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By Ian BooneThis is LOAD FILE, where we don’t play nearly enough games but somehow still miss deadlines. Ian looks into ‘Just Cause 3’, out now for PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. 

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Rico Rodriguez is half Scarface, half tiger, and all heart. Rico Rodriguez is the coming storm, the hail of lead and fire, toppler of regimes. Rico Rodriguez is a beautiful leaf floating above an exotic paradise, lazily pulled on by silvery tendrils of terrible strength.

Just Cause 3 by Avalanche Studios is our third go at driving this ferocious agent of revolution. The struggle on the surface may seem to liberate Rico’s home country of Medici from the brutal General di Ravello. But the real fight is really to stay focused on dethroning this asshole without slipping into unscripted open-world chaos for hours and hours.

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WRECK IT RICO

Just Cause 3’s island setting is a huge 1000km sandbox of possibilities. Rico can drive, dive, swim, shoot, boat, swoosh, whatever pretty freely from almost the get-go. Within the first mission, the rebels are strapping a wingsuit on our hero and upgrading his grappling hook. It’s off to the skies!

The map of Medici is divided into provinces, and those into villages, cities, and military bases. There are now specific checklists of things to demolish/kill/liberate in each location, which is a poor change. Long after wasting any local goons and burning down their propaganda, I’d be held up in an area trying to find one billboard to tear down. Bases, while more heavily guarded, offer a better density of flammable fun.

A great deal of things can be smashed and demolished in a variety of ways on a scale I haven’t seen since Red Faction: Guerilla. Enemy resistance shows up, but the AI is laughably bad at their best and do little more than to bring more military hardware to the scene for the player to enjoy and employ.

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RUBBERBAND MAN, WILD AS THE TALIBAN

One could use any of the expanded (and moddable) arsenal of guns or explosives to get the dirty deeds done, but the improved grapple is definitely the most fun way to go about it. Objects can be tethered together, and the cable can be contracted to pull things together. Or apart. Or into each other.

The grapple is clutch in so many ways. With no sprint function, grappling along the ground is the only way to double-time it on foot. But why stay on foot, when pressing X in the middle of a grapple launches Rico into the air with his parachute? When shot out of helicopters and other aircraft, the grapple is the only thing that seems to function as an alternative to plummeting to death. Even if it’s aimed at terra firma, it attaches and reels you to safety, negating fall damage. Maybe another helicopter is nearby when this all goes down; aim and grapple up to it to hijack it.   

Same goes for the brilliant pairing of a wingsuit and parachute. I have spent incredibly little time on the ground (as the canned audio chatter from the NPCs keeps remarking) and have completely snubbed any optional driving in favor of gliding around. Rico is highly maneuverable even when using the ‘chute over the ‘suit, and way smaller of a target than any aircraft. The steering feels a little sluggish anyways, and the roads can get crazy quick.

It’s a big, beautiful place to wreck, and there’s a ton of interesting little things hidden around. I discovered an impromptu dance party one night, as its pulsing lasers piqued my interest from on high. The devs at Avalanche claim to have pushed the overall verticality of Just Cause 3 over its immediate predecessor by four times, which means bigger skyboxes and tons of spooky old caves I’m too scared to go into.

Just Cause 3’s greatest moments of destruction also unveil its greatest shortcomings. The framerate dips horribly when there’s a lot of physical action going on. This is a game all about physical action. I can and I must detonate every fuel container in this game by snapping them like rubber bands at soldiers. The engine strains to do this. It even lags when pulling up the map/options screens, or unpausing.

Just Cause 3 is a game that looks and plays beautifully in motion, but goes through this terrible resource wheeze that just makes it feel cheap. And it’s already apparent where corners were cut in this development. Tons of recycled NPCs and dialogue, bland streets and cities, and loads of reused assets likely saved the developer tons. But did QA for consoles have to get completely skipped? It’s 2015. If your game can’t perform to its expected level of activity at a consistent 30 fps or higher, hold it back until it can.

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PIECE IT TOGETHER

All seething frame-rage aside, a lot of fun can be had with Just Cause 3. Bringing down a power plant or skyscraper with precision zipping and sticking, then launching off and hitting a detonator is immensely satisfying. (Or just tethering a goat to a rocket and launching it.) The health system is very friendly, so taking risks and being a gutsy experimental type is encouraged.

This is your world, so you get to decide how Rico will liberate it (or demolish it). Just know that amid the skirmish comes hiccups and stuttering. Good stupid fun, it seems, comes with good stupid hangups.

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