Just Cause 4 Review

By Mark Delaney, 1 month ago
Just Cause has been a series of increasingly bigger booms. From its humble beginnings on the original Xbox to the present day, each new game has emphasized wilder action setpieces that players are left to direct themselves. The series is a world of playgrounds littered with toys, and to this end Just Cause 4 is the best game in the series so far. It has issues that affect various aspects of the game, but for anyone looking for more creative ways to launch enemies toward the sky, or tear down dictatorial regimes with style, Rico now has his most elaborate toolbox yet.

30/11/2018 - Carousel

To begin with Just Cause 4's storyline would be to bury to lede. As always, there is a narrative to learn of, but it's once again the same basic outline that is always there and not deserving of much attention. Rico Rodriguez, who is basically Batman without a self-imposed no-killing rule, is now in Solis, a corrupt corporatocracy that shares all previous villains' affinity for building infrastructure out of metals colored red. Across the game's 25-hour story, you'll be tasked with taking down their enemy bases, liberating the oppressed, and doing it all with a unique sense of style and flair other games never attempt.

The scope of the world is once again impressive, but it seems Avalanche traded some visual fidelity for more reliable performance this time. The game makes a rough first impression as a result, with visuals noticeably poorer than the 2015 predecessor. From a distance, wingsuiting over the sprawling and climate-diverse world still looks great, but get closer to street level and things get hazy. It seems safe to assume this was a necessity to get the grand explosions to not slow the game down to a crawl as it so often did for players in Just Cause 3. It's arguably a fair trade if the reasons truly were for performance because otherwise the game nearly always runs great. Very few framerate issues arose and it performed well in several instances where it was deliberately tested with explosions that would impress Michael Bay.

Speaking of chaos, that's once again a big part of the game this time. The new map system used to move Rico's Army of Chaos around the map, overthrowing the regime, is poorly explained at the start, but over time it becomes a non-issue. The flow of progression fades into the background as you go from region to region unlocking each base for takeover, but the system that measures and rewards you for your Chaos level is no longer the driving force behind every mission. Previously the series would tell you to do enough damage to unlock the next story beat. In Just Cause 4, each settlement has an actual mission with objectives other than "blow up the red stuff." There's still plenty of red stuff that deserves blowing up, and you'll want to do so to earn more Supply Drops, but actual objectives are a welcome idea in theory. In practice, they can be a bit formulaic — "deactivate these several items, hold out for this long, protect this device," etc.

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The structure is a familiar one, and they can sometimes be very frustrating due to overwhelming enemy assaults that feel unfairly hard to counter. Thankfully, the game has a very generous checkpoint system that not only restarts you midway through an attempt, but also seems to get progressively more lenient with each subsequent failure. Ally AI can frustrate too, like when time is of the essence and they're slow to get in your getaway vehicle, leaving you to get shelled by enemies from all sides like an Uber driver in a warzone.

This may sound like a lot went wrong for Just Cause 4, but the truth is more went right for the sequel. Chief among them is the new system tied to Rico's signature tethering tool. Now the tool has three main components, the famous retractor, air lifters (balloons), and boosters. Players are allowed three loadouts among which you can swap seamlessly, each of them letting you toy with your world in starkly different and often hilarious ways. One loadout may utilize high-speed boosters with balloons that automatically engage, sending enemies and objects soaring to the clouds at record speeds. Another may use a slow-reeling retractor that can help you tether many explosive objects together before launching them all toward each other with the boosters.

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These three tools make up the far and away best toolkit Rico has ever had. They can each be modded in a number of ways, making the possibilities feel endless. Beyond the forgettable story and AI problems, there exists this system that ultimately gives the game so much life. It really makes up for deficiencies in other areas because it turns the whole experience into a ridiculous physics experiment and the results are as memorable as you want to make them. Combined with these new tools, the setting is the most diverse its ever been. Four different climates bring their own unique terrain, while superstorms like lightning, tornados, and windstorms fulfill potential of the fun physics system.

The game's hundreds of stunts once again return in a Forza Horizon style, meaning they simply exist for you to tackle on your travels. No longer do you have to sit through loading screens to begin or retry them. Now the wingsuit rings, speed traps, and stunt jumps are just there, and you complete them without ever pausing the action. Gunplay is improved too, with the series finally mapping the aim button to the left shoulder. Aim assist keeps the firefights intense without getting frustrating. Rico is so often swarmed by enemies that anything less would get annoying fast, but just as it does in a few other areas, Just Cause 4 avoids causing a major problem for itself by falling back on sound core mechanics. The things that are most important to get right in this series are done right. Despite aforementioned issues that pop up in different ways, the sequel always gets its tentpole features right.

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The achievement list is currently an issue and one that may turn some would-be players away from the title for the time being. The running theory in the game's forum is that it's related to leaving the game idling on your Xbox One. I can attest to having both left mine idling at different times and ending the game with fewer achievements unlocked than I actually earned. People are recommending you always quit out of the game when you're done, or else the tracker seems to stop working. If that idea is right and you're going for the achievements, also know that a lot of it is tied into completing everything. It's the type of list that won't reward you much along the way, but will unload most of them near the end should you complete everything there is to do, from side missions to stunts, to various milestones. The full 1,000 takes an estimated 50 hours.

Check out our Best Xbox Third Person Shooters Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Just Cause 4 gives off a bad first impression with new systems poorly explained and a visual downgrade apparently seeking to solve the series' previous performance woes. Get just a few hours in, though, and you'll have unlocked Rico's trinity of toys that combine to make this sequel Rico's best coup d'etat yet. Dispatching enemies and blowing up bases have never been more fun given the game's new tools. Despite issues in several areas, Just Cause is ultimately about the scale of its action moments over which players have complete control, and the freeform sandbox in which players run amok, and to these ends Just Cause 4 is the best in the series.
4 / 5
Just Cause 4
Positives
  • Creative tools and toys for Rico turn the game into an imaginative physics playground
  • Four different biomes bring distinct aesthetics and geography to the game's unique traversal system
  • Improved gunplay
  • No loading for stunt missions anymore
  • Would-be simplistic missions are salvaged by player ingenuity
Negatives
  • Visual downgrade in lighting and textures
  • Balancing issues and poor ally AI cause frustration at times
  • Poorly explains newly introduced systems
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 30 hours in Solis, blowing up red stuff and discovering new ways to fling enemies across the map. He earned 15 or so achievements, but only six have unlocked at the time of writing. An Xbox One review code was provided by the publisher.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.