Come to Medici for the fresh air, stay for the wanton destruction.
Just Cause 2 was a welcome surprise that came out of nowhere and hooked me from the very beginning. Not only did I savor the open-ended gameplay, but I also invested many, many hours that had absolutely nothing to do with mission goals. Simply put, the game was a blast to play. So it should come as no surprise that I've been anticipating a bigger and badder sequel, and Just Cause 3 is just that. But while the expansive environment combined with the huge selection of vehicles and weapons is definitely bigger, questionable design decisions and a lack of engine optimization combine to make the game badder (not in a good way).
It doesn't help that the plot, or lack thereof, seems like it's ripped straight from an '80s action movie. In fact, this humdrum tale is basically a less elaborate copy of the story from Just Cause 2. Once again, the suave and heroic Rico Rodriguez must band together with rebels to save another fictional South American island from a cruel and oppressive dictator. It's just enough of a plot to steer players in the right direction, but not enough for them to actually care about what's happens to Rico's hometown of Medici. Thankfully, Rico's humorous sidekick, Mario, and a socially awkward scientist help make the cut-scenes more bearable.
Just like a Michael Bay film, the highlight of Just Cause 3 is controlled destruction. While this may seem like a flimsy foundation, the ability to chain explosions together to create chaotic scenes of mass destruction is both liberating and satisfying. Add an excellent physics engine to the mix, and the result is the ability to cause chaotic chain reactions based on science. Sure, it may be fun to topple a towering chimney, but why not make it fall onto a fuel tank to create an extra explosion? While that's going on, fire a rocket at another explosive container to keep the chain reaction going. There's an actual destruction combo meter that measures the amount of chaos created and turns it into a score.
Each town and military base has a wide variety of explosive tasks to achieve before it's liberated, and the items that must be destroyed (called chaos objects) are marked red. Towns are filled with items like billboards, propaganda speakers, and police stations, so they're relatively easy to liberate. However, military bases consist of fuel tanks, radio towers, and satellite dishes as well as a plethora of military hardware and soldiers. These are much more difficult to liberate because reinforcements are called in the moment players are detected in the base. Reinforcements begin innocuous enough with soldiers and Humvees but eventually turn into massive forces that contain tanks, helicopters, and even jets. Liberating towns and bases is only necessary to propel the game forward at certain points in the story, but otherwise, it's entirely optional. Ironically, this is also the most enjoyable part of the game that has structure, as the main missions are forgettable.
What I found to be the most enjoyable aspect is the complete freedom to experiment with the many tools at my disposal. Just like its predecessor, this game offers players a cool grappling hook that lets them attach to any object and quickly zip to it. This comes in extremely handy when you add a parachute that can be used at any time. It's incredibly fun to zip up to a rooftop and then shoot up into the air by activating the parachute before the rooftop is reached. Parachuting around is a great way to travel, and it can be extended by continuously using the grappling hook to grab onto objects and propel forward. In addition, nearly all weapons can be used while parachuting, and it's great fun to shoot enemies and cause massive destruction while floating around.
Add multiple tether options to this mix, and the result is only limited by the player's imagination. Up to six tethers can be used at once in this game, and they can do many useful things. For example, players can ride on a car and shoot one end of a tether at a chasing car and the other end at a stationary object. This will make the car immediately crash in a manner that depends on how or to what it was attached. One of my favorite things to do is attach a car to a sign post and then constrict the tether to make the car swing around the sign post like a game of tether ball. It's also very effective to attach enemy vehicles together, such as a tank and a helicopter, and then constrict the tether to make them crash into each other. Players can also create a makeshift wrecking ball by attaching a solid object, like a statue's head, to a car or helicopter and slam it into chaos objects. For extra fun, create a slingshot by attaching a car or even a person to a tall building and then shoot it into the distance.
While I enjoy new features like regenerating health, duel tethers, and unlimited C4, my favorite addition is definitely the wingsuit. This extremely handy and versatile tool has practically unlimited uses and it's a joy to use. Even after using cool vehicles alike fighter jets, military boats, sports cars, and dune buggies, I prefer to travel using the wingsuit. This is in part because it doesn't exactly follow the laws of gravity, which makes it possible to use the grappling hook to pull myself around to maintain momentum. It's very cathartic to fly around in the air and then glide down and zip along close to the ground while avoiding trees and other obstacles. The wingsuit is a great addition to the series and it opens up even more possibilities when combined with the grappling hook and parachute.
Rico doesn't level up or gain new stats, but his abilities can be drastically improved via upgrade mods. Since enemy forces become stronger and their bases larger and more powerful, earning and activating mods is vital. Some of them are simply a way to customize abilities, like grenades that explode on impact or adding turbo to vehicles, while others, like earning up to six tethers at once or increased ammunition, can make or break an encounter. One of my favorite mods is the ability to turn grenades into rocket-propelled explosives. Attach four of these to a car and watch it fly off into the air before it explodes! These mods are earned by completing a wide array of challenges that range from races to wingsuit courses to blowing up facilities with certain weapons.
With all of these great additions to the series, it's just too bad that Just Cause 3 suffers from poor design choices and lackluster optimization. For starters, this single-player game incorporates an unnecessary and extremely annoying DRM that must maintain an online connection at all times. Occasionally, it will disconnect itself and pause the game while it tries to reconnect. If it isn't successful, the option to go into offline mode appears, but even in this mode it still pauses and tries to reconnect to the Internet whenever the game map is activated. I also wish that enemy A.I. wasn't as brain-dead as a rotten zombie. All enemies do is advance and attack in stronger and stronger waves, and sometimes they just stand there as if I'm not Medici's most wanted criminal.
It's not surprising that a game about mass destruction suffers from an inconsistent framerate, but the game slows down and stutters every time there's mass destruction and/or a large number of enemies onscreen. However, the worst problem with this title is the extremely long load times that vary from ten seconds to around three minutes. Sometimes it was so bad that I thought the game had frozen, but the little indicator in the bottom right hand corner has a load bar that kept slowly advancing. It can get extremely annoying to wait for levels to load, and it becomes infuriating when trying to repeat challenges to get a higher score. What's odd is that the exact same loading spot usually has different loading times for no apparent reason.
When it comes right down to it, the main attraction in Just Cause 3 is mass destruction with a secondary focus on performing stylish and innovative moves. Sadly, even destroying giant military bases eventually becomes monotonous when it isn't supported by an interesting story and a fun mission structure. Like me, fans of the predecessor will still enjoy playing this game, and the true sandbox nature that promotes tinkering around with nearly endless possibilities will ensure that some people will continue to play it even after the story is completed.