Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Just Cause 4 is the fourth game of the Just Cause franchise, each game was made by the same company, Avalanche Studios. With Just Cause 2 and 3 being well received there was a lot of anticipation for Just Cause 4, however, it got hammered at launch by both reviews and fans and that pretty much sealed the fate of this game. The level of the negative reaction was unexpected, and while preparing for this review, a quick review of major bugs from the launch makes it clear why the game was so ill-received initially. But has it gotten better?
Many of the original reports of bugs doesn’t seem to happen, and in fact, I can even say the game runs surprisingly well. I still remember issues with Just Cause 3’s stability in my review for that years after release, and Just Cause 4 didn’t present any technical problems. But, oh boy, did it find other problems to replace it.
The first thing noticed by myself and probably any player is how awful the first cutscene looks. The models seem to hover over the scene, the faces look out of place, and there’s almost a cartoon cutout around the focus of the scene, the leader of the villains. This set off several red flags, and perhaps I should have listened to them.
Don’t get me wrong, Just Cause as a franchise has never been the height of graphics, there’s a huge open world and a ton of stuff to do, and graphically, this game has always been about a half step behind other games released in the same year, or empty world in the case of the original game.
This is the first cutscene. Not in game, but a cutscene and it looks like this.
However, the graphics in Just Cause 4 can look terrible and do so very often. I normally don’t judge games based on graphics because any game can work with any graphical set. Thomas Was Alone is a fantastic game with minimalist graphics, Nethack is still one of my favorites with just a set of Ascii characters, so realize that when I’m calling out Just Cause 4, it’s beyond just an aesthetic, but rather a failed look that makes the game noticeably awkward.
I honestly feel like the graphics would be more at home in the previous generation. I think Just Cause 4 has some great moments, but the character models feel like they belong on an Xbox 360 rather than an Xbox One, or a PlayStation 3 instead of a PlayStation 4. I’m personally running this game on rather excessive hardware and yet the experience is weak.
Now it’s possible that this was done in a way of a tradeoff, where extremely low visuals could be used to have far better experience or performance of the game. Indeed, most of my experience with Just Cause 3 and many of my issues were probably due to poor performance, so weaker graphics, and better performance would be preferable. However, Just Cause 4 abuses that choice and instead has just consistently bad quality to the graphics they provide.
There’s stylized graphics, and then there’s weak graphics that feel incomplete. I’m not sure what the main villain should look like but he feels unfinished. Similarly, while Rico Rodriguez and a few main characters look fine, many of the background models might even be Playstation 2 era models, they just look phenomenally bad, even one of the people that assist Rico for a decent chunk of the story just looks awful every time he’s on screen.
Try not to focus on in game models, they don’t look much better.
There’s no way I can defend this, it’s weak and rather than take a simplistic but stylized look, such as Viewtiful Joe, or Okami, Just Cause 4 seems like it’s attempting to keep up with the graphical powerhouse games, but showed up in a beater, and … I can’t ignore the quality here. It’s ever-present and trying not to think of the graphics for twenty hours is rather hard.
Similar to the issues with the graphics, the story of Just Cause 4 has issues. The biggest one is only a handful of missions are part of the main storyline. There are a huge amount of areas in the game, and while taking over bases and capturing the locations are a big part of the gameplay there’s only a quick reason to do it each time and that’s it. While the island is beautiful and diverse, something we’ll talk about in the gameplay, the story doesn’t exist.
There is the main narrative though and it feels like a total mess. The game starts with the main villain and his top henchwoman discussing Rico Rodriguez, the franchise’s hero, as well as his friend Tom Sheldon. I thought there was a possibility of an interesting story when the villain mentions that Rico Rodriguez’ dad worked for him. That plot point alone could have done quite a bit.
The story revolves around taking over the entire island with this Risk style board, and completing major missions.
Sadly all of this falls apart fast, and just as a heads up, there will be some spoilers here, but everything is done in such a poor way that I feel that I must discuss this to show what problems I have here. I’ll try to limit many of the spoilers, but honestly, I hope it doesn’t matter much because if it does, you’ll be disappointed with the delivery as well.
So first, Rico’s dad isn’t part of the game at all, in fact, he died in Just Cause 3, something I forgot until this game mentioned it after about 80 percent of the way through the game. The villain mentions that, and that sums up everything, but there’s almost no reason for the mention since he doesn’t mention his father’s death to Rico directly and, in fact, the two characters don’t directly talk. It’s almost as if it doesn’t know what to do with that fact or that the initial scene was done because players didn’t realize that Rico had a father. Similarly, it would explain the odd reference to Tom Sheldon that feels out of place, just to remind the players of him as well.
