Just Cause 4’s baffling design decisions and technical issues turn what should be a fun time into a nearly unbearable experience.
Title: Just Cause 4
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: December 4, 2018
Sheer insanity is the stock in trade of the Just Cause series. Since the demise of the Red Faction franchise, Just Cause has been the gold standard for destruction and mayhem in open-world games. The game gives players the tools to essentially blow up everything that isn’t tied down, and a lot of stuff that is.
When everything goes right, you find yourself laughing at the absurdity of it all. Shooting an oil tanker and seeing it flutter like a balloon before colliding with a mountainside and exploding in a blaze of glory is an experience few games can match.
However, Just Cause 4 does everything in its power to keep the player from experiencing that high. This is sometimes quite literal; the game crashes frequently and on one occasion sent me back to the beginning of the game, wiping out about two hours’ worth of progress.
Technical problems persist even when the game isn’t crashing. The frame rates are inconsistent, often freezing in situations where the player is moving quickly or in a big enough firefight.
The problem is the game is predicated on fast movement. Players have access to a wingsuit, parachute and grappling hook for the overwhelming majority of the game and these mechanics have been staples of the series from the beginning. Those facts make the frame rate drops inexcusable because they often render the game unplayable. Just Cause 4 was made on a new engine, sure, but that’s no excuse for not making sure the basic mechanics run and look as smooth as possible.
The game’s graphical quality is inconsistent as well, and even at its best, the game doesn’t look very good. Texture pop-in is rampant, with some elements of the world waiting to load until the player is right in front of them. In multiple instances, cars literally spawned in mid-air and dropped onto the highway in front of me.
The gunplay feels empty and weightless.
Draw distances are huge, but anything more than a few hundred meters in front of the player is reduced to a pixellated blur. Get somewhere too quickly, and it takes a while for the game to catch up. This problem perhaps best exemplified by the game’s big draw in its extreme weather. Many of the times I happened upon one of the storms, most of it was pixellated, which took away from some of the fun of seeing a massive tornado or blizzard.
Just Cause 4 struggles to render things like hair, foliage and other small articles properly, so instead of a luscious beard, it looks like Rico Rodriguez has velcro strapped to his chin. Outside of Rico, the character models look like they were stolen from a third-rate claymation studio’s warehouse. They have skin and eyes that dip way too far into the uncanny valley for comfort.
These characters are still one of the highlights of the game. The voice actors do a lot with what they’re given and imbue the characters with genuine feeling. The characters are stock archetypes, but the voice acting is good enough (and occasionally hammy enough) to unlock something deeper in them.
However, this is bogged down by an extremely repetitive mission structure. Just Cause 4 seems to blow all of its mission ideas in the first few hours and leads players into situations where they have to escort NPC A to point B over and over again.
To be clear, Just Cause 4 is no Dostoyevsky. The plot is just as barebones as the other installments in the series and is almost identical in nature; Rico works with yet another rebel group to take down yet another dictator on yet another fictional island. Just Cause 4 makes one thing clear: gameplay comes first.
This wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if the gameplay wasn’t a completely joyless affair outside of wanton destruction. The gunplay feels empty and weightless. Enemies’ dying animations are almost all identical, simply flopping to the ground and shooting many incidental objects in the world, such as boxes or pallets, makes them simply evaporate. They just disappear. There’s more weight and feeling in a game of laser tag.
Focusing on the destruction is all well and good, but it’s not actually what players spend most of their time doing. The shooting in a third-person shooter should feel good. This should be obvious, but Just Cause 4’s shooting just feels lifeless and boring.
The controls don’t help matters. Not only are they completely nonsensical, but they are also a nightmare to fix. There aren’t different profiles for swimming, on foot and driving, etc. Instead, the game treats them all as one grouping, forcing players to pick where to put their binds or use a separate program to get their binds the way they want. You will want to fix them. It takes a sadist to think the SHIFT key is an acceptable place to put the aim down sights function.
That particular decision is made even more baffling by the fact that the developers made the gamepad controls more sensible by making ADS left trigger and shooting right trigger. This is not hard, and the developers knew it.
The only times Just Cause 4 came close to reaching its full potential are during its action sequences or when the new extreme weather mechanic decides to play nice. The storms are very impressive and have a real impact on the game map. However, they’re nowhere near common enough to be cool or to plan around as part of gameplay. Players almost have to search out the storms. As fun as traversal might be, “storm chasing” is not one of the game’s strong suits.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.