Just Cause 3 has a simple ethos at its heart: every moment in a video game can be made better with an explosion, and the more explosions the better. Just Cause 3 is absolutely loaded with things that blow up, and somehow each explosion feels more visceral and beautiful than the last. But like any Hollywood blockbuster that relies on pretty special effects to wow an audience, the overall package can seem kind of hollow once the smoke has cleared. Just Cause 3 has a few more tricks up its sleeve to complement its bevy of explosions, but the series still has a ways to go before it can measure up with the best open-world games on the market.
Returning for the third time, along with his trademark cheesy one-liners and a love for guns of all kinds, is the series’ protagonist Rico Rodriguez. In previous games, Rico has been tasked with liberating fictional countries in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, but this time it’s personal as he must liberate his fictional home country of Medici from the ruthless General Sebastiano Di Ravello. While the story here is slight, the game at least appears ready to acknowledge that no one’s playing Just Cause 3 looking for character development or lengthy cutscenes; any advancement in the story is usually made by a few quick lines about how the next mission will make it easier to stop Di Ravello coupled with a dumb joke or two. Still though, a little effort could have been made to keep the characters from being this paper-thin.
Just Cause 3 does open itself up almost immediately though, trusting that the player knows how to properly enjoy a sandbox game without needing his hand held through boring tutorials. A majority of the gameplay comes from travelling around to the dozens of cities, towns, and military installations that dot Medici’s several islands, and liberating each one, again, mostly through blowing things up. While military bases are filled to the brim with fuel tanks and gas pipes that will explode with some help from a launched rocket or two (one of the game’s introductory weapons), liberating a town requires a little more finesse, asking the player to remove symbols of oppression in addition to causing many acts of violence. Rico will usually need to destroy some propaganda-spewing speakers, some billboards and statues commemorating Di Ravello, maybe release some political prisoners, and start a riot for good measure. While this can be very fun, the limitations of Just Cause 3’s interactive map hurt the experience. Potential objectives only start showing up after Rico has explored around a little and started causing chaos. This would be fine, except all objective icons show up the same color as the surrounding map, making locating the next task very difficult. While this makes the fairly easy Just Cause 3 a little more challenging, it definitely doesn’t make it more fun to play.
Destroying military bases is where the game truly shines, offering up huge airports, seaports, mining centers, and more where Rico can just show up and cause a ridiculous amount of chaos. As this is a game in which everything is blowing up all the time, Rico will die often, but all progress in destroying the base is saved with each death, ensuring that Rico can keep coming back and making things explode until nothing is left. It’s not a challenging game, but it can be immensely satisfying just watching chain reactions of explosions tear the base apart. Each time Rico finishes off a base, the game smartly plays a hilarious new radio broadcast message from one of Di Ravello’s spokesmen, obviously forced against his will to ensure the public that everything is just fine, saying something to the tune of “Di Ravello just had his airport destroyed on purpose because it was an eyesore, pay no attention to that Rico guy.” Unfortunately, there are just too many of these bases to destroy without much to distinguish them. It may run counter to the Just Cause philosophy of keeping things simple, but adding in a few moments of forced strategy could have really kept the game interesting throughout its run. Why not have Rico try to blow up a base with a time limit? Maybe a little bit of stealth could be involved?
Then again, maybe not. The main campaign gives Rico some real missions aside from “shoot everything”, and nothing sticks out as memorable or innovative in any way. Just Cause 3 does have plenty of side missions, however, and while most of them are just timed races, there is enough variety involved to make at least a few of them worth seeking out. The environment of Medici’s islands is colossal, and while it may seem empty at first, during these races, it’s often revealed that these vast empty expanses are actually hiding some cleverly designed courses, or some purposefully hidden collectibles.
The best way to travel across Medici might be the game’s secret strength – a combination of a grappling hook, parachute, and flying-squirrel-like wingsuit lets Rico essentially fly from destination to destination effortlessly, switching between the different items quickly to the point where it becomes a graceful, fluid movement, allowing Rico ample time to marvel at the natural beauty of Medici’s countryside. In a game with motorcycles, sports cars, militarized helicopters and fighter jets, it really says something that the best way to get around is through a few pieces of cloth, rope, and the wind. Still, the game constantly offers new and exciting vehicles with which to travel, making the garage system that lets Rico save his favorite cars and planes borderline useless. There’s really no need to plan ahead – tools of destruction are almost always readily available.
Anyone looking for a game where they can simply cause as much chaos and destruction as soon as possible would be well-served by playing Just Cause 3, but unfortunately the game never really transcends its sandbox roots to become a more memorable experience. While Medici is a huge continent to explore, it suffers from inexcusably long load times. What’s worse, there’s not too much to do outside of the main campaign and the constant liberating of towns and military bases. There’s a basis for a truly memorable game here, but the execution is lacking, leaving Just Cause 3 as a decently fun but not very memorable experience.