What's another oppressive dictatorship to series protagonist Rico Rodriguez? Not much. He does encounter a new kind of enemy in Just Cause 4, however: extreme weather. It's the common thread that runs through both the story and new mechanics and tops off the explosive spectacle the series is known for. And alongside new gadgets to send objects (and people) flying across the world, Just Cause has become a physics playground. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough opportunities to put these features to good use; underwhelming mission structure and a world slim on enticing activities makes Just Cause 4 a short-lived blast with untapped potential.
The best and most prevalent piece of Just Cause games is at the forefront once again. An exceptional traversal system lets you propel Rico across the beautiful landscapes of Solis and effortlessly soar through the skies. With the combo of a grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit, Rico can basically go wherever, whenever (and often more efficiently) without a vehicle. Like past games, you build momentum and essentially catapult yourself using the combination of these tools and hardly ever have to touch the ground. It's tough to overstate how satisfying it is to escape enemy hordes and hook onto the underside of a helicopter to hijack it and tear them all down, or slingshot yourself out of harm's way toward the next target you'll blow to bits.
Rico isn't only built to move fast, however: if you aren't causing explosions on a regular basis, you might be doing something wrong. Fuel tanks, red barrels, and vehicles are unusually explosive, and set the stage for over-the-top action. Since the grappling hook can also be used to tether objects together, you have lots of opportunities to get creative outside of exhausting your arsenal of firearms--some of which have their own wacky practical applications, like the wind cannon or lightning gun. Some weapons just wreak havoc such as the railgun or burst-fire rocket launcher, and even modest small arms like the SMG have impactful alternate fire modes. This may be the expectation for Just Cause, but it still pulls you in for a wild ride.
It's tough to overstate how satisfying it is to escape enemy hordes and hook onto the underside of a helicopter to hijack it and tear them all down, or slingshot yourself out of harm's way toward the next target you'll blow to bits.
Its identity as a destructive playground is further emphasized by grappling hook mods, three of which you customize: air lifter, retractor, and boosters. All three devices coincide with the new physics engine. Air lifters (essentially mini hot air balloons) let you launch things into the sky, and they can be further customized in terms of velocity, behavior, and altitude. Retractors pull targets together violently, and boosters work like jet engines that'll send objects into a speeding frenzy, whether it be an attack helicopter or a poor enemy soldier. Multiple permutations of these contraptions are made possible, since their effects can be stacked into a single tether and three loadout settings let you switch between loadouts on the fly. These gadgets are unlocked through side activities, and you're given plenty of avenues to make them work as you desire, which leads to the most disappointing part. Just Cause 4 gives you so many shiny new toys to play with but seldom a reason to use them.
Mission structure is uninspired, as you are continually asked to escort NPCs, defend a specific object for a set duration, activate (or destroy) inconspicuous generators, or hit a number of console panels to activate some sort of process. The worst offender has to be the timed missions that ask you to sink bomb-rigged vehicles into the ocean; they're tedious and prone to mishaps at no fault of your own. These are tied to Region Strikes, which are required to unlock territories on the map and progress to main story missions. While blasting through waves of enemies and their military-grade vehicles offers some great moments, you're often asking yourself: okay, what else? Shielded heavies, snipers perched from a mile away, and flocks of attack helicopters can become enjoyably overwhelming, since you have to rapidly make use of your diverse toolset. But several missions are designed in such a way that's oddly restricting, limiting the game's strongest assets. Enemies simply swarm and act as basic obstacles rather than clever challenges, and that leaves you with objectives that rarely bring out the best in the mechanics and systems of Just Cause 4.
At a time when open-world games sometimes overstay their welcome, Just Cause 4 is at the other end of the spectrum, where you wish there was more to experience because it has so much going for it.
There are a few stellar moments in the main story missions that make proper use of the extreme weather system that is the core of Just Cause 4's premise. Specifically, the conclusion to a stormchaser-themed questline funnels you through a number of battles while a tornado rips through your surroundings. Your ability to parachute and glide are drastically affected by the wind velocity and turbulence, which throws some welcome unpredictability into the mix. One particular sequence is also indicative of what the grappling hook mods are capable of; destroying massive wind cannons that impede progress with boosters wasn't only the most efficient method, but watching these heaps of steel frantically spin out of control was a sight to behold. The last stand in this mission, a sequence of rooftop firefights amid the harsh weather, brings the many great pieces of the game together.
The same can't be said about the other extreme weather conditions, however. Sandstorms challenge you with violent winds and obscured vision, and thunderstorms bring torrential rain and lightning strikes that make for a visual treat. But they're not game-changing in the way tornadoes are since they have a minimal effect on gameplay. Even then, the questlines tied to these weather conditions and their respective biomes are over before you get to fully experience their unique qualities.
All the while, a vaguely coherent story about family and a rebellion against an evil regime serves as the platform for Rico's wild ride. Stories in Just Cause haven't been more than excuses for environmental destruction and a way to make you feel comically powerful, and the same holds true here, though you may find the ties to previous entries somewhat endearing. The harsh forecasts are justified by villain Oscar Espinoza's high-tech devices that control the weather and oppress the people of the fictional South American country Solis. Rico remains the plausible one-man army who has the capabilities of a superhero with the air of a grounded, unassuming protagonist. If there's anything that Just Cause does well story-wise, it's convincing you to accept the absurdity of it all.
Throughout the game, you'll be building a revolution across Solis, bolstering what's called the Army of Chaos. It's a fundamental piece to progression and the key to taking down Espinoza and toppling The Black Hand private military again. The Army of Chaos serves as a tool to controlling territories across the map since you need to accumulate squad reinforcements to overtake regions, which also gates your ability to take on story missions. Cause destruction and raise your chaos level, and get squads to progress. It boils down to a numbers game, and once you understand the structure of this system, you can easily snowball squad numbers and control all of Solis without having to grind your chaos level. Side activities from three minor characters litter the map as well; Sargento has you teaming with NPCs to destroy enemy infrastructure, Garland makes you do stunts, and Javi provides a bit more context to Solis by asking to do a few easy puzzles. It's more things to do, and they unlock the aforementioned grappling hook mods, but they're simple in nature and aren't enough to compensate for the shortcomings of other missions.
Just Cause 4 has incredible moments where beauty and destruction cross with Rico's ability to zip around the world at a moment's notice. It's gratifying and easy to grasp, especially when you're able to string a series of wingsuit fly-bys, vehicles hijackings, and fiery explosions all in the name of revolution, but those moments are either short-lived or tied to rudimentary missions. You're given an awesome toolset that paves the way for creativity in a world with too few problems to solve. At a time when open-world games sometimes overstay their welcome, Just Cause 4 is at the other end of the spectrum, where you wish there was more to experience because it has so much going for it.