But even talking about his father, Rico just shrugs it off as if it doesn’t matter. So that hint about Rico’s father is completely wasted here. We don’t even get any interesting moments about “The Sins of the Father” motif, which would absolutely be a trope, but also could be done well. Instead, we get other tropes that aren’t as interesting.
We have the guy who’s focused on aliens because he saw a UFO (actually the villain’s device), our female costar is the main villain’s henchwoman’s cousin which, of course, means the villain rebels at the last moment. Tom Sheldon shows up, which is the only reason he is mentioned earlier and assists Rico. And finally and perhaps the biggest issue I have with the game is that the final boss is killed in a cutscene after a rather weak gauntlet of enemies.
While Just Cause 2 and Just Cause 3 didn’t have the best final boss encounters, they at least summed up the story and gave a great action set piece to end on. Just Cause 4 has some good action setpieces, but the final fight is extremely disappointing as it’s just shooting people the same way you have for the last twenty hours.
There’s no ziplining between missiles or a large alien craft. There’s even a hint that the villain will be using a large craft that will be hard to take down, but instead, Rico just rides that craft and crashes into the villain’s plane in an uninteractive cutscene. That’s the finale, and it’s extremely weak.
It’s not that Just Cause 4 does nothing right, but so many of its major moments and thoughts on the stories are just flat wrong. These are things we’ve seen a hundred times before in games, movies, and TVs, and it doesn’t execute well on any of them.
This is a mission cutscene, what went on here?
At the same time, the main story does get subdivided into three different sets of missions that need to be completed, where the player will tackle a different defense of the final location. Each of these missions has an interesting story, and this is where the game starts to work. There are also two or three side missions that start where the player meets an archeologist or a film director and sets up a friendship and again these pieces are rather strong.
The good parts of the story don’t excuse the rest of the experience that produces an underwhelming narrative for the player, and that’s what kills the experience of Just Cause 4.
So with an ugly looking game and a weak story, hopefully, the gameplay has something worth playing the game for, or was my time just wasted?
To be honest, in the first couple of hours, I honestly couldn’t imagine myself giving this game above a 1.5. Just Cause 4 is weak and needs a lot of work before it becomes a game I can respect. But I noticed something. At one point I finished playing and put down the controller noticing I had played between four and six hours in a row without noticing, which is a decent session. During that time, I noticed the graphic issues, but yet I still was having fun. So there’s at least something going on with the gameplay.
Much of Just Cause 4 is similar to previous titles in the series, I won’t go too deep into the mechanics, but everything is still here. Players can grappling hook, parachute, wingsuit around the environment with the same outlandish physics allowing players to have fun with these features. Guns and explosives are plentiful, though the player no longer has c4 or grenades which are missed. Still players will always be able to find high explosives, take over vehicles with their ability, or even call in supply drops if necessary. It all works as expected. The only real change to the formula is a new grappling hook system that allows you to assign what happens when you connect two points, you can either try to lift it, launch it, or bring the points together, or potentially all three of them at the same time.
While this sounds like a major change, the retraction became the main feature I looked for and the other two only added to the general silliness, I suppose it worked to keep the physics on edge and give players more to play with. Just as it was entertaining to tether flying vehicles to the ground or each other, here it’s fun to lift a tank, car, or boat off the ground during a pursuit.
The destruction looks great when you can find something to blow up.
Before I praise parts of Just Cause 4, the first couple of hours highlights some of the biggest problems of Just Cause 4. In previous games, you would parachute or wingsuit into a town, notice a number of the enemies structures, destroy them and “capture the city” then slingshot yourself into the air to rain death on the next town. It’s a simple setup that promotes a grinding mentality, but the biggest benefit for it was how enjoyable the grind felt from the random destruction.
This gameplay loop worked extremely well for Just Cause 2 and Just Cause 3, and it seemed that developers at Avalanche Studios had understood that destruction is enjoyable due to it being destroyed. It’s a simple fact that many developers overcomplicate and forget that players just like to blow stuff up.
Just Cause 4 seems to think the destruction could stand on its own, and rather than making it a progressive goal to take over areas, even with little purpose, instead players are awarded generic Chaos points that work like an Experience point system where they can level up and earn “Troops.” That becomes the only reason for destruction but beyond that, Just Cause 4 removes a lot of it.
