October and November are two of the busiest months of the year on the gaming calendar- it is a time when a myriad of high profile publishers are launching their big-ticket titles. If you look at the games headlining this year’s press releases and expo presentations, e.g. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Uncharted 4, Halo 5, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (sidenote: when a subtitle has a part 3, you start to question the direction of a franchise), you notice that there seems to be a focus on sequels.
This is not a big issue- it makes sense that publishers would opt to release games with a successful formula and that developers might enjoy fine-tuning a previous creation. Fans of these franchises will almost certainly give their respective franchises a shot, often flocking to sequels in droves.
However, what about new players who cannot be expected to invest time and money into every new AAA title to find out which series of games they might enjoy, and who are saturated by game reviews of a comparative nature? I’d argue that, due to a lack of knowledge of in-game lore and mechanics, and the blurred line between noob and newb, many potential first-time players perceive established franchises to be rather inaccessible.
So, in an effort to remove the perceived barrier between players and this particular title, here is my first impression of Just Cause 3- an article written completely free of comparative bias, by a first time Just Cause player.
“Just Cause 3 is a beautiful, giant, explosive sandbox built to give you a digital vacation from whatever you’re doing. It is a game in which your imagination and creativity is rewarded,” says the game’s director Roland Lesterlin. It is an excellent pitch but does the game live up to the hype?
In Just Cause 3, the player takes control of the protagonist, Rico, who has returned to liberate his home country- a Mediterranean-inspired collection of islands suffering under the dictatorship of Di Ravello. The story is ripped straight out of a B-grade ’80s action film with eastern European stereotypes to boot. The humour is self-aware (the RICO act, anyone?) and the clichés are part of the charm. The player learns pretty quickly that, despite reassurances, Rico is an anything-but-subtle badass cowboy who is all about destruction. And that’s all anyone really needs to know about the plot- no prior knowledge of Just Cause required!
Creative destruction is what this game is all about. Almost everything in the world can be destroyed, and the method by which you achieve this destruction is limited only by the player’s imagination.
“It’s all about creating your own action moment,” says Lesterlin.
There is the typical swathe of guns, grenades and explosives, but the stand out weapon is, perhaps surprisingly, the grappling hook/tether. Using the tether, Rico can quickly propel himself towards any object (including people), connect an object and the ground, or connect any two objects in close proximity. The tension of the connection formed can be controlled using the R2 button, and you can have multiple tethers in place at any one time. It is a mindblowing mechanic. The tether is the ultimate utility item, and it allows for a lot of creative gameplay moments. For example, tethering two helicopters together, bringing down buildings or statues, dodging and weaving during battles with Di Ravello’s army, and just generally manipulating the environment. It is incredibly difficult to explain just how amazing the tether/grappling hook feature is!
Tether aside, there are also a wide range of vehicles- each with a unique feel and functionality. A glider-like parachute (which can be used at almost any altitude and lets players launch an aerial assault while sailing slowly down to earth), and a wingsuit (a faster, weapons incompatible glider) join the typical roster of helicopters, army tanks, jets, scooters, trucks and cars in this game- all of which can be commandeered by Rico. Cars and trucks may not sound so impressive, but Lesterlin notes that even the more base seeming vehicles have a level of depth to them.
“We brought in people with backgrounds in Need for Speed and Burnout to help build the vehicles from the ground up. We wanted to give them a really arcade-y, weighty, race-y feel,” he explains. “In this game, you can drift corners, and you can get really good at racing cars. If you break late into a corner and accelerate out then you can shave tenths of a second off of races. We wanted to create that depth of gameplay for players that wanted to get into it… or you can just drive off a cliff and backflip into a parachute while the car explodes. That’s fine too.”
Whether parachuting into an enemy base guns blazing, using a tether on a billboard to collapse it on your enemy at the perfect time, or wing-suiting into an enemy helicopter to take it over, the scenarios are endless. Just Cause 3 is one of the few games labeled sandbox that has truly earned that descriptor.
There is no multiplayer feature- it doesn’t really fit the lone-wolf guns blazing style of Rico or the ‘create YOUR experience’ focus of the development team- and there is little interaction with the water around the island (Lesterlin explains that this is because the speed of combat would slow right down, which doesn’t reflect Rico’s pace) but this may be altered when the Sea component of the three Land, Air and Sea DLC expansion packs is released in the future.
There is so much more I could talk about- the uncluttered HUD, the forgiving nature of player deaths, the story progression as rebels (through Rico) reclaim each settlement, airdrops… but I’ll leave that for Nick in his review.
Considering the content of the high quality cutscenes, the small in-game touches like confetti when an airdrop arrives, and the look of glee on Lesterlin’s face and fervor with which he talks about the game, it is clear that the developers had a lot of fun working on Just Cause 3- and that fun has been created for the players. I certainly wouldn’t have considered this to be my kind of game, and, to be honest, I played the game quite poorly (shout out to Kerrin from Bandai Namco for being so polite while I kept face-planting into the mountainside while wingsuiting!) but I really, really enjoyed the experience I had!
“Maybe that’s my favourite thing- the franchise allows us not to take ourselves too seriously. You need a game that makes you laugh sometimes.” True that, Lesterlin. Just Cause 3 is definitely a game I will be purchasing when it drops in early December.