In a world where games are getting ever more realistic, Just Cause 3 is a breath of fresh air. While WWE games implement stamina systems so you can't do your favourite moves over and over again, FIFA games have you charge up passes, and almost everything seems to want to feel more like a simulator, and less like a game, Just Cause 3 almost seems ludicrously silly. Here is a game where you come equipped with a grappling hook - a grappling hook you can use not only to pull yourself up to helicopters, but that you can fire tethers from, tying any two items in the world together. And with a huge tropical island paradise to play with, that's a recipe for a whole lot of fun.
Despite the crazy premise, though, Just Cause 3 still has a story for you to play through - but unfortunately, it's one that only detracts from the fun. Trying that little bit too hard to be serious (in a game that's almost purely about blowing things up), and with a huge team of writers having worked on the story, it's hard to not be impressed by how they've still managed to create a team of characters with all the depth and personality of a brick, and not a shred of charisma between them. Somehow, that even manages to make the game's intro - where you fly into town walking on the wing of a plane, firing rockets at anything and everything beneath you in a symphony of destruction - feel oddly dull, but luckily, things quickly get better from here-on in.
Essentially the plot here can be summed up as follows. An evil dictator rules over the island, oppression people. You, a guy named Rico, are the saviour, and armed with nothing more than your swish haircut, Spanish accent, and an army's worth of weaponry strapped to your back, it' up to you to march right in there and liberate the people in the only way you know how - by blowing the stuffing out of everything in sight. But you have plenty of tools of destruction.
The island is divided up into several districts, each of which contains a number of important things for you to blow up. There are military bases, which are crawling with soldiers; outposts; oppressed cities; satellite installations and other variations on a theme. What they all have in common is: a) they're crawling with soldier, b) they have several specific objects you'll need to destroy to take over, and c) they all contain at least one lovely example of gothic post-modern architecture. At least two of these three are true.
Arrive at one of the outposts, bases and cities, and initially everything will be calm. At the side of your screen, you'll notice a list of icons have appeared, telling you what needs to be destroyed in that area. Usually, these are fairly obvious things like satellite dishes, or transformers, but occasionally you'll get an icon that you have no idea what it means, and simply have to run around shooting anything and everything you see with red on it (as the game helpfully explains, the military have a handy habit of painting everything they use in the same shade of red. Luckily, the in-game quips are a lot better than the over-arching story).
So far, so standard game - but it's how you go about blowing things up that's the exciting bit. While other games only let you shoot things, here anything and everything goes - and the more inventive you get, the more fun it is. If you want to shoot a gas canister to make it blow up, you can. If you want to strap a tether to it, tether the other end to a generator, and then hold the left trigger to reel the tethers in, sending the canister flying into the tether, you can! Soldier getting on your nerves? Why not tether him, tether the other end to a canister, and put a few well placed shots in the bottom of it, making yourself a pretty bad guy firework. Or, you could tether him to the top of a building - and release the tether at just the right point, flinging him into the horizon, Team Rocket style. Or, if you need to get out of dodge in a hurry, why not strap yourself to a canister, and shoot off before your foes know what's happening.
Blow everything up, and you'll liberate the base, letting the rebels take it over, and giving you access to more equipment and vehicles. But even when there's nothing to blow up, there's never a dull moment in Just Cause. Even getting around is a load of fun, thanks to the twin powers (or perhaps triple powers) of your grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit. All you need to do is press L1 (on PS4) to grapple on to any surface - cliff, floor or otherwise - and pressing X when you're reeling yourself in will let you deploy your parachute, sailing high up into the air. Repeatedly firing off tethers lets you pull yourself around while in the sky, making the only way to travel around the island being by air. Pressing triangle puts your parachute away and instead deploys a wingsuit, letting you glide towards the ground like a flying squirrel. Just make sure you pull up before you hit the ground.
Of course, there are other ways of getting around too. Any car you see can be
stolen borrowed, and even cars lend themselves to crazy stunts. After all, what better way to hijack an enemy base than by driving a car in at full throttle, steering it towards a fuel tank, before pressing X to leap onto the roof and deploy your parachute, just in time to watch the flames fly? Helicopters, planes, and boats, both civilian and military can also be used to wreak havoc - but it's when you combine them you'll have the most fun. If you want to channel the spirit of the young Ms. Cyrus, you can strap an indestructible object to the bottom of a helicopter using your tethers, and use it as a makeshift wrecking ball to destroy the enemy bases. There's even a cargo plane that can transport vehicles inside, letting you arrive at the enemy base in style - in a flying tank, all guns blazing, delivering death from above.
Of course, it's not all death and destruction in Just Cause 3 (although it really wouldn't be a problem if it was). Scattered around the map, you'll unlock various challenges for liberating outposts, which ask you to do things like fly through a course of hoops in your wingsuit, blow up bases with certain conditions (without touching the ground; while using an attack helicopter), or complete checkpoint races on the ground. One even channels the spirit of Speed, and puts you in a car equipped with a bomb that'll detonate if it drops below a certain speed. Only thing is, here, this is a good thing, as you nee to drive it to a target and jump out before it explodes. Completing these challenges will earn you gears, which in turn will unlock various things, from the kind of useful (more grenades), to the insanely powerful (six tethers, and stronger tethers, letting you lift/chain together heavier things), which only help to multiply the insanity.
That said, while blowing things up doesn't get old, Just Cause 3 does have a few issues, perhaps the biggest of which is that it's not as easy to get into as it needs to be. The tutorials in the game leave a lot to be desired, and will leave inexperienced players feeling like they've jumped in the deep end, while there's a general lack of any prompts on screen when you're using your tethers, or your parachute. Seeing as there's so much you can do, and seeing as different buttons do different things in different contexts, it'd be incredibly helpful to have some sort of reminder of how you release tethers and how you reel them together; or which button lets you jump out of the car, and which lets you leap out on your parachute. In certain situations, this could be the difference between life and death, yet the game simply doesn't bother putting any prompts on screen, which often leads to you getting finger-tied.
Another issue, and one that's a big deal in an open world game, is that there's no mini-map! Presumably, the developers thought that having a handy waypoint system (all you need to do is plonk a marker down on the full size map, and the game will plot you a course to get there, painting helpful giant arrows on the ground) would get rid of the need for one - but you'd be surprised how much you miss it. With nothing to tell you which direction you need to get in to get to the nearest town, base, or even friendly outpost, it can all feel a little bit disorienting at times, especially when you're flying.
It's probably also worth mentioning that when we were reviewing the game, our internet died, which caused the game to disconnect from its servers. When connected to the internet, Just Cause 3 will automatically add certain things you do to an online leaderboard - things like "longest time spent flying a plane less than 25m off the ground". The problem was, when it lost the connection, it just stayed trying to reconnect. For an hour. Whether the problem's been patched out now or not, we don't know, but it's worth mentioning for anyone with a flaky internet connection.
Still, once you've got the hang of it, Just Cause is the game that keeps on giving. While it can be a bit disorienting at first, all you need to do is trust your instincts, and let your trigger finger (and grappling hook) lead the way. While it would have been even better to reward creativity in some way in game (getting more points for blowing things up without shooting them, for example), Just Cause 3 offers enough explosions, chaos, and utter mentality to keep you playing for a long, long time. Forget the long and boring march towards ever more "realistic" action games - we need more games like this.