In Just Cause 3 players went to major areas and had numerous targets to take out all over the bases and cities. While almost every location felt duplicated, it still had a lot of enjoyable destruction to be had.
There doesn’t even seem to be a purpose to areas like this arena, but it’s still fun to explore.
Just Cause 4, actually fixes the duplication issue by giving locations a huge amount of variety. Just Cause 4 feels a little smaller than Just Cause 3’s area, but at the same time, every area, location, city, and base feel unique and different, and that’s what makes Just Cause 4 stand out. There were even locations I noticed such as a huge arena in one town that had very little purpose rather than just being an interesting location to drive by, and in that it works.
This might have worked for the better, but without the destruction having a major reason for existing, it just feels like the player is blowing up things to earn fake points. While this is what every game is ultimately about, here it feels more blatant. It doesn’t help that most of the locations here have very few destructible objects. Many cities have two or three red targets marked for destruction.
At the same time, completionists can still take over towns, bases and more, but this time it’s done by completing mini objectives. This can be anything from finding a specific vehicle and making it hit a target, or flying through a target at a certain speed. It’s a nice addition to the take over mechanic, but when it becomes a choice between Just Cause 3’s system of causing havoc and Just Cause 4’s system of driving fast, Just Cause 4 feels more out of place.
So really, what could have entertained me. Well, I can simply say the mission designers earned a lot of credit in my mind. There’s a new Risk style meta-game, that requires players to capture areas of the map with the player moving units into other areas. Before players can do that, they have to complete missions in each area. These missions become rather entertaining.
As mentioned before, the world is well designed and every area feels different and unique, and similarly, every mission feels unique. While there are a couple of themes of the missions, the game seems to only visit them a couple of times, three at the most, throughout the game, and the locations of these missions are different and that alone makes it feel unique.
Taking over cities is as simple as beating these mini mission. Literally drive through a target at a speed or with a specific car/wingsuit.
These missions are what I looked forward to in the game, and I remember at least three that I had to stop playing and restart just so I could record part of the awesome gameplay. One of my favorite involved taking over little sites for a hacker on the radio and opening something up. Then the second phase of the mission had me pick up the hacker and all of a sudden I was driving through the same base with him in the passenger seat, going off mega jumps and scoring huge air, then a third section happened where the player had to “protect” the friendly. The thing is while that third part of the mission sounds dull, the entire mission was exciting.
So many missions were amazing and offered interesting and active gameplay that never seemed to stop. Then there were the story missions mentioned above and every major story mission, the ten or so that were in the game, were even better than the other missions.
That’s not to say the missions were perfect, there were at least two missions where the player defended a non-moving antenna and had to try to figure out what was damaging it without a good indicator. But these were the exceptions for the missions.
It’s these missions that somehow made Just Cause 4 palpable to me. I can’t say I loved it, because Just Cause 4 has so many problems that it’s not a great game, and yet, I enjoyed playing it to the point that I invested over 20 hours into the game without thinking about the time I spent.
The big set pieces though can be fun, I just wanted more from this game.
I would even say the missions give the player an enjoyable enough experience that they might be able to ignore all the other parts of the game, just to enjoy these moments of gameplay that are done so brazenly that players will focus on them more than everything else Just Cause 4 seems to do wrong.
It’s important to also mention that I paid twenty dollars for Just Cause 4. The full price of 60 dollars would have been a very different story, and I think that still is entirely too much, but I got a decent value out of the game.
While there are so many issues, and the fact is I can’t call Just Cause 4 a great game, the graphics are so bad, I almost stopped the game because I felt personally insulted by the quality, the story is lacking, and what really made me enjoy Just Cause 3 is missing this time around with the lack of destructibility. However, the missions somehow made Just Cause a bare recommendation.
It’s not a strong recommendation but at 20 bucks I think it’s still a fun game to play through, and while I fully understand the complaints, and they are valid, I can’t deny there’s a decent amount of fun in Just Cause 4.
I give Just Cause 4 a
This is a BARE recommendation, I almost want to give this game a 2.5/5 or a 2/5 but if I had to play Just Cause 4 a second time, I think I would enjoy myself. At the same time, I’d pick up Just Cause 3, or possibly Just Cause 2 before I picked up Just Cause 4.
Final Thoughts: Just Cause 4 has so many problems. Bad graphics, bad story, and weaker gameplay. But the missions are enjoyable to the point that you might accept it all. Weak Recommend
Stats: 24.7 hours, 12/61 achievements earned.