The Just Cause franchise has experienced its ups and downs throughout the years. The underappreciated 2006 original was improved upon in every single way imaginable in the 2010 sequel, only to go down from there with the troubled release and reception of Just Cause 3 in 2015. To this day, Just Cause 2 stands the test of time as the best in the series and a fan and personal favourite. There was nothing like it at that time. With Just Cause 4, Avalanche seemed adamant on fixing the issues debuted in its predecessor (especially the quality of the pc port) and bring the franchise to its high point once again. Does Just Cause 4 live up to the hype, improve upon Just Cause 3 and most importantly, will it win over the Just Cause 2 fans? Let’s find out.
Just Cause 4 is an open world action-adventure game developed by Avalanche Studios and published by Square Enix. It is the fourth game in the Just Cause series a and was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on December 4, 2018. This review is based on the PC version which priced at INR ₹ 3,499 or US$ 59.99.
JUST CAUSE 4
Story & Narrative
Just Cause 4 takes place in the South American nation of Solís, the birthplace of series protagonist Rico Rodriguez. After the events of Just Cause 3, Rico travels back to his homeland to find the truth behind the death of his family, particularly his father. As per series tradition, Solís is governed over by the cruel dictator Oscar Espinosa and the military group known as the Black Hand, using advanced weather-manipulation technology. It’s upto Rico and a small group of rebels to overthrow Espinosa, dismantle the weather-manipulation tech as well as find the truth about his father.
Telling a compelling story was never the strong suit of the series. The narrative was just there to give Rico Rodriguez a reason to go wild. Even with that in mind, what is presented to us in Just Cause 4 is nothing but a joke. It feels as if many of the story elements shown in the pre-release trailer didn’t make past the cutting room floor. The shell of a story that remains is told through poorly rendered PS3 era cutscenes that don’t do it any favors.
Adding insult to injury are the main villains Oscar Espinosa and Gabriela Morales, who are all but absent in the game with the exception of the initial and final cutscenes. At least the story and characters in the prior games could be labelled “it’s so bad it’s good”. But here, the characters try to take themselves too seriously in a bloated, boring storyline. Rico Rodriguez himself is nothing but a shell of his former ‘Antonio Banderas’ persona and seems to have lost all his charisma (an issue I cited in my Just Cause 3 editorial), appearing as just another generic action hero with bad one-liners. At the end of the day, you don’t play Just Cause games for their story. But that doesn’t make the poorly written and presented story and characters safe from criticism.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Despite their many shortcomings, the prior Just Cause games excelled (or came close) in the gameplay department. The series is all about blowing stuff up, causing chaos and having a good time while you’re at it. As per series tradition, you are once again dropped into the shoes of Rico Rodriguez into an exotic location and is handed free reins to cause absolute mayhem. That chaotic gameplay experience is retained here in Just Cause 4. Sadly, there are way too many issues and shortcomings that severely hamper the potential of the game.
Let’s talk about the things Just Cause 4 does better than its predecessors first. As expected, traversal across the huge world has been refined and streamlined so much so that it’s a genuine pleasure to wingsuit across one end of the map to the other without touching the ground. The highlight of the series, the grappling hook is the best in the series yet. After some brief tutorial missions, you are readily given access to the three main attachments of the grappling hook (retractor, air lifter and booster) and it doesn’t require you to grind challenges to gain access to the base upgrades like Just Cause 3. However, if you want to upgrade these further, then you are required to repeat a few mindless challenges and side missions. Nevertheless, these attachments bring a new layer of experimentation to combat as well as traversal. Pretty much all weapons have alternate fire modes and the gunplay feels better than the previous entries in the series. Aside from the standard arsenal, the newly added lightning and wind guns are a real joy to use.
Now here is where things start to get troubling. How can one mess up a game this much where the core gameplay involves blowing as many stuff as you can? But Just Cause 4 has found a way to screw it up. Base liberation has been the staple of a series since its inception. Sure it was somewhat repetitive and grindy. But the games never forced your hand into clearing each and every location out there just to unlock the next story mission. It was a well-worn formula that was entertaining and provided the player with countless experimentation and creative opportunities. Even if you were not into this gameplay loop, just by driving around the world and shooting up stuff would grant you the chaos required to progress through the game.
Why am I taking so much about base liberation in past Just Cause games? Well simply because it doesn’t exist anymore. Instead of liberating bases at your own pace, you are forced to repeat the same three or four challenges like diving through hoops using wingsuit or complete checkpoint races or stunt jumps to complete a location. Not only does it not make any sort of sense, but some of these challenges are ridiculously easy and downright insulting. To unlock story missions, you are forced into completing repetitive missions which almost always ends up in escort objectives or annoying ones like pressing x amounts of buttons within a time limit. Sure there are objects to blow up, but their number has been toned down by a large degree that it’s ridiculous. Also, there are no more handguns, dual wielding, grenades or even remote explosives within a game. It’s as if the developers demand you to use the grappling hook for everything. What happened to the freedom of choice from Just Cause 2 and 3 Avalanche?
