With the fourth entry in the Just Cause franchise, protagonist Rico Rodriguez has decided to take a break from overthrowing power hungry dictators in fictional South American countries and has instead opted to take on more rewarding ventures, like starting his own Army of Chaos in yet another fictional South American country called Solis.
That premise is all you need to know before jumping into this game, since the story is more or less what we have come to expect from the series. It’s nothing too deep or elaborate, and follows our protagonist as he strokes the fires of rebellion among the locals in an effort to bring down the Black Hand, the world’s most powerful private army. It’s the same scenario that’s been done a hundred times before in a multitude of different media, and Just Cause 4 doesn’t really contribute to it significantly. It’s all very cliche, and that isn’t helped by the fact that the delivery, voice acting and even the cutscenes are some of the worst I’ve ever seen.
The gameplay on the other hand preforms much better, and the beautiful map of Solis where the game takes place is massive, featuring everything from snow capped mountains, swamps and deserts. It’s not the most dense game world you’ll ever see, but it makes up for it with its variety and expansive landscapes.
The new weather mechanics that are at the forefront of the new features introduced in Just Cause 4 are a bit underwhelming for the most part too. It’s not that flying around and reveling in the destruction caused by these storms, as they decimate any vehicles and structures in their paths, is not fun, but they just leave a lot to be desired.
Sandstorms and Lightning storms specifically are fun spectacles at the start with their own unique challenges that force you to change up the way you play in them, but quickly become repetitive and annoying. They don’t even hold a candle to the amazing physics based spectacles that come about during Tornadoes, as they alter both the trajectory of your flight path and some weapons.
They are the real stars of Just Cause 4’s weather mechanics, and it’s honestly a shame how sparsely they are used. In fact, it takes well over five hours into the game before the first storm even shows up, and even longer for a Tornado to make its appearance. Not counting story missions where the presence of one of these storms is a given, I can count on one hand the number of times I encountered one during my 40 hour playthrough.
The other new features introduced with this entry, the Air Lifters, are incredibly fun to experiment with in tandem with the Retractor and the Boosters, and lead to some absolutely hilarious physics defying moments since you can launch virtually anything into the stratosphere. And while they are an absolute joy to experiment with when no enemies are around, apart from the powerful Retractor, the other two gadgets are not exactly suited for combat.
Making a tank fly is a fun demonstration that will keep you thoroughly entertained and might even be effective to some degree, but it’s applications are generally very thin when used in actual combat. It takes time to properly make use of both the Air Lifters and the Boosters, and you just don’t have that when you’re fighting off hordes of enemies. Enemies who are much smarter than before, and are divided into a few different types that behave differently and make use of different tactics, but are still mostly cannon fodder for our protagonist Rico.
During combat players have access to a large variety of weapons, both regular and experimental, that they can make use of. They are versatile and diverse on their own, but each of them also have secondary firing modes that make them really fun to play with. An assault rifle that deploys a personal drone, a shotgun with ricocheting alternate fire and a gun that shoots Lightning are just some of the weapons that are at your disposal, and you’ll need to make full use of them since handheld explosives like grenades are nowhere to be found in this game.
And having these weapons dropped onto your location, alongside a massive selection of cars, jets, helicopters and boats is simpler and more efficient than ever thanks to the re-worked Supply Drop system. You no longer need a finite resource such as beacons to call them in. Rico has at his disposal a number of different pilots, who are unlocked by playing the game, that can deliver these vehicles and weapons to him instantly. The only minor hindrance is a cooldown timer specific to each pilot that needs to run its course before you can utilize them again.
And since we’re on the subject of vehicles, it should also be noted that they perform better in Just Cause 4 than ever before, especially land vehicles. Performance is not perfect by any means, but having to make use of them is less tedious than before, and dare I say it, even enjoyable.
Which is not to say that players will spend a lot of their time in the game driving, because the phenomenal traversal system this series is known for is still the best way to travel. It takes a fair bit of time and effort to master the wingsuit in particular, but once that’s done, there are few things as exhilarating and as satisfying as chaining together aerial maneuvers or grappling onto helicopters. It’s one of the game’s strongest features, and it’s more refined than ever before.
One major complaint I have with the game is that it is more or less the same experience we got with Just Cause 3. Poor mission design is not something you’re likely to ignore, and repetitiveness is going to be an issue. The new Air Lifter gadget, experimental weapons and weather mechanics are fun additions, but the core experience is more or less the exact same. There was a distinct difference in gameplay between the first three games in the franchise that is really absent from Just Cause 4. Developer Avalanche Studios have taken no risks with this entry, and it is worse off because of it.
But if pulling off death defying stunts in the most unconventional ways is something that appeals to you, you’ll have a great time with Just Cause 4. The traversal is satisfying, the combat is solid and shooting red objects and structures that then go boom is something that never quite gets old in games. Just be aware of a persistent wave of nostalgia while playing, especially if you’ve spent any amount of time with Just Cause 3.
On the plus side, prospective console players will be glad to know that Just Cause 4 runs significantly better on the Xbox One than its predecessor. Except for those fleeting moments where an uncountable number of different explosions are occurring at the same time, and very rarely during a storm sequence, the framerate stays stable even on a basic Xbox One. It does however maintain this at the cost of its visuals, which look dated compared to Just Cause 3 at times, and downright ugly at others.
This isn’t a persistent issue however since the game mostly looks fantastic, but the hit the graphics take is fairly noticeable. There’s also a fairly notable texture pop-in issue that players are bound to notice as they wingsuit or parachute across the map. All of these issues are must less noticeable on the more powerful Xbox One X, but even it isn’t immune to these problems.
Just Cause 4 is out now on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the PC. It was developed by Avalanche Studios and published by Square Enix. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review copy was provided by the publisher.
Just Cause 4 Review
Just Cause 4 is a fantastic playground for players to wreck havoc and live out their wildest action movie fantasies in, but the issues that bog it down are not easy to ignore. The new weather mechanics and gadgets are fun to play around with, but don’t really hold up in combat. It’s the same formula that we’ve come to know and love from the series, but it’s new ideas are few and far in between.