Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: December 2015
Review platform: Steam PC version
Some games just jump out of the box and yell “Play me!” This is one of those games, which I only picked up by chance in a Steam sale because the explosions looked pretty cool. And I’m glad I did because I haven’t stopped playing it since, it’s so much fun.
You play as Rico Rodriguez whose mission in life is to liberate the beautiful but oppressed Republic of Medici somewhere in the Mediterranean, currently under the rule of nasty military dictator Sebastiano Di Ravello’s iron fist. The key words here are liberate by any means possible and that’s where the fun begins. This theme struck a chord with me and anyway, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to play a revolutionary hero with that many weapons, vehicles and military toys to play with? Mind you, I may well be a tad influenced by the fact that I live in South America, a continent perceived by many as the birthplace of the banana republic.
The good General is a mish-mash of both Pineapple Face Noriega, Colonel Gaddafi and Woody Allen’s Bananas on steroids. The oppressed population of Medici are out-gunned by soldiers loyal to the mustachioed one, are monitored by listening devices scattered throughout each of the towns and are subject to vicious aggression from the war machine which has huge military bases all over the numerous islands that make up the Republic of Medici. This sets the scene very nicely for Rico and his rebel friends to cause as much chaos as they can, by liberating towns, settlements and military bases. After all, isn’t that what being a revolutionary is all about?
Just Cause 3 is set in a massive open world of around 1000 square kilometers and as you can see from the map above, which incidentally only shows just under half of Medici, there’s a vast amount of territory to cover with over 100 towns, bases and settlements to liberate. Our hero, Rico, who just happens to be ex-CIA by the way, is a gun-toting, Rambo-esque superhero, equipped with incredible healing powers and more importantly of all, The Grapple. The Grapple allows you to tether yourself to almost any object and this technique allows you to:
- Pull yourself along when in flight using the wingsuit or parachute
- Pull objects together when dual tethering
- Tether enemies to explosive barrels, pull them together and watch them get blown to pieces
- Scale virtually any height, including buildings and mountains
- Attach yourself to any moving vehicle whether it be a plane, helicopter, boat, car etc
- Attach to and hijack enemy vehicles, which you can then use against them
The Grapple offers endless possibilities and when used in conjunction with The Wingsuit or parachute, it gives you almost endless flight throughput the world. Here’s a quick peek of what I mean.
Another key element in the game is the wingsuit which I mentioned earlier. When jumping from an aircraft or, in fact, any reasonable height, either the wingsuit or parachute can be deployed and both can be switched mid flight depending on the altitude and, of course, the speed requirement. If you want to get somewhere in a hurry, jump off the edge, deploy the wingsuit and head off at warp speed. If you can manage to keep a few meters from the ground, you can use the grapple to pull yourself along crab-like and in conjunction with the parachute, you can probably achieve infinite flight, but that would be a tad dull with so much chaos to create elsewhere.
This is what Just Cause 3 does so well and it doesn’t bog down the flow of the game with lengthy and unnecessary cut-scenes. On the contrary, it’s a roller-coaster ride of action, excitement and explosions with the sound effects being particularly immersive. When you climb into a helicopter and begin to ascend, the sound of those rotors chop-chopping is right on the mark and you feel like you’re really in the machine. Likewise, steal an enemy fighter jet, light up those twin jet engines and feel the unmistakable roar of a jet as you unleash all that power for take off. Even diving down through the air in the wingsuit produces a real sense of being there as the air rushes past you roaring and screeching. And the explosions which produce chain-reaction explosions and huge structures that slowly begin to weaken and tumble with twisting metal groaning, cascading to the ground with a metallic clattering. Every single weapon sounds exactly as you always imagined it would, from the minigun, AA turret, RPG to the woosh of the Sidewinder missiles as you unleash them into an enemy-controlled oil rig, banking away just in time to escape a SAM as it whizzes past your starboard wing. The entire experience of sound and vision is a tour de force that is, quite frankly, mind blowing.
The fun factor
Without doubt, the explosions in Just Cause 3 are the most realistic and impressive I’ve ever seen in a video game and it’s just as well since blowing stuff up is an essential part of progressing through the game, fortunately. It’s also very easy to spot chaos objects, as they’re so quaintly referred to, as they’re mainly red and just look like they need to be blown up. I only have one niggle with this system of total destruction– if I were a rebel hell-bent on freeing my enslaved compatriots, would I not want to leave at least some essential infrastructure intact, such as a power station or essential communication center? It seems not, as Rico and his gang have decided on a scorched earth policy of Armageddon-like proportions which plays perfectly to the closet pyromaniac in many of us. After all, have you never wanted to blow up a mega-structure?
Far from being linear, this game encourages you to explore the world and when you’re not liberating towns, hamlets and military bases (some of which aren’t even marked on the map, encouraging you to scour around using aerial reconnaissance), you can take part in exciting challenges such as:
- Destruction Frenzy
- Shooting Gallery
- Wingsuit Course
- Crash Bomb
- Land Race
- Air Race
- Sea Race
The more success you have in these challenges, and believe me, some of them are very difficult, the more mods and upgrades you can acquire. I managed to unlock the nitrous mod (for an added speed boost to helicopters and such like) in the fixed wing aeroplane challenge which involved flying through hoops scattered between the islands. It probably took me about an hour of re-takes and certainly wasn’t easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. This is an important element to the game as liberating towns from the enemy can get a little tedious after a while, in spite of the fact that there are so many different ways to achieve this, such as using an attack helicopter stolen from the enemy or acquired through a rebel drop.
