Has Just Cause 3 gone too hardcore for regular players?

By John Robertson, Tuesday, 16 June 2015 22:17 GMT

Just Cause 3 isn’t as batshit crazy as it seems. There’s some really tight core gameplay elements underneath the anarchic exterior, says John Robertson.

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“Don’t be fooled by what you might have seen in trailers and within screenshots, the wing suit is not all that easy to fly.”

We’ve come to expect the crazy, the outlandish, the unreal from the Just Cause series. Where GTA is referential and sartorial, and Saints Row is ridiculous and charmingly idiotic, Just Cause is all about big bangs and extreme explosions. It’s the 80s action movie of the open-world gaming scene, the loud one that walks into a bar, orders six beers, downs them, leaves without paying and then tosses a live grenade through the window. Just for laughs.

The problem, then, for developer Avalanche Studios is that that particular brand of razzle-dazzle is expected of them. Simply doing what has come before isn’t enough to satisfy an audience that has come around to the idea that extreme actions are simply par for this series’ course.

On the other hand, to dial everything up beyond 11 and beyond again would most likely result in Just Cause 3 becoming a caricature of previous games in the series… even sillier and bigger because that’s what sequels do, right?

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Wisely, instead of focusing on concentrating and enlarging what past games have already offered, the focus here is on supplementing that alongside new ideas that feed into, and expand, the bigger picture. The new wingsuit, for instance, is an object designed to diversify the means through which you can travel and experience the new location of Medici, a Mediterranean island chain. It is not, in any way, a tool for showing off with; at least, not initially.

Don’t be fooled by what you might have seen in trailers and within screenshots, the wing suit is not all that easy to fly. It has a very specific weight to it that makes it somewhat tricky to learn, forcing you into a set of conservative flight patterns that are hardly the stuff Just Cause is made of. Adding to that complexity is the way you can partner it with both the grappling hook and parachute to alter your speed and height.

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If you’re going too slowly then fire a hook into a piece of wall or rock in front of you, reel yourself in and watch that speed increase. Just make sure you don’t slam head first into the ground as you do so. Yes, that happens.

Too low to the ground and about to stack it? Whip out that parachute while travelling at high speed and the lift sends you high into the sky. Just get the wings back out and glide to wherever you’re going. Learning to use all three of these items in tandem is not only enlightening, but necessary. The flexibility over navigation that they provide is vital to safely avoiding the attentions of Medici’s guards – soldiers under the control of the nation’s dictatorial General Di Ravello.

Spend a solid 40 minutes or so dedicating yourself to the operation of this aerial trio (slash that in half if you’re ‘hardcore’, I guess), and you’ll be free to engage fully in the less gentle elements of protagonist Rico’s existence. At this point, you’re to show off.

Mastering the skies provides access to otherwise locked areas of the world, not least the top of the tallest, more striking, manmade structures. From here you can put the new tethering system to good use, bringing the structures down, or, if the rules of physics allow, pulling up objects towards you.

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Up to three tethers can be setup in unison (although, I’m told, that number isn’t necessarily final), attached either to the same single object or multiples. From here you can increase the tension of those tethers, upon which the results are often unpredictable. If your points of contact are anchored to the ground – a satellite dish, for instance – then the tether will eventually rip it up and send it hurtling in whichever direction you’ve harnessed the other end. Should your two points be free standing, then they’ll come together instantly.

If one or more of those colliding objects are loaded with fuel, they’ll explode. If one of those objects happens to be a person, then they’ll die (probably). If it’s building, it’ll collapses… yes, causing death to whatever is below – man or machine. Sometimes, you might incorporate all of things into a single tether set.

The more ‘creative’ among you might even decide that to increase the tethers’ tension is to waste their potential as the ultimate dragging device. Attach one end to a foe, the other end to a vehicle and, voila, you’re dragging your defeated foe through the streets for all to see. Just like Ancient China.

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“It’s entirely likely that some players are going to give up if they can’t perform the kinds of manoeuvres they see others pulling off on Twitch and YouTube.”

It’s very difficult to do justice to just what the tether system is capable of, and Avalanche Studios itself admits that players are likely to pool their creative juices to figure out approaches that it hasn’t even considered at this point. Emergent gameplay of this sort is wildly fashionable at the moment, and Just Cause 3 might just be the sexiest looking model on the catwalk right now in this category.

Much more impressive than any of these individual systems, however, is the way that they fit together. Clearly, the goal of development here is to provide a working set of rules and concepts that the player can engage with to create whatever outcome they desire – or not desire, depending on your ability to plan ahead.

In isolation, everything above has potential to become tiresome fairly quickly. As a team, though, the options are enormous – not least considering you’ve also got to throw in aerial, ground and sea vehicles, a seemingly limitless arsenal of firearms and explosives, enemies of difficult kinds and sets of challenges that task you with performing feats of agility using any and all of that.

Making all of this accessible to the mainstream crowd that a triple-A title such as this must engage with is the ultimate challenge, because it’s entirely likely that some players are going to give up if they can’t perform the kinds of manoeuvres they see others pulling off on Twitch and YouTube.

If Avalanche’s ability to teach its players is as impressive and engaging as its ability to provide exciting core content, then Just Cause 3 has every chance of positioning itself as this generation’s must-have action open-world game. Without both of those elements in place, though, it will struggle to break into mainstream consciousness.

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