Review: Just Cause 4

Avalanche Studios has found itself a growing following with its Just Cause series. Featuring massive destruction, explosions, and all manners of chaos, Just Cause showcased its true potential in the stellar Just Cause 2. Just Cause 3, while delightful with its numerous innovations, was hamstrung by performance issues that persist to this day. With a new focus on weather and optimization in Just Cause 4, is Rico Rodriquez’s fourth outing as explosively fun as his previous adventures or has he finally hit a wall?

Just Cause 4 takes series protagonist Rico Rodriquez to the fictional South American country of Solis. Following a tip about his father, Rico marches into the country to take on series villains The Black Hand along with the country’s dictator, Espinosa. Facing long odds, he teams up with locals in an attempt to overthrow the oppressive regime and discover the answers that have long eluded him.

Just Cause 4’s story isn’t good. From ham-fisted writing to a lack of character development to an antagonist that only shows up at the beginning and end, the story lacks any major punch to make it anything special.  Longtime fans of the franchise may get a kick out of seeing how plot threads from previous games connect, but overall nothing is compelling here on the story end.

The story, however, isn’t why players enjoy Just Cause. It’s the gameplay and explosions that draw them to the franchise. From that perspective, Just Cause 4 delivers. At the top of the list are the traversal mechanics, which allow Rico to soar across the land at breakneck speeds. The grappling hook, wingsuit, and parachute combo are still the best way to quickly cover vast distances. Surprisingly, it takes some skill to get a long chain going as the wingsuit provides the most speed but can be punishing if you hit land, branches, or even light posts. Learning when to use the grapple to gain more air, when to deploy the parachute and when it’s safe to take out the wingsuit adds some skill to traversal.

Those who’ve played previous Just Cause titles will feel right at home with Just Cause 4. The third-person shooting remains snappy and the addition of alternate firing modes to weapons make standard weaponry like assault rifles feel a little more unique. Backed up by an impressive array of fun new weapons, such as the lightning gun and railgun, Just Cause 4’s weaponry packs a punch.

Vehicles and weaponry are essential in Just Cause 4 and Avalanche Studios created tools to ensure players are never left wanting. The new supply drop system allows Rico to instantly call in any weapon or vehicle previously unlocked anytime, anywhere. It’s a fantastic system that ensures players always have the tools of destruction they want to use.

The supply drops and weaponry make combat interesting, which is great because enemy encounters are an annoying snooze fest. Rico has always been a living superhero capable of taking on ridiculous amounts of foes at once, but Just Cause 4 takes it too far. Enemy encounters are so frequent and the AI so dumb that combat becomes a chore. Taking on wave after wave of the same enemies only works for long. Combat does fair a bit better when facing off against vehicles where players can experiment with the grappling hook. Hooking two helicopters together and watching them smack straight into each other rarely gets old.

Just Cause 4 shines brightest when it lets players loose to cause as much destruction as humanly possible. It’s when the game forces players to complete objectives that the design falls apart. Rico’s work to pry the country from the Black Hand’s grasp involves liberating regions. To liberate a region, Rico must complete a mission inside it. Tedious and redundant, these missions revolve around a loop of basic objectives that are tiresome and mind-numbing thanks to difficult-to-see objective markers and annoying waves of enemies. Worse are the time-based objectives that force Rico to push a button on different consoles within a period of time or drive bomb-laced vehicles into the ocean before everything explodes. The missions are counter-intuitive to what makes Just Cause special, and they drag down the experience.

Just Cause 4 also never feels like it fulfills its massive potential. The grappling hook now comes with three modes: tethers, balloons and rocket boosters. Tethers pull objects to one another, balloons create zany physics as vehicles, objects and people are dragged towards the skies, and boosters send objects flying.

The real problem is that of all three grapple options, only the tether feels useful in combat. Balloons and rocket boosters create some great comedy, but they don’t provide a viable application to combat. To hammer this home, upgrades to the three modes are unlocked by completing specific missions relating to Solis’ past. It’s entirely possible to skip these and never unlock the rocket boosters. The grappling hook remains the best and most entertaining gadget in your arsenal, but the new additions don’t viably expand its capabilities.

The same could be said for the dynamic weather. While a huge emphasis was placed on the extreme weather conditions Rico would face during the campaign, they never amount to much. Heavy rain slows Rico’s running speed, lightning snags a bit of health, tornadoes rip everything up from the ground and sand makes it difficult to see. Cool? Yes, but there’s nothing game-changing about it if it even shows up. Outside of the pre-scripted missions with weather, it rarely ever appeared during playtime. Dynamic weather was a neat concept, but it feels half-baked in the final product.

Avalanche Studios should at least be proud of how well Just Cause 4 runs. After Just Cause 3’s terrible performance on consoles, Just Cause 4 needed to perform well. Thankfully it does on PS4 and PS4 Pro. Though the base console struggles at times, it does a much better job at maintaining a steady framerate than the previous entry. PS4 Pro, on the other hand, does a stellar job at keeping the gameplay steady and fluid.

What gains Just Cause 4 makes in performance, it lost in the presentation. To achieve that smooth performance, the game takes a considerable hit in graphics with the game’s world, NPCs and models and textures lacking detail. In particular, water shaders look like something out of an early PS3/Xbox 360 title.

Just Cause 4 at least keeps detail in what matters most, effects. Explosions are as massive and loud as ever. It’s possible to light up the entire screen with explosions given the right weapons. While the dynamic weather may not change up gameplay as much as expected, it is a visual feast for the eyes. Watching lightning streak across the sky, rain spatter against Rico and tornadoes ripping items off the ground never gets old to see.

Closing Comments:

Just Cause 4 is a tale of two games. When left to yourself, the game can be an absolute blast. Calling in powerful weaponry and vehicles to blow up bases of enemies rarely ever gets old. Traversing the distinct biomes while swapping between the wingsuit and parachute remains a fun way to get across the world. On the other hand, the terrible enemy AI quickly turns combat into a real bore and the redundant objectives strip the game of what makes it a blast in the first place. It also doesn’t help that, aside from the supply drops, the game’s signature features never live up to their potential. The new grappling hook options are fun to play with but don’t serve a purpose in the heat of combat. Weather, while cool to look at, doesn’t alter gameplay in meaningful ways. Just Cause 4 delivers on the destruction, but the game never lives up to its massive potential.