A painstakingly mediocre entry in a fantastic series

User Rating: 5 | Just Cause 4 (Digital Deluxe Edition) XONE

I love the Just Cause series. I’ll admit I’ve never played the first, but the second introduced an anarchic spirit rarely seen in gaming to the open world genre, filled with unique locations, fun missions, ridiculous opportunities for stunts straight out of Hollywood’s most ridiculous action movies, and some of the funniest bad voice acting I’ve ever heard in a game. It was far from perfect, with stiff character models and some repetition (as well as a world that some could argue is simply too big) but it set out to deliver an absolutely over the top spectacle filled with some of gaming’s most gorgeous explosions and it delivered just that. Then along came the third entry, which benefitted from prettier graphics, better voice acting and writing (even though the story wasn’t amazing, it had a lot of fun moments and good characters) and the benefit of next gen hardware to double down on the destructive reputation of the series. I played through the third and all its DLC in early 2018 and came away satisfied. The weapons were nuts, the DLC fantastic, and it felt like a nearly perfected take on the JC formula. So when the fourth game was announced, I was a bit puzzled. There was a part of me that was excited, of course, but not only had Rico Rodriguez’s story arc felt completed by the third game (which involved him liberating his home country from a dictator who killed his parents) but I wondered how they could possibly justify its existence. And after playing it on and off for a few months, I’m very sad to say that the answer to that question is: they really can’t.

This time around, Rico travels to Solis, a south American country under the supposedly iron grip of a dictator named Espinoza. Espinoza has created three devices that can control the weather and used them to subjugate Solis. One can create sand storms. One can create violent lightning storms. One can create tornadoes. Hardly any time passes before Rico joins up with some new faces as well as some old ones to take down Espinoza and his nefarious weather control devices. Here, the story feels even more bland than ever before. Espinoza has literally two on screen appearances, and during those two times, he just comes across as the blandest possible villain you can think of. There are some attempts to create gravitas to the proceedings by connecting the creation of the weather devices to Rico’s personal history, but they just fall flat. And the new characters serve no purpose what so ever. The notion that this holds true of previous games has some weight to it, but none of the cast are fun to watch, unlike, say, Mario from the third game, whose constant energy and good natured banter led to some heartwarming and funny moments, respectively. To top it all off, there is no attempt made to actually establish Espinoza’s regime as a threat. Previous games at least had cut scenes and in gameplay moments that made the villains feel menacing (even though they tend to go down pretty easy). Here, the dictator feels like nothing more than a McGuffin, an excuse for the game to exist. It’s disappointing, and comes across as rushed.

The next thing that jumped out at me is how ugly the character models are. Avalanche studios made a new engine for this game to highlight the weather effects, and those truly are a visual treat. The environment looks good, and this game still holds some of the most beautiful explosions gaming has to offer. But man, do the people inhabiting the world look butt ugly. Like something straight out of an early era PS3 game. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the third game had much better character models, and in some ways, so did the second game as well. I’m not normally one to care all that much about graphics, but the fact that this game came out in 2018 and manages to somehow look worse than its predecessor is just baffling. Thankfully, sound effects hold better, with pretty solid voice acting throughout, fantastic explosions, and meaty gun effects.

Problems persist when you dig into the game’s structure. Gone are the days of a continuous amount of smaller goals that lead up to a final confrontation with the main antagonist. Instead, you are told from the get go that the idea is to bring down the three weather machines throughout Solis. Each one has its own line of about four missions, culminating in a big set piece with whatever weather effect the current machine causes. Each one takes place in a different section of the map, and much like other games in the series, you need to liberate certain sections before the missions become available to you. In previous games, liberation came down to blowing up all the red things in enemy bases you could see. You could get creative with how you did things and it built up your overall chaos level. Here, you liberate sections simply by completing one mission, and going into a menu and sending your army forward.

