I’ve always admired game franchises that are self-aware about what they offer and really lean into the aspects that make them stand out. Saints Row is a good example, as it started as little more than a GTA clone with some silly humor mixed in. As the series went on, it forged its own identity by focusing on the absurd elements instead of attempting to ride Rockstar’s coattails. Just Cause seems to be following a similar path. Its first entry had its fair share of exploding barrels and a limited amount of stunt opportunities, but the game was played relatively straight-faced compared to its sequel. With Just Cause 2, Avalanche clearly took note of which elements people enjoyed from the original and introduced a lot more of it. More stunts, even more egregious barrel placement, and an awesome grappling hook that can tether items together helped make it a far more entertaining game than its predecessor. Just Cause 3 is Avalanche’s opportunity to be the Saints Row: The Third of the series, leaning as far as possible into open-world sandbox insanity.
My hopes for this outcome seemed to come true upon first assuming control of Rico Rodriguez in Just Cause 3. Right away, you’re surfing on the back of a giant cargo plane and armed with a rocket launcher with infinite ammo. Off to a good start. Within minutes of completing this first sequence, I was given two of the game’s biggest new additions - the enhanced tether and the wingsuit. Just Cause 3 doesn’t dabble and make you finish a bunch of crappy side missions to get to the cool stuff. The game patiently waits until you’re done firing infinite rockets at bad guys, and then immediately says “HEY HERE’S THIS COOL CRAP.”
That’s not to say that the game doesn’t reward you with fun upgrades as you progress. Throughout my 40+ hours with the game, I was earning new abilities, weapons, and vehicles at a steady clip by following the same basic gameplay format that was in Just Cause 2. As before, you gradually chip away at a tyrannical dictator’s grasp on an island nation by using your growing arsenal to liberate settlements. Avalanche seems to understand that narrative has never been Just Cause’s strong suit, as the cutscenes are brief affairs that involve someone telling you what to blow up. You’ll hear plenty of radio chatter about how evil General Di Ravello is, but his lack of screen time means you’ll see his image more often in the context of statues that you’re strapping C4 to or tethering to a helicopter.
The process of liberating the island is more streamlined this time around, omitting the chaos score gating from Just Cause 2 (you still have a chaos score, but it only appears to affect leaderboard rankings). Instead of any kind of currency system, weapons and vehicles are unlocked by completing missions. Once you’ve unlocked these items, they’re available at any time via the rebel drop option in your menu. With no chaos or currency in play, the only thing stopping you from calling in whatever you want, whenever you want is a cooldown timer.
It doesn’t feel like there’s much consequence to anything, which is a welcome feeling in a game that primarily serves as a vehicle for wanton destruction. With no currency or XP, there’s no penalty for dying. If you die halfway through destroying an enemy settlement, you’ll respawn with all of your progress still intact (and your ammo fully restocked). If you unlock some goofy new weapon that you want to try out, go right ahead and use it to wreak havoc on the civilian population with no penalties whatsoever. Don’t worry about being stingy on the C4, either, as your supply is infinite from the very beginning for some damn reason.
Considering that the joy I get from Just Cause lies in blowing crap up in increasingly hilarious fashion, I welcomed this “just have a good time” approach. I rarely felt frustrated by unfair checkpoints or difficult encounters, and I never felt discouraged from experimenting with some stupid way to approach a situation.
My limited moments of frustration with Just Cause 3 usually revolved around wonky physics and grappling mechanics, with Rico (or his vehicles) occasionally getting caught up on geometry in awkward ways. This was particularly annoying when participating in one of the many side activities that involve racing a vehicle. Most of these are of the standard “race your car/motorcycle/boat/plane/wingsuit through the rings in under X time” variety, while one borrows from Speed and tasks you with keeping your miles per hour over a set limit as you deliver a bomb to a target. No matter which variety of racing side mission I played, I always worried about some dumb rock or pole throwing me off course or halting my progress to the point of restarting. Most of the side missions went off without a hitch, but a few courses have annoying X-factors that you can’t really prepare for. None of these side missions feel particularly unique (others include GTA-style rampages), outside of one that I enjoyed that involves tethering a magnet to your vehicle and delivering rare materials to a drop-off point. They’re all worth doing in the long haul, however, as your progress in side missions is what unlocks new features like nitrous boosts and additional tethers/explosives.
Tethering vehicles to each other or the environment was one of the funniest elements of Just Cause 2, and the enhanced tether in this entry really opens up the possibilities, You can now shoot out numerous tethers at once, and retract them at any time by holding the left trigger. This functionality is responsible for many of my favorite moments in the game, from causing fighter jets to crash into each other to launching a dead cow cartoonishly far off of a cliff.
It’s good that causing mayhem in Just Cause 3 feels so good, because that’s what you’ll be doing for essentially the entire game. Unlocking powerful late-game jets and helicopters is cool at first, but then you realize that they’re just another way to get from settlement to settlement to destroy the same fuel tanks, generators, towers, and satellite dishes that you see ad nauseam throughout the entire game. A couple of the game’s 25 story missions incorporate some nice setpiece moments, but the majority of them don’t do much to differentiate themselves from the typical “hey, blow this thing up” routine (one odd outlier involved nothing more than driving a truck filled with wine casks for about two minutes).
For a game that's almost wholly based around creating gigantic explosions at every turn, the PlayStation 4 version of the game has a difficult time keeping up when things get really chaotic. While liberating towns or destroying especially large items, the frame rate frequently dips dramatically. I never felt like I lost control over Rico or missed shots (thanks in part to the game's generous auto-aim), but it was disheartening to see these technical issues considering how smoothly the PC version ran even during the most explosive situations.
A one-note experience isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it delivers on that one thing exceptionally well. Just Cause 3 has occasional physics problems and a lack of variety, but it’s fantastic if you just want to drop into a world and immediately start blowing it up. Upon completion of the story, you can even “re-oppress” individual settlements purely for the purpose of blowing them up all over again. It’s hard to complain about the gameplay feeling samey considering I’ve spent over 40 hours in the game and I’m still looking forward to going back and taking out more settlements. Avalanche clearly knows what this game is all about, and you should too if you want to give it a shot. If you’re aware of the game’s limitations and you’re still eager to blow an open world straight to hell, few games do it better than Just Cause 3.