Whereas Just Cause 2 was a gloriously free and open destruction sandbox essentially unshackled from the rules of game-dom, Just Cause 3 proved a more structured and repetitive experience. Just Cause 4 parachutes its way someplace in between, and the results are a mostly fun open world experience full of the over-the-effing-top action we've come to expect from developers Avalanche.
Once again, you are Rico Rodriguez, the one-time government operative with a penchant for blowing shit up and, like, flying around with your combination auto-grappling hook/parachute/wingsuit. This time out, you've hit the island of Solis where a would-be dictator is experimenting in weaponizing the weather. Turns out Rico's scientist dad once helped this sonofagun with the science-y aspects of his domination plan, and with a hand from the island nation's rebel leader Mira—whose uncle worked on the project, too—everyone sets out to stop the guy. Simple.
And it really is simple as far as stories go, but then, we've never fired up a Just Cause game looking for narrative depth so much as we wanna blow stuff up and hear Rico crack wise. Avalanche has matured him here a little, however. Gone are the days of lines like "Take that, you pipeline jerks!" in favor of a more grounded Rico trying to undo the sins of his father. Oh, don't get us wrong—he still says and does some just totally bonkers stuff, and there's no wanting for complicated ways to rain chaos down across the fictional island, but in cutscenes and dialog, we learn of his regrets and mistakes and the actor behind the character isn't hamming it up as much as in previous games. Admittedly, this stings a little bit, but the deeper into the story we get, the more we understand the choice.
Where the series and this entry really shine, though, is in the destruction. Dotted across Solis are things to destroy. The more you destroy, the more chaos you'll amass; the more chaos you amass, the more units from the rebellion you'll have to advance your frontline on the mini-map. By advancing the frontline, the player unlocks weapons and vehicles for more destruction. It's a rather interesting gameplay loop and currency/economy that adds a wrinkle of strategy without tying the player to missions that feel too samey, as was the case in Just Cause 3. And to cause said chaos and destruction, Rico has an inventive arsenal at his disposal.
Once again you'll find the requisite grappling hook that can tether and yank objects and enemies in the world, but Avalanche has deepened the hook's abilities with three modifiable loadout slots which can be augmented for a variety of uses. For example, one of our slots causes a small electrical explosion when each point of the tether meets, another deploys balloons that can lift basically anything in the game world into the air and the final attaches a small rocket engine to anything you point it at. With the tap of a few buttons, we can attach a tether to something like a massive gas tank, lift it into the air and then attach the rocket engine, which sends the tank careening into enemy bases. These mechanics are complicated to master at first, but once you understand how it works, you're really only limited by your own creativity. One session found us floating cars above a destructible environment with our balloons, popping them with gunfire, then watching with glee as they either exploded or crushed our enemies outright. Another session was all about tethering oil barrels to enemy combatants, retracting them together and sitting pretty while everyone exploded. It's quite silly, but also endlessly fun.
This silly fun goes double for new weather based weapons and mechanics. Finding an updraft or wind cannon to make use of while parachuting is a blast, and the hand-held wind and lightning guns make defending areas or even just dispatching a large number of enemies feel like a joy rather than a burden. The overall arsenal is fantastic as well, and each gun has two methods of firing. Take the SMG, for example, which works as a high-capacity tool of death while pulling the trigger and as a slow-charging explosive cannon when using the right bumper. The assault rifle comes with a grenade launcher, the smart rifle locks onto enemies, the grenade launcher itself has a burst fire function and, what might be our favorite, a rarer auto rifle gloriously fires off smart drones that follow and attack enemies. Kickass? The mot juste!
Missions have grown more varied as well, though some do feel similar to others. More than once, we freed rebels from imprisonment or took new recruits on training exercises that amounted to little more than babysitting NPCs while blowing shit up, but to the devs' credit, these NPCs have more than enough health and ability to be left on their own during the fracas. Still, it's annoying waiting for them to get back in the car as they struggle to circumnavigate the detritus born of explosions, and we can't help but feel that should have been taken into account. Driving feels pretty bad, too, and it's more often than not that you'll wind up in a ditch or otherwise off the main road, even if most cars are equipped with rocket boosters for some reason.
Elsewhere, the gigantic open world feels ultimately empty despite the enemies and NPCs we're to believe inhabit it. We get that we're supposed to be focused on rapidly-changing combat scenarios and the absurd means by which to help them unfold, but cities feel abandoned even if the countryside is at times stunning. This is probably to steer us toward the science labs and military bases we're supposed to wreck, but in world that also boasts the games of devs like Rockstar, we're not sure why an open-but-empty world is still a thing.
Also disappointing is the much-touted extreme weather system. In trailers and early articles from websites and magazines, we were led to believe Rico would face an onslaught of tornadoes and hurricanes which would add to the overall excitement. These phenomena certainly do exist, and it's middlingly fun to zip up into the path of a twister, but when you've reloaded a mission for the 10th time because you couldn't avoid that bolt of lightning, it edges the experience into frustration.
Don't let this take away from your forays into the insanity, though, because Just Cause 4 knows exactly what it is and does that well. You will see explosions and fire bizarre guns; you will laugh at how far they've leaned into these things. You'll fly, drive and blast your way through an entire country, and you'll chuckle to yourself about that constantly, even if you're not so much vocally sticking it to pipeline jerks anymore.
+RIDICULOUS fun; so many explosions; the guns and tethers
-Weather is disappointing; world feels hollow
Just Cause 4
Rated M (we killed literally 10 million bad guys)
Developed by Avalanche
Published by Square Enix
Xbox One, PS4, PC
SFR played Just Cause 4 on the Xbox One X