A really neat trick is the rebel drop, where you can ask for a variety of items to be dropped right at your feet and this is particularly useful say, when you need a tank or attack helicopter instantly and there isn’t any enemy hardware around to steal. You need beacons for the rebel drop though and these can be found at petrol stations oddly enough, before you blow them up, that is.
Just check out the confetti, a really neat touch! But that’s not all. If you can’t summon up the energy to travel 12kms to the other side of Medici, use fast travel, which can be used to return only to liberated towns or bases and deliciously puts you standing at the open door of a helicopter so you can jump out, putting you firmly back in the thick of the action again as you dive down to earth with the wingsuit, all guns blazing.
Make no mistake, Just Cause 3 is a very demanding game for your hardware and the specs shown above aren’t very far off the real world experience. In fact, my main gaming machine, an FX8320 (overclocked), GTX970 4Gb (overclocked) and 16Gb of RAM copes well at very high graphic settings, giving me between 60-70fps on average, dropping to around 35fps in the thick of the action.
V-Sync is a function that allows the game to synchronize its frame rate with the refresh rate of the display.
Switching off v-sync really helped and increased frame rates by about 15fps with no screen tearing whatsoever. On the other hand, my other rig, a Phenom II 965 (overclocked) Radeon 7950 3Gb (overclocked) and 10Gb RAM, struggles to reach 40 FPS, even on medium settings which, I suspect is largely down to the now ageing CPU, despite being overclocked to 3.7Ghz. I also turned off the Steam overlay in-game, but that made very little difference. Load times are also long, so on my main rig I switched the Steam game install folder to the SSD resulting in much faster load times. In fact load times are probably not helped by having to log on to the Square Enix servers which sync your game-play in real time with other players where an on-screen display shows Leader Boards for who jumped the farthest with the grapple or who created the most explosions from a single detonation and so on, but you can switch to Steam offline mode, which I’ve tried on my second rig with very little positive impact on the game. In fact, the major improvements have been seen by overclocking my Radeon 7950, but that’s a subject for another article entirely.
Bugs and crashes
Many gamers have reported all manner of crashes with Just Cause 3, albeit in the early days when the game was released in December last year and some of those bugs, many related to AMD graphics cards, appear to have been fixed. However, I can only report on bugs that have affected my Just Cause 3 experience, namely one significant crash which required a reboot and a persistent bug which has affected a large swathe of players, namely the key bindings bug. The options menu lets you change the key bindings for your keyboard, such as move forward, jump and so on, but when the game is restarted all the key bindings reset themselves to the default settings due to some errors or corruption in the key mapping configuration file for the game. Whilst not being a total game killer, it is frankly very irritating and should be addressed by the developer, yet hasn’t been to date.
However, the gaming community has found a fix and it works for everyone who’s tried it. Simply navigate to the following folder documents\Square Enix\Just Cause 3\Saves\76561197971574308 and delete the file kepmap.txt (that’s not a typo) or simply rename it kepmap.old, start the game again, make a change in the game-play settings and exit the game. This procedure generates a new, ‘clean’ kepmap.txt file which you can now edit manually with your preferred key bindings using notepad or some other text editor. You’ll probably notice that some commands are duplicated within the kepmap.txt document (which could be where the problem lies), so be sure that the duplicated commands match exactly and that the commands follow the conventions for PC key mapping. If you’re only using a keyboard and mouse, ignore the Gamepad commands, save the file, start the game and ensure that you don’t change any key bindings within the game. This fix works without fail and if you follow these tips, none of the input commands will be reset to default.
My email exchanges with Square Enix bore no fruit unfortunately, their so called support technicians offered no real assistance at all and no indication whatsoever that the problem is being looked into. Disappointing, to say the least, but it hasn’t taken away my enjoyment of the game at all.
Did I mention the explosions? I’ve been playing video games for more than twenty years and the explosions in this game are so realistic, they’re eye popping and since they’re such an integral part of progressing through the game, you can forgive yourself completely for creating such carnage and wanton destruction. The story, whilst predictable, is largely saved by Rico’s voice acting which bears an uncanny resemblance to Sean Connery and whilst I haven’t yet finished the game, I have a feeling that my final encounter will more than likely involve The General himself, in a mega boss-fight to end them all.
Yes, there are bugs, although I’ve only experienced those mentioned here and for all that, the gaming experience is exhilarating and totally immersive, so much so that it’s hard to drag yourself away for all those mundane activities of life such as sleeping or eating and to date, I’m only about one third through the game after about three weeks and I’m not in a hurry to finish because the game doesn’t want you to finish just yet, if ever. And let’s not forget that Jet Pack DLC which can hurl Rico across the world at unimaginable speeds……………
If you’re looking for action, non stop explosions and total aerial and combat immersion, then Just Cause 3 packs everything into this thrill-a-minute experience and more– much, much more.
If I were to hand out a score, I’d have no hesitation in giving Just Cause 3 a score of 95%.