam around. The tornado is especially impressive in how it whips everything around every which way—yourself included. But while these impressive feats of nature are always looming, they’re hardly in the game outside of the missions where you “fight” them. Constantly running into these storms and seeing their destruction firsthand would have made you see for yourself why they needed to be stopped. And also it’s just a ton of fun to fling guards into the tornado.
Just Cause 4’s structure, like its gameplay, is also quite open. The three chunks of the story can be tackled in any order right from the start. It’s oddly refreshing to see an open-world game give the player almost complete and utter freedom. Some campaign missions do require clearing specific bases but it’s more relaxed than other games in the genre that either hold the player’s hand for too long or gate off certain areas with higher leveled enemies.
It’s on brand for a Just Cause game to be open but it’s also on brand for the series to have a weak narrative. Returning protagonist Rico Rodriguez has come to the fictional country of Solís to stop its evil leader and his ludicrous weather-based death machines. Toppling dictators is Rico’s reason for getting up in the morning but the story never reaches the goofy, self-aware heights of its past nor becomes a genuinely compelling drama in and of itself.
Lighthearted, well-acted cutscenes and a handful of funny lines make the simple story easy to follow and keep it moving at a decent pace. Although it lacks a sense of grander purpose. Carving the story into separate chunks helps the gameplay pacing but it kills any arc the characters would have since each can be completed in any order. Both villains also hardly have any screen time as they only show up at the beginning and end. The story contains whispers of Rico outgrowing his parody persona and hints at a deeper look into his family but it’s all left in the margins at the behest of the action. It’s the right choice, given the game, but it didn’t have to be a choice.
Just Cause 4 Review – Patching Up Old Wounds
Just Cause 3 had a worse narrative but it was more notorious for how technically broken it was. Just Cause 4 actually functions this time like a finished video game since it maintains a relatively stable frame rate in most cases and only has a few, short load times. Some odd lighting shows up in the cutscenes and an abundance of motion blur can lead to some visual mishaps but Just Cause 4, for the most part, seems like an apology for the poor performance of its predecessor. However, while not in the game yet, Avalanche Studios has promised to patch in better lighting and motion blur options.
But it’s also just snappier in general. Choosing side activities is a breeze and doesn’t even require that you pause the game or go through a long load; a seamless process that other games should take and improve upon. Menus are quite dense but make navigation easy, which is helpful when sifting through the many grappling hook customization options or the on-demand supply drops. Fixing technical issues does wonders for making it feel complete, but these other quality of life changes result in a smoother, more pleasant overall package.
Just Cause 4 fulfills the promise of what a Just Cause game should be better than any of its predecessors. Those titles laid the groundwork but Just Cause 4 has taken that foundation and tossed enough boosters and balloons on it to ride it into the stratosphere to its natural apex. The embarrassing wealth of flexible tools foster a sense of freedom, creativity, and stupidity that most open-world games only pretend to have. It’s Bayhem, gamified even down to the poor narrative. But the game also lets you become Michael Bay by giving you total control over the chaos you can create on the screen. That may not be a flattering comparison in the cinematic world but for a game like Just Cause 4, it’s one of the highest compliments.
Just Cause 4 was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.