Game Review: Just Cause 4
Explosions gone soft
Writers note: I started writing this review half a year ago. This review and game are beyond any sort of relevance, but my disappointment was so great that I forget this review as quickly as I stopped playing the game. I still haven’t beaten the game. I don’t know if I ever will. You can gather what my overall thoughts about this game from this opening paragraph, but in case you’d like the gritty details because this game is bound for a PS Plus free month, here they are.
I had myself all worked up in the Just Cause 4 hype train. I was the foolish conductor telling all my friends riding their horses in their cowboy hats enjoying Red Dead Redemption 2 that I would be enjoying the sweet joys of exploding everything in sight in Just Cause 4.
For the first 5ish hours of Just Cause 4, I was having a merry time. I played through a decent amount of Just Cause 2 and enjoyed it, so I expected Just Cause 4 to be a vast improvement anchored by great PS4 graphics.
The graphics are a wash. Just Cause 4 looks severely outdated. For a vastly populated segment of gamers, that’s an immediate turn-off. Not for me. I can deal with low-resolution graphics. I’ve played NBA 2K18 and F1 2017 on my PC on their lowest graphical settings and still enjoyed them. I could forgive Just Cause 4 for looking shoddy if the game was any good…
The enjoyment in Just Cause 4 all comes from its thematic directive of chaos. The game purports chaos and explosions and while both can be present, it’s a dish served only in small helpings.
Where Just Cause 4 fails to evolve as a game is not taking notes from the Red Faction series that had an authentic geographical game engine where most structures could be damaged and destroyed. I foolishly assumed that Just Cause would be more with the times and have instituted a similar physics and destruction engine into their game. Alas, Just Cause 4 limits what you can explode and destroy which ultimately hampers the experience.
This was especially noticeable because one of Just Cause 4’s main selling points was a weather system that included tornadoes. There aren’t very many video games where you can fly your character into a tornado, and it’s a great feature in Just Cause 4. But here’s the drawback referenced in the previous paragraph. I flew to a tornado that was rolling directly through a city and all the buildings that weren’t explodable items were left unfazed. It’s not very chaotic for a game to have tornadoes featured but the tornadoes are limited in what damage they can do.
If you want to make your video game the equivalent of a Michael Bay film, you have to deliver on the special effects.
Speaking of Michael Bay, the plot and story is Bay-level lore. Initially, I appreciated the campy attitude where the characters were playing up the ludicrousness. But as the initial excitement of the game wears off, the story wears thin and the moments the game thinks it’s funny or clever don’t
The story is as the Just Cause story always is, series protagonist and aspiring Ricky Martin protege, Rico Rodriguez, is off to overthrow another dictator in another fictitious country. For the fourth installment, we visit Solis, which I guess is supposed to faintly represent Venezuela or some other corrupt South American country. There are some plot details that carry over from Just Cause 3, which I did not play, and doesn’t really matter all that much to me. Rico’s father is involved. To say the plot is nonessential to a Just Cause game would be understatement, as long as there’s a semblance of a story, gamers get the gist of the idea.
I haven’t beaten the main campaign, which I typically do with the games I review. Just Cause 4 ran its course with me so much so that not only did I stop playing the game midway through, I wrote most of this review and left it sitting for half a year. Did I mention I was excited to play this game at first and even pre-ordered it? I am a fallible human.
The bulk of Just Cause 4 missions are base takeovers, and there is a hefty amount of them. Most of them involve you going to a location and pressing a button or flipping a generator. Enemies are either in small pockets or will come in swarms. There’s no rise in difficulty, not that there’s not much difficulty to begin with, which wouldn’t be a huge setback, but it’s not particularly great game design.
Just Cause 4 ultimately fails by not having any aspect of the game that stands out. Without a grandiose level of explosions, without enemies that pose any significant challenge, without gunplay that’s intuitive or fun, there’s not much to justify continuing to play the game after you’ve gotten through the first set of missions.
Rico’s signature hook shot is still a reliable mechanic, though it would be nice if it could extend further to grab far away surfaces. The hook shot modification system where you can tether objects together and add balloons and jet thrusters is a good idea in theory but isn’t ironed out enough to be convenient or useful in most cases. The game’s progression system is largely based around the hook shot tether system with minor upgrades available, but as a combat device, the hook shot really only has one use. Tether a helicopter to a nearby surface or nearby helicopter and watch the helicopter get jerked about and exploded. It’s a fun gimmick that loses its steam after you’ve exploded your 500th helicopter.
There are a limited set of vehicles you can drive in the game which is all pretty much useless considering your jetpack allows you to get to various locations around the map much faster than by driving. Even the exotic sports cars aren’t all that fun to drive as their handling is putrid. The fighter jets are okay but it’s the helicopters that are the easiest to pilot and do a lot of damage with. There are tanks too which, like the fighter jet, you may only use a handful of times. The jetpack is really the saving grace of Just Cause 4 transportation though it takes a hellacious amount of time to get it upgraded to a point where you have an ample amount of boost fuel to propel you through the sky. There’s also a wingsuit which works in conjunction with the jetpack and mastering the wingsuit is crucial to covering distance and accurately landing where you desire.
There are some decent special weapons like a rail gun or a gun that shoots wind and one that shoots electricity. There are some rocket launchers and grenade launchers that never tend to explode where I want them to explode. There’s limited ammo on all the fun guns which is a bummer because it makes using the boring submachine guns and rifles more convenient and worthwhile when clearing baddies.
In today’s gaming industry, it’s vastly easier to tell which studios are putting the necessary love and care into their games to really make a worthwhile experience. Meanwhile, other studios, cobble together games and rely on existing IP with minimal interest in creating a better version of their game. Add Just Cause 4 to the long list of the latter category that the games industry has regurgitated and spit out to the general public over the years.
Game series that I enjoy that have put out lackluster titles like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Hitman 2 at least had base gameplay that was fun and engaging. Just Cause 4 doesn’t hold a candle to either of those games in the entertainment department.
Just Cause 4 is missing a proper physics engine that could truly make the environment not only explosive but destructive. It could also improve in the graphics department. It could also improve on the other lacking mechanics I discussed above. In order for me to believe in paying for a Just Cause 5, I’ll need to see an overhaul to how the game is approach and conceived.