One of the things Avalanche showcased extensively through promotional videos was how Rico would have to face off against the elements in the dynamic tornado, sandstorm and thunderstorm brought to life by the Apex Engine. Good news is that they exist. The bad news is that they are far from dynamic. Other than in the main missions, I’ve only encountered them a single time throughout my playthrough. Sure, you can see the storms in a distance if you are in a particular area but they have zero effect on the general gameplay unless you purposely go looking for them. Then there is the empty and lifeless game world, featuring only a handful of populated settlements and copy-pasted locations.
But the problems in Just Cause 4 doesn’t simply stop there. Vehicles that control like lubed up rollerskates, dumb AI, bloated and awkward UI, unmappable movement controls, messed up mouse sensitivity, buggy and glitchy physics engine- all do nothing but add to the frustration.
Visuals & Performance
This is where Avalanche completely dropped the balls. Just Cause 4 claims to feature the new ‘Apex’ engine that’s supposed to deliver cutting-edge visuals and physics and weather simulation. To justify this bold claim, the promotional videos and gameplay did show off some impressive lighting, foliage and weather effects. Well, that is not the case with the final product. Just Cause 4 doesn’t look all that great and at times, even looks and feels like a downgraded Just Cause 3. Maybe it looks better on the consoles, but as far as the PC version is concerned, Just Cause 4 looks shockingly bad regardless of the settings you play in. Look, I’m not one to be concerned about the graphics as long as the gameplay is fun. But the difference between pre and post-launch material is night and day and the graphics (in this case) severely affect the overall experience.
Textures look like they are taken from an early PS3 era game, the lighting is completely messed up with the daytime having too much exposure and night time being completely dark, the amount of texture and object pop-ins and flickering is hilariously bad, the anti-aliasing (or the lack thereof) is the worst I’ve seen in recent years, the explosion effects are considerably toned down and don’t get me started on the water which looks like semi-dried blue paint. Even the pre-rendered cutscenes resemble a 480p quality Youtube stream. You don’t have to look through a microscope or nitpick to notice how poor the graphics are. I’ve seen people in the Steam forums saying a bug is the reason behind the state of the graphics and how the ‘ini’ file of the game hardly contains any graphical options. Regardless of the reason, it’s been 8 days since release and there has not been a single patch that addresses these issues.
The game was tested on the following specs:
- Intel Core i5 7500 3.40Ghz
- GTX 1070 8 GB
- 8×2 GB 2400Mhz DDR4 Ram
- Windows 10 Pro 64 Bit
- Kingston 256 Gigs SSD
The game ran maxed out (you can’t even tell if it was maxed out since half the settings don’t work) at 1080p ranging from 60-90 fps. There were some instances in the game where the fps tanked to the 40s when a lot was going on in the screen. While the performance seems to have improved from Just Cause 3, it brings with it crashes…lots and lots of them. The game would crash randomly every now and then, especially during missions. The crashes persisted even after upgrading to the latest Nvdia drivers and it still continues to do so. Aside from these annoying crashes, there are a plethora of bugs like enemies and vehicles disappearing in thin air, random items exploding for no reasons, falling down the game world, NPCs getting stuck on invisible walls etc. There is not even a brightness, let alone a FOV slider. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Just Cause 4 is a rushed and unfinished PC port.
Sound & Music
Just Cause 4 does a decent job in the audio department. Sounds of the various vehicles, guns, explosion as well as the soundtrack is solid across the board. The voice actors for Rico and his former handler Sheldon has been changed this time around. The voice actor for Rico, Orion Acaba does a good of being Rico, even if the game doesn’t exactly give him lines or dialogues worthy of remembering. The same cannot be said for Rico’s former handler Tom Sheldon’s voice actor. Gone are his wild Texan swagger and mannerisms and comes off as extremely monotonic. Aside from this minor complaint, the sound design in Just Cause 4 works well.
Despite the numerous new additions, Just Cause 4 feels like a step down to the previous games in the series. The developers seem to have lost the idea as to what made the games good in the first place. There are way too many compromises made and corners cut in order to push the final product out the release window. The PC port is probably the worst one yet and rivals that of Just Cause 3 for all the wrong reasons. Such a shame really. Avalanche is a talented developer and with the financial backing of Square Enix, could have created something truly amazing. Even if you’re a dedicated fan of the series, hold off on purchasing Just Cause 3 on the PC until the issues have been resolved.