Just Cause 3
Just Cause 3 is an odd beast. Its story and presentation is incredibly ‘old school’, yet many things about it typify a modern video game. On the one hand there is a side-scrolling run-and-gun approach to combat where the hero can absorb hundreds of bullets whilst his enemies stand in the open. On the other hand it is a standard open world formula of clearing map zones by completing a checklist of tasks. These things do not necessarily contradict each other creatively; they’re just from different eras of video games rather than antithetical to game design in any way. Just Cause 3 can best be described as the last two decades of video games put together in a blender. This obviously makes it a maximalist mess without a decent core focus or set of ideas. But who cares? Like using a blender, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
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The player controls “Rico Rodriguez”. The game pastiches ‘80s action cinema into its video game blend and thus Rico is the quintessential ‘80s action hero. He’s handsome, macho, buff and can do anything easily, however ridiculous the thing might be. He has a wingsuit and a jetpack and dual wields submachine guns that he can reload whilst jumping off a cliff. Sweat is a foreign concept to him. However there are a few things that Just Cause 3 does differently with this tropeish protagonist. He does have a kinder side. Whilst he’s a macho ideal, he doesn’t act in a way that is dismissive of other’s persona’s or abilities. He respects civilians, scientists, female resistance types and even mercenaries. Rather than being an American in some Reaganite cinematic power fantasy about policing the world, Rico is part of a people’s resistance movement in his fictional home country of Medici. Whilst Rico does work with Americans at times, the CIA specifically, it is implied they are playing the rebels and the Medician dictatorship off against each other. This is a surprisingly honest depiction of American/CIA foreign policy and it’s a sliver of nuance to proceedings I deeply appreciated. Guilty pleasure power fantasies about saving a foreign country feel significantly less dirty when the colonialist ideals underpinning such a fantasy are actually on full display in the text. Medici has a valuable element that opens up all sorts of technological opportunities and the US wants in by any cost. This is believable in real life, yet also fits with the sort of motives for corrupt government agents you do get in ‘80s action movies. That’s not an encouraging sign for the state of the real world, so let’s return to Just Cause 3 and its characters.
Other characters include turncoat scientist Dimah and Rico’s friend Mario. Both are well written from a comedic perspective. The cut scenes in the game are great fun with a lot of tongue-in-cheek cut-and-thrust verbal exchanges. Mario is given a comedically framed, but surprisingly touching relationship with his grandmother. And Dimah has signs of guilt and emotional trauma from her history of working for the Medician dictatorship before she betrayed them. These ideas aren’t explored so much as to have Just Cause 3 taking itself too seriously. The game is a deliberate cartoon story with cartoon characters, but it’s not often that you care so much for cartoon characters and feel like you could even have a drink with them.
From a gameplay perspective the title is pretty much as I said before. Standard open world guff, but with a wing suit and a jetpack and other such gadgets. You can use tethers to pull down buildings/tanks/people. There’s a lot of different weaponry that can cause big explosions. The driving functions. The game knows your near invincibility means it can throw an army, or seven, at you all at once. You will die quickly if you lose momentum or overthink things, but you can’t always brute force a situation either. This is a maximalist guerrilla warfare simulator starring a very violent superhero. The game will sometimes give you some allies and friends to not betray the game’s story of a people’s revolution. Whilst I usually hate missions where you have to guard an NPC ally whilst on the move, in Just Cause 3 it’s actually very satisfying. You can jump and tether yourself between cars and helicopters that are chasing your friends. It creates tension when you have to take out three helicopters and five tanks and ten cars chasing after some ally with a rapidly diminishing health bar. This is the sort of pure plate spinning management that underpins all action in video games and cinema.
The game has a large variety of side missions; time trials to town liberations to joke quests and so on. The main campaign itself is actually quite short. So whilst the presentation of Just Cause 3 is the dullest form of open world game design, it lets you approach it entirely how you like. Do the story and complete as much side content as you want to and then dispose of the thing long before you’re ever exhausted.
Just Cause 3 in a lot of ways is like the James Bond video game we’ve never been given. All the gadgets and explosives and vehicles you could want. It has comedy and some weight to it, but is thankfully without the problematic colonialist fantasising of a Bond film or an ‘80s action movie either. You even get to choose what sort of Bond film it is and how long you’re in it for. However I can’t really talk about this game without at least mentioning its severe technical problems. The most well known facts about this game is it basically runs okay on a PC, runs poorly on a PS4 and doesn’t really run at all on an Xbox One. It won’t take much of a YouTube search to find hours of its broken release state (not that it has improved much since). Thankfully I own an Xbox One X and the game mostly runs okay. The frame rate has the occasional collapse, but at least it runs. I guess for some the lid just came off the blender when they had a go. And like with blending a load of random ingredients; whilst it’s fun to drink some random mess one time for a laugh, you don’t plan to return to that taste combination ever again and as such I think this’ll be my only time with a Just Cause game. I enjoyed it, have a variety of memories and now I’m done.
Played on Xbox One X