Just Cause 4 Review

It’s been a long time since I felt blindsided with disappointment for a game. Usually, there’s some red flag I can trace it back to, or some part of me that knew it would be crappy going in but chose to stay optimistic. With the newest installment in Avalanche Studios’ Just Cause series, I was completely caught off guard.

Just Cause 4 reunites us with Rico Rodriguez, and this time we are set on a boring conquest to overthrow yet another dictator on an island called Solís — a tropical paradise whose beauty is matched only by its fierce and dynamic weather system. Sandstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes hit at any moment as we attempt to liberate the map through a new strategy system that replaces the old, fort-liberating mechanics with rebel troops that can move front lines to different regions and unlock playable areas. The new system, in addition to many other aspects, feels like a downgrade from the previous game.

The Badly Rendered Elephant in The Room

This game is a technical monstrosity. It is buggy beyond my wildest dreams, and the graphics looked so terrible on my display that I sincerely thought there was an issue with my hardware. As it turns out, I’m far from being the only one to experience these issues. In fact, they are so pervasive that Square Enix issued an apology to players regarding the performance controversies.

just cause 4 screen 2

I could speak volumes on the technical mess that is Just Cause 4. The motion blur is so severe that before I learned to tune it out, the game felt almost unplayable. The picture is unceasingly grainy, and textures in the environment do not want to render. Sometimes they render with delay, and other times they don’t render at all, providing unrefined rocks and trees that look worse than those of Minecraft. Most of the time, the game is blurry or choppy and completely horrendous to look at. Graphics don’t necessarily ruin the player experience for everybody, but there’s another technical aspect we haven’t touched on yet: the bugs.

Ah, the bugs. I’ve seen some pretty hilarious glitches in this game, but they’re not scattered throughout random encounters that you may only see once in a blue moon. Rather, there are bugs and glitches at every turn, in every direction you could possibly look, at every minute of the game. If it’s not a floating character or object, it’s a magically disappearing one. I’ve seen boats shoot out of the water like a vessel spat straight up from Davy Jones’ locker. I’ve seen boats with sails transform into little speedboats. I’ve seen airplanes crash into nothing and disappear into thin air right in the middle of the sky. In fact, that one actually happens a lot. Most of the time, these bugs will not affect your gameplay, though they will provide you with some entertainment on occasion.

Just Fun or Just Failure?

Just Cause 4 is problematic for reasons that go beyond its technical nightmares. It lacks the ability to commit to its silliness and fails to follow through with a deep or fulfilling narrative. The story is lamentably basic, with the same handful of missions recycled over and over again throughout the game. Escort vehicles here, hack consoles there, blow some shit up. The new wartime-strategy map seeks to make the game more complex, though it’s little more than a system that locks you out of certain regions until you progress in the way it wants you to.

just cause 4 screen 3

The physics of the game are both hilarious and confounding, mainly where driving or destruction is involved. When driving, your car achieves a state of near invincibility — that is, unless you’re going slowly enough, in which case any object you bump slightly will spin your car around or wreck you. Hit a nice speed above 50 miles per hour, however, and other vehicles on the road will shoot straight up into the sky like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Trees also provide no obstruction; they’ll simply split in half and blow away like a feather as you mow them down with your car or blast them with your weapon.

It’s the absurdity of these mechanics that confuse me to no end: are these meant to be silly and lighthearted, or are they simply overlooked errors that should not be happening? If they are meant to be silly, then the game should commit to that silliness. I have no qualms about a game that’s meant to be outlandish and nonsensical if it is indeed transparent about these intents. If Just Cause 4 wants to be nothing more than a game that makes you feel all-powerful no matter how ludicrous the means, it should commit to that. Give us badass, over-the-top or unrealistic weapons. Embed more comedy into the writing and the tone. If the silly disposition is not made deliberate from the beginning, the absurdity of these random physics encounters makes for a downright confusing experience that either makes you laugh, or makes you question whether or not it was a mistake in development. More often than not, I found myself asking: Does this game want to be silly, trivial, blow-em-up fun, or does it just fail to accomplish more than that?

All About The Hook

What would a Just Cause game be without its iconic grappling hook? The game now allows you to customize the tool through a series of clunky menus to add different perks and abilities to your hook. You can also have up to three different loadouts to quickly adapt to different encounters across the map. Some of the new grappling hook tools can be used to pull objects such as switches and bridges in different directions or to tether balloons on to objects to lift them into the air. While I found the customization process to need serious streamlining and clearly marked UI to make remembering your own loadouts less confusing, it does open up a multitude of fun new ways to destroy stuff with panache.

I understand that the grappling hook is the bread and butter of the Just Cause franchise. And despite what I am about to say, I do enjoy the grappling hook and think it’s a wicked fun way to traverse a map. However, it feels as though the developers place far too much stock in the hook to carry the mediocre gameplay.  It’s almost arrogant in its reliance on this feature and lazy in its disregard for other useful elements typically found in a third-person, open-world game of this caliber. Why would you want things like the ability to take cover in a shootout when you have the grappling hook? Why would you want the ability to sprint when you have the grappling hook? Why would you want a mini-map or compass when you have the almighty grappling hook? Why would you want any sort of meaningful combat with intelligent enemies and weighted gunplay when you have … you get where I’m going with this.

Just Cause 4

The open world in Just Cause 4 is one of the most lifeless and pointless worlds I have seen in a long time, and it does not satisfy me to say so. On first glance, it looks absolutely gorgeous, and the distinct biomes make for one of the more unique tropical environments I have seen. Certain towns and regions are brilliantly creative in their concept, but there is no point in an open world that is aesthetically pleasing but has no character of its own. The NPCs have no personality or autonomy, there are no conversations to eavesdrop on or exciting events to unfurl in front of you. Characters in the world don’t react to you or interact with you. There is little to be said for the wildlife other than that you’ll occasionally come across pretty animals who can do nothing to harm you or even enhance your realistic experience in any way. It’s incredibly disappointing that a game that emphasizes traversal of this breadth does not try harder to give life and individuality to the world around you.

Just Cause 4 severely lacks identity and technical competency, and it’s not a game I can be impressed with in this day and age. Perhaps ten years ago, I may have enjoyed a playthrough and not asked too many questions. But it’s just not possible to follow games like God of War or Red Dead Redemption 2 with a gameplay experience that muddies the water between a fun, lighthearted destructive mania and one that tries to take itself seriously but lacks significant execution of its own subpar storyline. It so desperately needs to ramp up the element of fun with a broader — and less repetitive — selection of missions, and it needs to offer more than just a parachute, a wingsuit and a grappling hook four games into the series.

It pains me to speak ill of a series I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in the past, but Just Cause 4 is a disappointing extension that needs to aim a lot higher and is, frankly, kind of boring. In the climate of exceptional games that have preceded it this year, it simply does not hold up.

***A PS4 code was provided by the publisher***