New to this game is a “mechanic” called Army of Chaos. As you build up Chaos, you can build up squads of troops that can reclaim oppressed parts of the map. It’s a fun idea in theory. If it was more fleshed out, it could have been an interesting strategic element to consider. As it is, though, Chaos is so easy to come by that before you even finish your first weather device, you’ll likely have an excess of squads. And sending them to further the liberated zone is just a matter of completing a mission and pressing a button on the map menu. It’s a severely disappointing implementation of what could have been a neat new mechanic.

You may notice that nowhere above do I mention that blowing things up in enemy bases is mandatory. It’s not. In fact, the amount of Chaos you get from it is hardly worth the effort. What was once one of the main draw points of the series has been relegated to a side objective that barely impacts the flow of the game. This may not have been a problem if the missions required to liberate a section were fun, but each one is cut from one of three mild variations of mission design. Sometimes you need to escort a hacker. Sometimes you need to protect something while it downloads. Other times you’re hunting for switches to flip. There are almost always computer consoles to hack. Or consoles to press a button on. Or consoles that need defending. Or consoles that a hacker needs to hack instead of you. These missions are what you’ll be spending the bulk of your time doing, while the real spectacle is saved for the main missions. But even then, the only ones that stand out are the ones where you finally get to pilot whatever device is supposed to bring down the respective weather machine you’re going after. Granted, these missions do stand out, but most of them are done with in about 15- 20 minutes, then it’s back to the usual grind of hacking consoles.

The severe repetition present in this game is alleviated somewhat by the new tether tools. Rico’s grappling hook has been a mainstay in the series for a long time, and here he is given some fancy new toys to play with. In addition to basic tethering, you can now draw two objects together (a holdover from the third game), make a balloon lift an object into the air, or attack boosters to something that makes it shoot off into the distance. You can even fine tune your loadouts, mixing and matching these abilities, as well as fine tuning each individual one. For instance, you can make things attached to a balloon fly as high into the air as they can go, bulletproof, and make them explode on your command. It’s one of the game’s only saving graces, and a lot of fun to mess around with. Zipping around with your grapple hook and wing suiting across the map while you active boosters that send helicopters into the ground is a real joy at times.

Sadly, the new grappling tools can’t save JC4 form being what it is- a huge step back for the series in many ways. The new grappling tools are a terrific addition to Rico’s expansive arsenal, but they alone can’t change the fact that this game feels rushed and low effort. Blowing things up- the very selling point the series is based on- has been relegated to an optional side activity, and instead has been replaced by painfully repetitive missions and an extremely weak narrative. You could argue previous games had these problems, too, but they reveled in letting the player cause their own kinds of chaos while still progressing through the game in some way. Here, you need to go out of your way to find any amount of mayhem while progressing through the increasingly tedious liberation missions. Some of the main missions are admittedly bright spots, filled with the kinds of set pieces out of the most insane action movies, but they are too few and far between. To top it all off, the final mission is a gigantic anticlimax, with some standard encounters against enemies you’ve been facing through the whole game capped off with a resolution that is handled entirely via cut scene with no player input whatsoever. Even games like Shadow of Mordor at least had quick time events in their weak finales. As a big fan of the series, I have to say that this feels like nothing more than a cash grab, an echo of previous, better games. There’s fun to be had, but you need to go out of your way to find it. Play the second or third game instead. Just ‘cause they’re better.

The Good:

+ I’m proud of that pun even though it’s painful

+ New tether tools are an absolute blast to mess around with

+ A few of the main story missions are really enjoyable

+ Movement mechanics from prior installments continue to be a blast

+ Still contains some of the best and most satisfying explosions in gaming…

The Bad:

- … but they’re hidden behind painfully repetitive and un fun mission design

- Character models are laughably bad for a 2018 sequel to a series known for looking good

- While the series has never had the strongest story, this game’s narrative is neither as hilarious as the second game’s or as well executed as the third’s, leading to a feeling of pointlessness

- Weather mechanics, the very thing that the game was sold on, don’t feel super important outside a handful of moments

- All of this adds up to a sequel that feels like little more than a manipulative cash grab, which is all the more disheartening considering many’s fondness for the series