Before diving into our hands-on demo of Just Cause 3, Game Director Roland Lesterlin said “We’re really not into subtlety.” As anyone who’s ever played Avalanche Studios’ sandbox series can attest to, that may be the understatement of the decade.
An intentionally over the-top open-world romp, 2010’s Just Cause 2 was all about blowing stuff up real good, with style to spare. So how do you top what was essentially one explosive, extended action-movie set piece? Well, for starters: You give fans more of what they loved. Just Cause 3 returns players to the role of revolution-igniting Rico Rodriguez, the grappling-hook-shooting, parachute-packing protagonist with a thing for overthrowing evildoing dictators.
With that solid foundation in place, though, this three-quel complements the expected returning elements with enough new chaos-causing features to make its predecessor look tame by comparison. Taking place in Medeci, Rico’s Mediterranean-inspired island hometown, the game is similar in size to Just Cause 2. But the power of the Xbox One has allowed Avalanche to pack its sprawling map with much more detail and density. For players, this means much more – and much prettier – stuff to blow up from behind Rico’s ample arsenal and stuntman-rivaling traversal skills.
Unfolding in a small military-controlled town, our demo began with us destroying propaganda-spewing speakers and projectors, as well as statues of freedom-hating antagonist General Di Ravello. Like the previous game’s grappling system, Just Cause 3‘s lets us tether items together before watching them collide in glorious fashion. A great alternative to taking environments apart with guns and grenades, the physics-based system is a blast to unleash, especially when you consider that the absence of set grapple points means that you can attach the gadget to pretty much any surface you please.
But Just Cause 3 offers more options for creative chaos, by allowing players to grapple three separate points (rather than two) and control the tension. The latter enhancement is especially cool; it no longer has objects auto-pulling together, but rather lets you play with and trigger the tension for added physics-fueled fun. Toss in exaggerated animations – accompanied by a great sense of weight, responsiveness, and fluidity – and Just Cause 3‘s grappling hook is poised to become our favorite tool this side of Half-Life 2‘s gravity gun.
Of course, pulling things apart is just one of the perks that defines Rico’s go-to gadget. The versatile device, when combined with his parachute and new wing-suit, becomes as important for traversal as it is for destruction. It can still be used on its own for attaching to and scaling structures, or with the parachute for even more navigational freedom. Alongside the wing-suit, though, it becomes the third piece in what Lesterlin called the “trifecta of movement.” When activated, the flying gear grants temporary, controllable flight. The term “temporary” is relative, however, when you consider the length of time you can soar through the air following a grappling-to-wing-suit transition. Alternate this with a few pulls of the parachute’s cord, and you could conceivably play most of the game without Rico’s feet ever touching the dirt.
Just Cause 3‘s new stabilized parachute makes this air-catching dream even more of a reality, as it allows you to better handle combat from the sky. Dubbed a “combat platform” by Lesterlin, the chute essentially lets you pause in midair and rain death down on your enemies. On top of its added stability, the skydiving gear follows the general direction of your gunfire; rather than trying to manage both your parachute and pistols, you can focus entirely on spraying hot lead on your targets below. Even aiming a more precise weapon, such as a sniper rifle, is a breeze from the steadied position.
We experienced this firsthand when we abandoned the small town – leaving plenty of destroyed propaganda in our wake – and set our sights on a communications base. The massive vertical structure, defined by towering antennae, satellite spires, radar dishes, and other high-tech equipment, needed to be destroyed… as did its swarms of guards. Attempting to tackle this objective from the ground immediately brought death, but the freedom to fly around the cloud-parting structure, picking it (along with its protectors) apart strategically, turned a routine base-capturing objective into a seat-of-the-pants affair.
Using Rico’s various hand canons to keep the baddies at bay, the grappling hook to tear apart the structure, and C4 (which is now an unlimited resource!) to shatter the radar dishes like fine china, we turned the base into a heap of twisted metal. Before it fell, though, we had to deal with reinforcements in the form of two military helicopters. The first, we tethered to with our grappling hook, before planting a brick of C4 on its belly and making a quick wing-suit dive to safety. The second, we hijacked and crashed into the base… after making another narrow escape, of course.
As we basked in the glow of our very own action-movie moment, Lesterlin pointed out that we could have saved some time by simply tethering the two choppers together and letting physics and gravity take care of the rest. But he also reminded us that the real beauty of Just Cause 3 is its ability to let armchair thrill-seekers play and experiment in its freeform world: “Just Cause 3 is the quintessential sandbox, where you create this whole adventure for yourself.”
Our time behind the gamepad barely scratched the surface of what Just Cause 3 has to offer. In fact, despite exploding more stuff in 15 minutes than many games allow you to destroy over the course of their entire campaigns, our demo didn’t put a dent in the main story. Our optional objectives weren’t campaign-progressing missions, but map-clearing tasks that let us overtake certain areas. Clearing out enemies and obliterating all “chaos objects” frees a town, allowing Rico’s rebel friends to populate it, and this opens it up as a resource hub and quick-travel point.
If setting up a simple outpost was this much fun, we look forward to discovering what kind of destruction-driven chaos Just Cause 3 delivers when story-based missions, screen-swallowing set pieces, and showdowns with dictators are thrown into the mayhem-making mix. Couple all that with the dozens of vehicles, guns, gadgets, enemies, and environments that we’ve yet to discover, and we can’t wait to get dirty in Just Cause 3‘s Xbox One sandbox later this year.