|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Avalanche Studios|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: December 4, 2018|
|Players: Single Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Benjamin Maltbie
“But I don’t even have a mortgage,” says the computer-controlled character to some unseen character on the phone. Her two friends stand beside her, eerily swaying in frame-perfect synchronization. “That looks fun,” says the lady to the left, before abruptly turning to continuously walk into her friend’s face for a few moments. Nearby gunmen have seemingly given up on me. The truck I’m escorting stopped moving, the driver apparently asleep at the wheel. Having no choice, I affixed a bunch of balloons to the truck, causing it to float. The game reacted to the trucks movement and came back to life, urging me to protect it for the duration of a two-minute timer. I’m about three quarters through this escort mission and have yet to use a single bullet. This is Just Cause 4, and it’s ridiculous.
Fans of the Just Cause series will probably arrive in Just Cause 4 expecting ridiculous moments, though. The franchise’s best times are submerged in chaos, and this is a feature that has become more true with each subsequent iteration. Just Cause 4 embraces that concept with additions like extreme weather, but the feeling of traversing through its lifeless world gives a sense that wide open, sandbox games are a tricky proposition and tiresome when they aren't executed perfectly. Just Cause 4 is far from perfect execution.
The lifeless feeling is a shame, too, because the writers for Just Cause 4 have the talent to create something compelling. Instead, they were tasked with creating an excuse for players to run around sewing discord. Players once again take control of Rico Rodriguez and, once again, rail against an oppressive regime called the Black Hand as part of a revolution. While Rico is sometimes cheesy, he is ultimately lovable. The dialogue between him and all of the other characters if both believable and unique. His companion, Mira, and her relationship with a particularly contemptible villain are a notable high point of the story. There were times where I certainly wanted to engage more thoroughly with everyone and everything. Unfortunately, the story often takes a backseat. Progressing too quickly through an environment, which will happen a lot due to the range of movement options, will cut well-acted dialogue short.
Most of the interactions in the world will play out through what feel like side missions. In Just Cause 4, players are tasked with creating chaos in order to recruit members into an “Army of Chaos.” Why? Well, so Rico and Company can expand their presence in the region. This allows players to take more missions in new areas. In the end, though, most of these areas don’t feel satisfying to inhabit. The lifeless quality is such that a city that is meant to be panicking for their lives can feel utterly devoid of humanity. At one point, a woman was endlessly knocking on a door shouting “Por favor, let me in! Please, please, help me.” on a two second loop, which suggests that the developers don’t want the player pausing to look at anything too hard. Under scrutiny, the game falls apart.
This is especially true when you turn a critical eye towards the game’s graphics. Distant explosions look like low resolution gifs and trees are sometimes rendered with all the fidelity of amateur cross-stitch. It’s not a pretty sight, and the faster you approach objects, the worse it gets. I played on the basic Xbox One model and mileage may vary from system to system, but it’s hard to apologize for some of the visual atrocities you are likely to encounter in Just Cause 4.
Missions in Just Cause 4 will start to feel repetitive quickly and often take one of a few forms. Escort quests are common and, often the characters you are meant to babysit in these quests are capable of getting to the objective by themselves. They just sometimes need your presence to coax them through enemies with astonishingly lackadaisical approaches to dealing with revolutionaries. The AI will sometimes allow you to stand in the middle of a fight, undisturbed. If you try to leave, then they will often just let you walk away. Other quests charge players with blowing up a list of things or grappling things to other things. An early mission even tasks Rico with the slightly silly job of throwing breakers by attaching handles to ceilings with the grappling hook. Strangely, some of the most exciting thing about missions is when run-of-the-mill NPCs show up to have a picnic near the docks or ride a moped through the middle of a high speed chase.
There are tools to make missions more fun and, really, the missions might just be an excuse to use these tools in a game that revolves around a love for destruction. Air Lifters, which are essentially just balloons that players can attach to things, can be used in creative ways. Remote activated jets can be attached to most objects, including cows. Most objects, like vehicles, can be attached to each other. A healthy portion of the game’s objects are insanely explosive. Characters instantaneously succumb to ragdoll physics. Even by reading a list of these ingredients, you are probably able to come up with some recipes that you would like to try out and, honestly, that’s where the fun is: creating a violent and comically absurd spectacle. There’s a freedom to problem-solve creatively in this game, and that goes a long way.
Just Cause 4 doesn’t seem to account for its own possibilities though, and glitches are heavily present in the game at launch. I encountered multiple game-breaking bugs that forced me to reload my save. Early on, my character’s ragdolled body became permanently lodged in a gate, head first. A tragic motorcycle accident caused my controller to vibrate continuously, no matter what I did, until I reset the game. Beyond glitches, the AI’s relative stupidity showcases the conflict between player options and game difficulty; they really just can’t seem to account for your movement. Disengaging with threats is also remarkably easy and avoiding conflict altogether is largely possible, due to Rico’s grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit.
Because of this lack of difficulty, the excitement of Just Cause 4 runs thin. Within hours, it might feel as though there isn’t anything new to do. I personally experienced a game where I was repeating the same tasks in different places. Even with my explosive toolkit, whimsical nature, and a proclivity towards destruction, I couldn’t keep myself from being bored. For an action-focused game, anything but the silliest of moments lacks excitement. Unlike some of the other action games we’ve seen this year, there aren’t any fast-paced, climactic moments, or breathtaking set pieces to put players on the edge of their seats.
Other than laughter and the occasional satisfaction of seeing a crazy plan come together, Just Cause 4 doesn’t illicit much of an emotional response. It’s ugly, monotone, and almost feels incomplete. Even some of the character animations look lazy, as though the characters themselves are saving their energy for something. The game isn’t without its charm, certainly, but that charm doesn’t amount to much when it is marred by a plethora of other issues. Just Cause 4 approaches its potential, but doesn’t quite seize it. Considering how well the game performs at its peak, that is a real shame.