Sometimes it’s nice to play a game that’s just fun. Fun can go quite a long way in a video game to excusing its flaws. Sure, a game might be a little rough around the edges or have an incoherent plot with irritating characters – but who cares if you’re having fun while you play? The design philosophy of “stupid and joyful” is a seed from which most open-world, sandbox, action games have taken root and flourished. Five years ago Just Cause 2 was released and greeted with high amounts of critical praise for its large open world and the fun, freedom of movement given to players – allowing them to zip-line up, down, and all around the beautiful environments the game presents. It was rough in places. The story was uninteresting and the voice acting poor. But at the end of the day it was fun enough for players not to notice the cracks. The same cannot be said for Just Cause 3.
Let the records show that I did have fun with Just Cause 3. It’s just that this fun lasted for around 2-3 hours right at the beginning of this sizable game. Just Cause 3 opens quite strongly. Player character Rico Rodriguez is introduced with the title of “Dictator Removal Specialist”, as a montage plays out to a slow-tempo, acoustic cover of The Prodigy’s “Fire Starter”. From here you are given access to a zip wire grappling hook, a parachute, and a gliding bodysuit before being dumped into one of the largest open worlds that I think I’ve ever played in. A world which takes almost 9 real world hours to walk across. But don’t worry, because you won’t be walking anywhere. Thanks to the aforementioned starting tools, you can use the zip wire to launch yourself into the air, open the wings of your glide suit to take flight across the large and pretty country of Medici.
Rico has returned to his home of Medici to join with the rebels who are losing the fight against the country’s dictator and the oppressive militia group. So you take to the skies armed to the teeth with guns and explosives to liberate the local population by destroying the outposts, strongholds, and propaganda channels that plague the many cities in the area. Attaching multiple, retractable zip wires to the giant statues of the benevolent leader and watching them topple behind you as you speed away like mercenary Spider-Man is pretty satisfying. So is blowing up a giant gas tank by driving a car into it; opening your parachute to eject yourself from the driver seat just in the nick of time to watch as the fireball engulfs the enemy forces below. A world met with your chaos as you drift serenely overhead. Everything about it feels like a superhero movie and once you have mastered the slightly fiddly glide suit controls you will have a lot of fun just moving around the stunning world.
As I said before, I had a lot of fun playing Just Cause 3 for the first few hours. But it wasn’t long before the cracks started to show. For starters, the loading times are bad. As in, the worst loading times I can remember ever having suffered through – and I played Bloodborne at launch. There was a point in the game where I had wandered into an area where I was being stalked relentlessly by a fleet of jets that would be constantly killing me with painfully accurate air strikes. Then I’d die, respawn in the area with the jets, get bombed again, and repeat. It was frustrating beyond belief and was only made worse by the fact that every time I died the game would take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes to load up and let me get back to playing. Additionally, if you happen to have an Internet connection that drops out briefly from time to time, Just Cause 3 has the infuriating compulsion to log you back in every time you want to check the map. Which, in an open world game, is very often. Naturally, like the load times, this process is frustratingly slow.
It isn’t long before the truth sinks in. There’s fun to be had in Just Cause 3. A lot of fun. But the game’s story does a lot to actively prevent you from having fun. Just Cause 3 is actually a really serious boring game wrapped up in multiple fun layers. At its best you can glide and zip around a large, beautiful world that feels so alive and vibrant. At its worst you get killed over and over again by very unfair enemy attacks that are punctuated by obnoxiously long loading screens. In one excruciating mission I was tasked with the careful transportation of unsecured wine barrels to the rebels in a slow moving truck. The mission would be failed if too many of them were flung from the back. In a game that’s at its best when it focuses on silly, fast paced action it’s a huge mistake to make such slow, deliberate tasks a compulsory part of progression. It’s a baffling contradiction of design elements. It’s designed to give you unprecedented freedom of movement. It’s not good game design to make players stay put in one area and defend allied bases from slow, incoming invaders. It’s boring and there are countless other games that do that sort of thing a lot better.
By the end of it the enemies start to get a lot harder to kill and suddenly you aren’t playing a carefree, power fantasy anymore. No–now it’s time for boring, serious third-person action. Which sucks extra hard because the game isn’t built well for cover-based shooting–it’s built for fun. It’s built for a fun that the game stops caring about. Then suddenly all the magic dissipates and you see Just Cause 3 for the very deliberate game that it is. It was never carefree at all. Everything that explodes is something that’s meant to explode, like a giant gas tank or a power generator. And once the magic is gone the game is just an unreasonably expansive list of boring things to destroy, like radio towers and satellite dishes. There’s no urgency or consequence, they’re just sort of there. All over the map that’s far too big and in numbers that are far too many to be anything other than an obsessive slog to get through all of them. Just Cause 3 is a game in which I experienced a great amount of joy and frustration, but for me the fun was short lived and the imperfections were unforgivable and painful.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Just Cause 3.