Gamers love to point to games pushing agendas which are every bit as intellectual as the more experimental indie movies. But there’s nothing wrong with games that set out unashamedly to be guilty pleasures, and the first two iterations of the Just Cause franchise did exactly that. As does the third – and the pleasures it offers are thoroughly irresistible.
Broadly, Just Cause is pretty reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto games: it’s a third-person, open-world action-adventure effort which majors on over-the-top weaponry and blowing shit up, not to put too fine a point on it. You play Rico Rodriguez, returning to Medici, his fictional home Mediterranean island, which is under the iron grip of tinpot dictator General di Ravello. Teaming up with childhood friend Mario Frigo, boffin Dimah and dodgy American Tom Sheldon, he sets about fomenting a revolution in order to unseat di Ravello.
Rico’s initial entrance sets the general vibe for the rest of the game: he wing-walks on top of a plane, taking out missile-batteries with his own missile-launcher, before parachuting to the ground. Just Cause devotees will be familiar with Rico’s key items of kit: a grapple and a parachute. But both have been upgraded: you can now connect various objects with the grapple and pull them towards each other, for example, which leads to all manner of hilarious emergent behaviour. And they are joined in Just Cause 3 by a wingsuit that lets Rico indulge in gloriously controllable flight. Not that the game lacks helicopters, planes and so on, which Rico can call in via air-drops whenever he wants.
You’re invited to liberate Medici province by province, freeing towns by decimating army bases, pulling down statues of di Ravello, destroying speaker-stacks pumping out propaganda and finally raising the rebel flag; di Ravello’s bases are more challenging, since you must blow up vast amounts of fuel tanks, turbines, radars and the like under heavy fire. There is a main story thread, which is pleasantly varied and sees Rico indulging in some hilariously spectacular set-pieces, such as wingsuiting onto a giant missile which must be diverted, and you frequently come across short side-missions. Every time you liberate a new area, you open up Challenges, which are well worth taking on, since they allow you to upgrade whichever piece of kit or ability they showcase, opening up perks such as nitrous for cars or grapple-boosts for the wingsuit.
So Just Cause 3’s gameplay is pretty simple and familiar – but it’s also mighty effective. Once you master moves like grappling into a parachute flight, getting about the (pretty large) map becomes a joy in itself, and the potential for causing vast amounts of spectacular explosions will bring the inner pyromaniac out of even the most law-abiding gamer. Rico is basically a one-man army, with an arsenal to match and gadgets that don’t entirely obey the laws of physics, in order to make him more potent. It’s fantasy stuff which makes you feel much more powerful than you ever will in real life, and that’s one of the key aspects that justify the popularity of games in general.
But, sadly, Just Cause 3 does have problems. It looks pretty decent, preserving the distinctive art-style from its predecessors, but it might actually look too good, since it is occasionally afflicted by frame-rate issues, where the action begins to judder annoyingly. A huge day one patch helped with some of this, but didn’t eliminate it, and it's particularly noticeable when di Ravello launches a backlash that brings about full-scale battles, and when you get on a roll in one of his military bases and manage to cause a chain of explosions. As with all open-world games with a cutting-edge physics engine, it isn’t free of glitches, either, although they are pretty few and far between. Perhaps the most annoying being air-drops that go wrong, delivering boats, say, that explode before you can get in them – which is a pain since each air-drop costs you a beacon and, at first, you can only carry one of those.
If you’re seeking rip-roaring, preposterous escapism featuring daredevil stunts and insane amounts of explosions, and don’t demand the levels of polish and gloss that only the very best games boast, you’ll love Just Cause 3. And if you’re reluctant to buy it because technically it’s far from perfect, then that’s your prerogative, too. But your life will be just a little bit duller as a result.